The back cover hawks this as Science Fiction, “an exciting and imaginative NEW FORM OF LITERATURE”(caps theirs). What's astounding is that the world of the 50s imagined to 1977 looks frightfully close to our own. I don't mean the rigid culture of the times as much as its behavioral reactions to issues of racism, sexism, and vulture capitalism. Author Simak mounts the soapbox against one of the main principles of profit, using it to dismantle its contrived needs and false desires, then, in reaction, tackles the “boiling hate”(p.200) of bigotry.
The last thirty years had seen crisis after crisis, rumor after rumor, near-war always threatening and big war never breaking out, until a cold-war-weary world yawned in the face of the new peace rumors and the crises that were a dime a dozen.
Our confused hero is Jay Vickers, a reclusive writer. Suddenly, even his small-town world is inundated with Forever Cars that run, well, forever, and things in the new “gadget shops”(p.12) like razors that never go dull and lightbulbs that never burn out. There's a rumor about houses built-to-suit at $500 per room. Unemployment jumps double-digits even beyond our current 23%(1). For help, a company named Carbohydrates, Inc. springs up and begins dispensing free food and support, in a manner we'd call “food stamps” today. And, really a head-scratcher, folks are disappearing leaving everything behind; whole families, usually at poverty level, vanishing without a trace.
Vickers is enticed into a meeting with an obese character named Crawford. He represents what Ike Eisenhower called the “Military-Industrial Complex”. Crawford wants Vickers to write propaganda against this upstart cartel of non-commerce, thereby re-establishing dominance for “the business of a world with its back against the wall”(p.20) against this “deliberate effort to undermine the social and economic system of our way of life”(p.22). Vickers refuses and, predictably, he gets a bag of jakes in return.
Plot complexities ensue. But it's not the typical action-hero battles of early Science Fiction “LITERATURE”. There's a love interest in the wings to happy-end this diatribe. There is a plea for a naturalistic nostalgia to re-surface against the clockwork precision of life determined by the conveyor belt. There is a case made for man's evolution into multi-dimensional consciousness involving infinite variations of Earth. And, most anticipatory of the next decade, Author Simak attacks racism with a vengeance—in support of mutants and androids.
Ring Around The Sun is dated with silliness and antiquated, simplistic issues. There's many groaner moments and huge dues ex machina sinkholes. Historically, what author Simak stirs in his tossed salad of themes and concepts, following SF writers have devoted whole series to exploring. Mutants, androids, time-travel, telepathy, celestial evolution, and alien contact via “voices from the stars”, all mix together in a basic story about self-discovery, commitment, and love.
Even though Clifford D. Simak is not a popular "classic fogie" like Asimov, Clarke, etc.—he is, afterall, a SFWA Grand Master with a sizeable oeuvre(2) —his relaxing, pastoral vision of humanity exhaustively sutured to Nature brings a good-natured and pleasantly inquisitive solution to the complexities if not enormities of the world.
For more Simak, follow these links:
1)Yeah, I know, feds tell us it's 7.6% as of 05/2013. Check out www.shadowstats.com for a different figuring.2) http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/s/clifford-d-simak /