from science fiction by
Clifford D. Simak

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The Big Front Yard
Full Cycle
The Spaceman’s Van Gogh
Way Station


science fiction

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Full Cycle

Copyright © 1955, Columbia Publications, Inc.


Here in this university he had kept alight a feeble glow of the old learning and the old tradition; now the light had flickered out and the learning and tradition would go down into the darkness.

And that, he knew, was no attitude for a historian to take; history was the truth and the seeking after truth. To gloss over, to ignore, to push away an eventful fact—no matter how distasteful—was not the way of history.


You’d think, he told himself, upbraiding himself, that I’d be content to leave well enough alone. I have a place to hide. I could live out my life in comfort and in safety. And that, he knew, was the way he wanted it to be.

But there was that nagging voice which talked inside his brain: You have failed your task and failed it willingly. You have shut your eyes and failed. You have failed by looking backwards. The true historian does not live in the past alone. He must use the past to understand the present; and he must know them both if he is to see the trend toward the future.

But I do not want to know the future, said the stubborn Dr. Ambrose Wilson.

And the nagging voice said: The future is the only thing that is worth the knowing.




“Home” was a word out of an era left behind. “Home” was another nostalgic word for old men like him to mumble in their dim remembering. “Home” was the symbol of a static culture that had failed in the scales of Man’s survival. To put down roots, to stay and become encumbered by possessions—not only physical, but mental and traditional as well—was to die. To be mobile and forever poised on the edge of flight, to travel lean and gaunt, to shun encumbrances, was the price of freedom and life.

Full cycle, Amby thought—we have come full cycle, from tribe to city, now back to tribe again.

7 “Culture is a strange thing, Jake, but it usually spells out to pretty much the same in the end result. Differing cultures are no more than different approaches to a common problem.”




Back home, he thought, it was already autumn; the leaves were turning and the city, in the blaze of autumn, he recalled, was a place of breathless beauty.

But here, deep in the south, it still was summer and there was a queer, lethargic feel to the deep green of the foliage and the flinthard blueness of the sky—as if the green and blue were stamped upon the land and would remain forever, a land where change had been outlawed and the matrix of existence had been hardcast beyond any chance of alteration.



That was the way it was with everything, he thought. Nothing was the way you imagined it. Most often a thing would be less glamorous and more prosaic than one had imagined it; and then, suddenly, in some unexpected place one would encounter something that would root him in his tracks.



text checked (see note) Sep 2006

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The Spaceman’s Van Gogh

Copyright © 1956, Columbia Publications, Inc.

He had lived within himself rather than with the universe which surrounded him. He had not sought glory or acclaim, although he could have claimed them both—at times, indeed, it appeared that he might be running from them. Throughout his entire life there had been the sense of a man who hid away. Of a man who ran from something, or a man who ran after something—a seeking, searching man who never quite caught up with the thing he sought for. Lathrop shook his head. It was hard to know which sort Clay had been—a hunted man or hunter. If hunted, what had it been he feared? And if a hunter, what could it be he sought?
Not exactly “harmless.” Kind, perhaps. Uncruel. With certain connotations of soft-wittedness. Which was natural, of course, for in his nonconformity through lack of understanding, any alien must appear slightly soft-witted to another people.



His paintings, for him, had never been more than an expression of himself. To him they had been something that lay inside himself waiting to be transferred into some expression that the universe could see, a sort of artistic communication from Clay to all his fellow creatures.



How much do we know of it, he thought, this thing we call our galaxy, this blob of matter hurled out into the gulf of space by some mighty Fist? We do not know the beginning of it nor the end of it nor the reason for its being; we are blind creatures groping in the darkness for realities and the few realities we find we know as a blind man knows the things within his room, knowing them by the sense of touch alone. For in the larger sense we are all as blind as he—all of us together, all the creatures living in the galaxy. And presumptuous and precocious despite our stumbling blindness, for before we know the galaxy we must know ourselves.

We do not understand ourselves, have no idea of the purpose of us. We have tried devices to explain ourselves, materialistic devices and spiritualistic devices and the application of pure logic, which was far from pure. And we have fooled ourselves, thought Lathrop. That is mostly what we’ve done. We have laughed at things we do not understand, substituting laughter for knowledge, using laughter as a shield against our ignorance, as a drug to still our sense of panic. Once we sought comfort in mysticism, fighting tooth and nail against the explanation of the mysticism, for only so long as it remained mysticism and unexplained could it comfort us. We once subscribed to faith and fought to keep the faith from becoming fact, because in our twisted thinking faith was stronger than the fact.

And are we any better now, he wondered, for having banished faith and mysticism, sending the old faiths and the old religions scurrying into hiding places against the snickers of a galaxy that believes in logic and pins its hope on nothing less than fact. A step, he thought—it is but a step, this advancement to the logic and the fact, this fetish for explaining. Some day, far distant, we may find another fact that will allow us to keep the logic and the fact, but will supply once again the comfort that we lost with faith.



Only a pitiful few would take the time to read it, or even care to read it.

He thought: Now, finally, I know what I’ve known all along, but refused to admit I knew; that I’m not doing this for others, but for myself alone. And not for the sake of occupation, not for the sake of keeping busy in retirement, but for some deeper reason and for some greater need. For some factor or some sense, perhaps, that I missed before. For some need I do not even recognize. For some purpose that might astound me if I ever understood it.



For if a man did not understand a thing, he called it a silly superstition and let it go at that. The human race could disregard a silly superstition and be quite easy in its mind, but it could not disregard a stubborn fact without a sense of guilt.



But might there not be, in the last great reckoning of galactic life and knowledge another principle which would prove greater than either faith or fact—a principle as yet unknown, but only to be gained by aeons of intellectual evolution. [...]

Faith had failed because it had been blinded by the shining glory of itself. Could fact as well have failed by the hard glitter of its being?

But abandoning both faith and fact, armed with a greater tool of discernment, might a man not seek and find the eventual glory and the goal for which life has grasped, knowing and unknowing, from the first faint stir of consciousness upon the myriad solar systems?

text checked (see note) Sep 2006

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The Big Front Yard

Copyright © 1958 by Street & Smith Publications, Inc.

Hugo Award-winning novelette, 1959

Yes, thought Taine, there might be a batch of foreigners, but not exactly in the sense that Beasly meant. The use of the word, he told himself, so far as any human was concerned, must be outdated now. No man of Earth ever again could be called a foreigner with alien life next door—literally next door.

text checked (see note) Mar 2006

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Way Station

Copyright © 1963 by Clifford D. Simak

Hugo Award-winning novel, 1964


But it was not in himself, he knew, to turn his back on Earth. It was a place he loved too well—loving it more, most likely, than other humans who had not caught his glimpse of far and unguessed worlds. A man, he told himself, must belong to something, must have some loyalty and some identity. The galaxy was too big a place for any being to stand naked and alone.


How many other wars, he wondered, could the people of the Earth endure?

No man could say, of course, but it might be just one more. For the weapons that would be used in the coming conflict had not as yet been measured and there was no man who could come close to actually estimating the results these weapons would produce.

War had been bad enough when men faced one another with their weapons in their hands, but in any present war great payloads of destruction would go hurtling through the skies to engulf whole cities—aimed not at military concentrations, but at total populations.


He had dabbled in a thing which he had not understood. And had, furthermore, committed that greater sin of thinking that he did understand. And the fact of the matter was that he had just barely understood enough to make the concept work, but had not understood enough to be aware of its consequences.

With creation went responsibility and he was not equipped to assume more than the moral responsibility for the wrong that he had done, and moral responsibility, unless it might be coupled with the ability to bring about some mitigation, was an entirely useless thing.


He read aloud, scarcely needing to strain his eyes in the dim light to follow the text, for it was from a chapter that he had read many times:

In my Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you . . .

Thinking, as he read it, how appropriate it was; how there must need be many mansions in which to house all the souls in the galaxy—and of all the other galaxies that stretched, perhaps interminably, through space. Although if there were understanding, one might be enough.

John 14:2

19 It was a crazy way of thinking. But, he told himself, he should not be surprised. It was the kind of thinking he should have expected. He was too hidebound, he thought, too narrow. He had been trained in the human way of thinking and, even after all these years, that way of thought persisted.

“I knew that there were conflicting viewpoints and I knew there was some trouble. But I’m afraid that I thought of it as being on a fairly lofty plane—gentlemanly, you know, and good-mannered.”

“That was the way it was at one time. There always has been differing opinions, but they were based on principles and ethics, not on special interests.”




There was no way to measure possible disaster in either circumstance.

After a time, perhaps, a choice either way could be rationalized. Given time, a conviction might develop that would enable a man to arrive at some sort of decision which, while it might not be entirely right, he nevertheless could square with his conscience.


And that had not been the first time nor had it been the last, but all the years of killing boiled down in essence to that single moment—not the time that came after, but that long and terrible instant when he had watched the lines of men purposefully striding up the slope to kill him.

It had been in that moment that he had realized the insanity of war, the futile gesture that in time became all but meaningless, the unreasoning rage that must be nursed long beyond the memory of the incident that had caused the rage, the sheer illogic that one man, by death of misery, might prove a right or uphold a principle.

Somehow, he thought, on the long backtrack of history, the human race had accepted an insanity for a principle and had persisted in it until today that insanity-turned-principle stood ready to wipe out, if not the race itself, at least all of those things, both material and immaterial, that had been fashioned as symbols of humanity through many hard-won centuries.




Was war and instinctive thing, for which each ordinary man was as much responsible as the policy makers and the so-called statesmen? It seemed impossible, and yet, deep in every man was the combative instinct, the aggressive urge, the strange sense of competition—all of which spelled conflict of one kind or another if carried to conclusion.


It was something that you wanted to hug close against yourself and hold it there forever, and even when it was gone from you, you’d probably not forget it, ever.

It was something that was past all description—a mother’s love, a father’s pride, the adoration of a sweetheart, the closeness of a comrade, it was all of these and more. It made the farthest distance near and turned the complex simple and it swept away all fear and sorrow, for all of there being a certain feeling of deep sorrow in it, as if one might feel that never in his lifetime would he know an instant like this, and that in another instant he would lose it and never would be able to hunt it out again. But that was not the way it was, for this ascendant instant kept going on and on.

That was the way with Man; it had always been that way. He had carried terror with him. And the thing he was afraid of had always been himself.



36 So long as it could not happen, it was a thing to dream about. It was romantic and far-off and impossible. Perhaps it had been romantic only because it had been so far-off and so impossible.



text checked (see note) Aug 2006

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