THE MARATHON PHOTOGRAPH AND OTHER STORIES (1986) by Clifford D. Simak

The Marathon Photograph (1986)

This time out, we have a single author collection of short fiction by one of my favourite authors, Clifford D. Simak, in which all of the stories have an underlying thematic link dealing with the mysterious paradox of time.

It’s quite a short collection, at only 171 pages, and only four stories (making it a relatively quick and easy read compared to most of the modern brick-sized entities masquerading as books). But one of those stories is a long novella, and there are also two novelettes and a single short story making up the rest of the book. And what stories they are.

 

TITLE: THE MARATHON PHOTOGRAPH AND OTHER STORIES
AUTHOR: Clifford D. Simak
EDITOR: Francis Lyall
CATEGORY: Short Fiction
SUB-CATEGORY: Single Author Collection
FORMAT: Hardback, 171 pages
PUBLISHER: Severn House (SH), London, 1986
ISBN: 0 7278 1221 1

  • The Introduction
  • “The Birch Clump Cylinder” (from Stellar #1, edited by Judy-Lynn del Rey, Ballantine, 1974)
  • “The Whistling Well” (from Dark Forces), edited by Kirby McCauley, Viking, 1980
  • “The Marathon Photograph” (from Threads of Time), edited by Robert Silverberg, Nelson, 1974
  • “The Grotto Of The Dancing Deer” (from Analog, April 1980)

The stories are all quite long. Even the shortest, “The Grotto of the Dancing Deer”, comes in at just over twenty-one pages. This story is a good one, first published in Analog back in April 1980, and winning the Hugo, Nebula and Locus Awards for that year. It’s a lovely story, and one which I recall enjoying a lot when I first read it twenty or so years ago.

“The Marathon Photograph” at seventy pages, is the longest story in the collection. I read this one many years ago on its original publication in Threads of Time, edited by Robert Silverberg (1974). I loved it then, and still do. It’s my favourite of the four stories in this collection.

The other stories in the collection, “The Birch Clump Cylinder” and “The Whistling Well”, are two that I haven’t read before. From what I’ve read of both stories so far, I’m quite sure that I’ll enjoy them just as must as I did the other two.

Simak had his first SF story published in Astounding way back in 1931 (“World of the Red Sun”), and most of my favourite Simak short fiction came from much earlier in his career – “The World of the Red Sun” (1931), “Sunspot Purge” (1940), “Beachhead” aka “You’ll Never Go Home Again” (1951), “The Trouble with Ants” (1951), “Small Deer” (1965), and a few others – and I haven’t read a lot of his later stuff. By contrast, the stories in this collection are all from quite late in Simak’s career (he died in 1988, at the age of 83), the earliest two being written when he was almost 70, and the other two during his mid-70’s.

It’ll be interesting to compare and contrast with his earlier material. “The Marathon Photograph” already rates as one of my favourite Simak tales, if not my overall favourite.

Definitely a nice little collection, from a pretty much forgotten (except by the oldies) and greatly underappreciated author.

Advertisements

Another Doctor Who Night In (Part Two)

In my last post I detailed my latest recent DVD-watching binge of Doctor Who stories, the recent choices all being Tom Baker stories. Last night I watched a couple more Doctor Who stories, switching this time to Jon Pertwee and the two Auton classics, Spearhead from Space (Special Edition) and Terror of the Autons, as featured on the Mannequin Mania DVD box set.

Spearhead from Space is one of my favourite Pertwee stories. When Jon Pertwee fell out of the TARDIS, almost exactly one month after my ninth birthday, I wasn’t too pleased. I’d been a Pat Troughton fan since I first started really paying attention to Doctor Who back in 1966 or so, at the young age of five-going-six years old. Up until that point in my life, he was the only Doctor I’d known, as I’d been too young to really remember Hartnell, although I’d doubtless seen a few of his as well, and had a view brief flashes and memory fragments of several stories.

So when Troughton left, and this new guy, Pertwee, took over, I was not a happy camper. But that mood didn’t last for long. By the end of the first episode of Spearhead, I’d completely forgotten about Troughton, and Pertwee was now most definitely The Doctor in my eyes. The sheer excellence of the story itself greatly eased the transition, and at that tender age, I found the concept of the Nestene Consciousness, and in particular the Autons, very scary and unnerving. For years afterwards, I was extremely nervous whenever I walked past any department store window. My young imagination already had the shop front dummies ready to smash through the windows and grab me. 🙂

Terror of the Autons is also a good story, but it never quite had the same impact on me as Spearhead from Space, although to this day, I still hate plastic flowers, plastic chairs and telephone cables. 🙂 The Autons in this one (except for the cops) weren’t quite as frightening as those in Spearhead. With their massive heads and their circus background, they looked faintly silly and ridiculous, although the fight sequences with the UNIT troops were excellent.

However, this was the story that first introduced The Master, played by the late, great Roger Delgado, who quickly became a great favourite of mine. For that reason alone Terror of the Autons will always hold a fond spot in my heart. The story also introduced the new companion, cute and cuddly Jo Grant, played by Katy Manning, who joined Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, Captain Yates, Corporal Benton and the rest of the UNIT cast, and who was to be at Pertwee’s side for the next three years of his run on the show. The classic and much-lauded “UNIT family” was now well and truly in place to usher in a new and one of the most fondly-remembered periods in the show’s history.

Overall, another cracking night’s viewing on the Doctor Who front.

Another Doctor Who Night In

We had another nice Doctor Who night last night at our place, watching several classic Who DVDs. Again, like last time out, they’re all Tom Baker stories, two from the Philip Hinchcliffe era and the third from the Graham Williams era.

We started off with The Seeds of Doom, one of my favourite stories from the Philip Hinchcliffe “Gothic Horror” era of the classic series, a four-year period that remains, to this day, my favourite-ever era in the history of Doctor Who, either Classic or New series. This is quite a scary one, with the Krynoid very reminiscent of the plant creature in the first 1953 Quatermass serial. Doctor Who, especially the classic series, was very heavily influenced by Quatermass. Always copy the best, that’s what I say! 🙂

This was followed by The Deadly Assassin, the rather controversial story which showcased the “reinvention” of the Time Lords. This one got some of the more purist fans of the original, near-omnipotent Time Lords in a bit of a tizzy, and I have to admit that I found myself sometimes wondering how this bunch of incompetent bureaucrats could ever have been the lords of time and space. The story also featured the first reappearance of The Master since the Pertwee era, a welcome return. The Deadly Assassin is an excellent tale, always rated among one of the greatest of the classic series, although I wouldn’t rate it as one of my own personal biggest favourites (I do like it, however).

To wrap up the evening, we finished off with another highly-rated classic, City of Death, which I also quite like, although, again, I wouldn’t rate it in my own personal Top Ten Classic Who stories. I was never as fond of the Graham Williams era as I was of the Hinchcliffe era. Tom Baker was allowed to do his own thing far too much, and often hammed it up a lot, with the humour getting a bit silly and slapstick at times. I much preferred the more scary and serious feel of the Hinchcliffe era, when Baker’s humour was much more subdued and subtle, and he played the role totally straight. That said, City of Death was definitely one of the best stories of the Williams era. Scaroth was one of the better villains that the fourth Doctor faced, and I’ve always found the concept of the Jagaroth, a ruthless alien race which terrorized the galaxy half a billion years ago, to be something that I’d love to see revisited again. Maybe in the new series. The TARDIS can go anywhere, after all.

Anyway, that was another really enjoyable evening. Here’s looking forward to watching some more Doctor Who soon.