rom out of the yellowing book box, another draw (this one happily not flaking into scraps). As usual for me (hey, I have my interests) another science fiction tale from Clifford D. Simak from 1970, a strange little story titled Out of their Minds.
So this one is strange – hero-guy Horton Smith is troubled. He’s (I assume) burned out from his life as a globe-trotting journalist. Now he’s in his car heading back to Pilot Knob, the tiny town way up in the hills (somewhere somewhat close to DC, but then again, in the 70’s, the wilderness was a lot closer to DC, I suppose).
And Smith has a lot on his mind – namely the curious death of his friend who was killed when another car crashed into his. The weird thing – no trace of the other car was ever found. So he’s mulling this over as the night grows more foul, the weather closing, the road confusing. He’s about at the point of admitting he’s lost when a triceratops charges out of the darkness, pounding towards his car.
He skids. He stops. He bolts. He pauses. He looks back. No dinosaur.
But now his car is stuck.
Finding a tiny farmhouse, he asks for shelter for the night from a Alleghany couple, a small ornery man and a huge woman. The man has a big black hat and smokes a corncob pipe. I’ll cut to the chase here – it’s Snuffy Smith (nice clues were dropped, I’ll admit). Of course, most modern audiences won’t know who I’m speaking of so I’ll save you the trouble of a google search – go HERE.
Other strange things happen before he finally makes it to Pilot Knob and a dry hotel room, where a piece of mail has finally caught up. It’s from his dead friend, and is a long explanation of evolution and how the next leap to another life form might be one of thought and human imagination. Turns out, of course, that it’s true. And these ethereal beings are tied in enough to be like some rogue government agency, trying to kill anyone who knows about them.
Okay, so the story is fine – a bit weird with all aspects of human imagination coming into place (sea serpents, the Battle of Gettysburg, and the Devil). But it’s a little too pat. Why should these beings of an alternate reality care that humans know – it’s not like they can do anything about it. It just didn’t seem plausible (no, I’m okay with the general premise) that suddenly he’s being hunted by the fantastic. Even the book cover throws us off – there is a whimsical devil smiling from the White House fence. In the story, he’s breathing brimstone and is quite a nasty sight.
I can’t speak for the author but I suspect that he thought it was a clever idea, that all our characters from all our imaginations have created this other world, and that they are pissed that we populate it not with the ogres and demons of the past but with characters like Dagwood Bumstead and Charlie Brown. But the plot seems a bit rigged with the character known as the “referee” claiming that Smith had to undergo three trials. Why three? Why not kill him? Drop a bomb on him or something. It was a shaky plot that was fine for a Sunday afternoon read but not for something more, like, say, a book review?
Funny, still, to reflect that if Simak’s world was true, Horton Smith now lives in that netherworld with all our other creations, aimless and pointless. And pretty much forgotten other than the odd historic review.