Monday, January 6, 2014

Shakespeare's Planet: Review

Shakespeare's Planet by Clifford D. Simak is one very weird book.  It opens with a very simple premise...Carter Horton and three other crew members were sent into space on a sleeper ship a thousand years or so ago.  The ship is a human/machine hybrid (with three human brains as part of its operating system--this supposedly makes didn't to me) and the mission?  To seek out a planet suitable for human life. The goal? Once a planet was found they were supposed to return to earth so colonization could begin.  Except it wasn't supposed to take a thousand or more years to find one.  And three of the four crew members weren't supposed to die in transit.

So...when a somewhat suitable planet is found, Carter is awakened and he explores the planet with a sidekick robot--Nicodemus.  Ship has told Carter that there's no sense in heading back to the time they get there he will be two thousands years behind--an outcast from the past.  Carter's not quite sure what the purpose of his exploration (or his life, for that matter) is since the mission seems to have gone awry, but he gets distracted from these musings when he discovers another living being, Carnivore, on the planet.  Although Carnivore is obviously an alien (see the tusked, red-eared, tentacle-handed creature on the cover), Carter is amazed to find that he speaks his language.  All is explained when Carnivore tells Carter that there is a space "tunnel" that has allowed travel to the planet and when he (Carnivore) arrived there was a human named Shakespeare already in residence.

And why, you may ask, didn't Shakespeare and Carnivore leave the planet by the space tunnel? Because it doesn't work for leaving--only for arriving.  It seems to be broken.  Shakespeare is now dead (Carnivore ate him even though he was his friend....don't ask) and Carnivore is SO happy to have new friends who just might be able to help him figure out how to fix the space tunnel so he can leave this "no good planet."  But fixing the space tunnel isn't as easy as all that and there is the "god-hour" to worry about and the stinky creature who lives in the pond and a few other mysteries to clear up before everybody can leave the planet.  Well, everyone except Carnivore--but I can't explain that because that would be a major spoiler.

And...for all that...not a whole heaping bunch really actually happens in this book.  There are long drawn-out parts where the three brains that make up Ship argue with each other and there are philosophical bits where Carter thinks about time and earth and death and whatnot.  There's a big action scene at the end (part of that spoiler I can't talk about)--but nothing is really explained.  The tunnel suddenly works; we don't know for sure why it didn't (though there are answers suggested); we don't know who created the tunnels; and nothing is really resolved satisfactorily. And we're left wondering who the heck Shakespeare really was and why did he come to the planet in the first place?  Oh...and coincidentally, in the middle of everything, another human shows up (three humans on this out-of-the-way planet almost all at once....yep, totally believing that)...and she just happens to show up with no shirt on.  Bet that wasn't gratuitous.  Nope.

There's a bit of interesting commentary on humans and life and death and the purpose of life and even friendship. That and the bit of action at the end make this an okay read and a two-star effort--but definitely not more than that.

Old wives' tales or not, it is best to be ruled by local custom until one is sure. ~Nicodemus, p.25

We are lost because we lost the earth.  We are lost because we do not know where we are. We are lost because we can't find the way back home. There now is no place for us. We walk strange roads in stranger lands and along the way, there is nothing that makes sense. Once we knew some answers because we knew the questions to be asked, but now we can find no answers because we do not know the questions. ~dream version of Shakespeare, p. 146

Our prehistoric ancestors...knew what to be afraid of and that, at the bottom of it, is what any species must have if it is to survive. What to be afraid of, what to walk around, what to leave alone. ~dream version of Shakespeare, p. 147

Challenges Met: Mount TBR Challenge, Bookish TBR, Century of Books, Outdo Yourself, Adam's TBR Challenge, Million Pages, How Many Books, 100 Plus Challenge, Vintage SF Month, Science Fiction Experience, 52 Books in 52 Weeks, Book Bingo, Literary Exploration, A-Z Reading Challenge (Alphabet Soup), Out of This World


fredamans said...

It sounds like a really weird book. It just so happens I know a guy, my uncle in fact, who is into really weird books. Have to pass along this title to him and see if he has read it already. Great review!

Bev Hankins said...

Thanks, Freda. I've read others by Simak that went down a lot better than this one. Definitely not a keeper.

Anonymous said...

What a fascinating title, and apparently utterly bizarre book! I was totally into the title, but if Shakespeare isn't, you know, *Shakespeare* then I'm out...

Priya said...

I have a book called Cosmic Engineers by the same author that I'd planned to read this month. This seems way more interesting, just from the 'Shakespeare' in the title. Of course, the story is not quite what I imagined. The book sounds awesomely absurd and I can't wait to read it! Thanks for the great review.