Clifford D. Simak's _The Worlds of Clifford D. Simak_ (1960) is a collection of a dozen good Simak stories published between 1954 and 1958. One is from _Infinity_, two are from _Astounding_, and nine are from _Galaxy_. Two stories ("Idiot's Crusade" and "Founding Father") are chillers. One ("Death Scene") is bittersweet. But the tone of most of the stories is that of gentle humor.
Probably the best-known story in the collection is Simak's Hugo-winning novelette, "The Big Front Yard". It's the one about the Yankee handyman and trader who begins to notice strange goings-on in his house. And then there is a discovery made outside his front door that proves great for the handyman, his dog Towser (Simak stories frequently feature dogs), and his retarded assistant. I have read this story over half a dozen times over the years, and it still holds up well.
Two other stories in which the "little guy" emerges triumphant over the forces of bureaucracy are "Operation Stinky" and "Green Thumb". The first is the one in which the little skunklike alien tricks the Air Force brass. The second involves a county agent who investigates unusual holes and soil samples appearing in his territory-- and forms an alliance with some alien plants. (There is a dog in this story, too.) "Idiot's Crusade" is still another tale in which the little guy wins. But this time, the results are horrific rather than comic.
Four stories-- "Honorable Opponent," "Founding Father," "Jackpot," and "Lulu"-- involve humans who go out into space and run into some strange situations Out There. The first story is about the Army brass who must meet the teddybearlike aliens who have whipped them in battle to discuss terms of surrender. The second tale is about delusions planted in the mind of a spaceman that begin to take over his life. The third is about a spaceship crew (not, shall we say, like that of the _Enterprise_) that discovers that it is better to travel hopefully than to arrive. And the fourth is about the lovesick ship's computer with a taste for soppy poetry.
Three stories in which Earthmen make alien contacts that are not to their advantage are "Dusty Zebra," "Carbon Copy," and "Neighbor". The first is about a boy who finds a way to trade with denizens of a parallel word and about his father, who is too clever for his own good. The second dramatizes a real estate scam that backfires on the agent. The third (_another_ story with a dog!) is about the alien who literally has a way to keep people down on the farm. This story is marvelously told, but it always bothered me a bit. It describes what amounts to a benevolent dictatorship.
"Death Scene" is the most unusual tale in the book. Suppose that everybody could see exactly twenty-four hours into the future. The story is about an elderly man who _knows_ that he will shortly die-- and how he and his family quietly prepare for the event. The tale is so beautifully told, it seems almost petty to point out the flaw in the story: Not everyone will die quietly, painlessly, peacefully, or in dignity.
Simak has often (and accurately) been called an author of pastoral science fiction. "Neighbor" is the purest pastoral piece in the book, since it deals with a spot of country isolated from the rest of the world. But there is a "small town" feel to many of the other stories as well. Aliens in these stories may be a bit strange, but they are usually benevolent-- just plain folks. Simak's world is a world in which many problems can be solved by dickering, playing chess, going fishing, or swapping drinks from a bottle. It's a world that I enjoyed visiting. I suspect that you will like it as well.