Visitors Hardcover – Jan 1980
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248 pages of excellent text. Book Club Edition.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
This book is no exception to these generalities. Inscrutable black boxes arrive on earth and begin to eat... yet give amazing gifts to humans in return. However, the trustworthiness of these gifts is in question.
If you don't mind a novel that seems to just drift off instead of coming to a conclusion, Simak's books, including this one, are worth it.
In this day and age, it's kind of quaint how relatively slowly information about our first contact with an alien race is disseminated. The visitors themselves turn out to be reasonably benign, though they're so far removed from our ken that communication with them on almost any level seems like an impossible feat. They don't exactly seem interested in making friends, but nor have them come to deliberately harm us. They also bear an uncanny resemblance to the monoliths from 2001. I'm not sure Simak realized this when he described them, but it's hard not to notice when viewing the couple different examples of cover artwork I've seen for this book.
Simak does a decent enough job holding my interest, but the most intriguing section of the book occupies only the final 50 pages, which is somewhat frustrating, as it's not enough time to explore the ramifications that result from the visitors' attempts at repaying the human race for its hospitality in a manner that is charmingly offbeat, but also threatens to destroy the United States' economy. As one character briefly speculates, however, perhaps the visitors are unwittingly forcing humanity, or at least America, to reexamine its values. Certainly, the visitors are causing disaster in the short run, but in the end, they could potentially force us kicking and screaming towards a better way of life. Whatever the potential repercussions, Simak leaves it up the reader to imagine what might happen next.
The novel "The Visitor" (1980) was first published as a three part serial in Analog magazine in 1979. It's subject matter, Earth being visited by aliens from outer space, is a topic that has been run to ground by many authors. It's somewhat surprising that an experienced writer like Simak, late in his career, would resurrected this idea into a novel length work. Well, he did and the results are mixed.
A very large rectangular slap lands in the fictional town of Lone Pine, Minnesota. After ingesting some critters and a young man - soon to be expelled - the Visitor begins to consume trees, more and more of them. Eventually out pops bales of cellulous material and then miniature versions of the Visitor, which consume the bales. Needless to say this raised serious concerns in Washington.
The book consists of 57 chapters of 2 to 5 pages in length. The action, such as it is, rotates between the following locations per the chapter titles: "Washington D.C." - as the crisis depends the President and his advisors mull over what to do and more importantly what not to do; "Lone Pine, Minnesota" - the town drunk keeps tabs on the Visitor for a bottle or a fiver and the town folks wish they would all go away; "Minneapolis" - the hard boiled editor of a major metropolitan daily obtains scoops and scoops from his fearless news-gal and photographer.
Honestly there is not much that happens in this story once the Visitors lands and is discovered. The President mulls, locals observe and the news hounds sneak around and report. The author inserts some sentimental silliness near the end of the book when the Visitors start expelling cellulous autos and houses - yes it's in the book! Eventually the book doesn't end it, well, just stops - as if the author ran out of ideas or realized he has run this old chestnut to ground.
Fans and admires of Clifford Simak should by all means read this book. You will enjoy the chapters titles "Minneapolis" since they all take place in a newspaper office, where Simak had labored all his professional life. Inquiring readers may be better served with some of his other titles that I greatly admire and unhesitatingly recommend: "Time and Again" (1951) - "Choice of Gods" (1971) and "Highway to Eternity" - his last book which was published in 1986.