Monday, December 27, 2010

All Flesh Is Grass - Clifford D. Simak [1965]

In the unremarkable town of Millville, Brad Carter bears witness to the most remarkable event in human history: contact with an alien intelligence. Resembling purple flowers, they have utilized their control over time itself to place a barrier around Millville, preventing access to the outside world. They have come offering humanity their extensive knowledge in exchange for our partnership in their endeavors across time and space. But is anything ever so easy? As Brad tries to learn more about the flowers, nuclear annihilation looms from an increasingly fearful outside world as unrest brews from the terrified citizens within.

All Flesh Is Grass is, at heart, a first contact story with the most unlikely of ambassadors: Brad Carter is a failed insurance and real estate agent in the archetypal small town where nothing ever happens. This backdrop of a dull middle-American town, with all the resident characters you'd expect: the elderly doctor, the beleaguered mayor, the friendly drunk, and others make Brad's plight in dealing with his extraordinary circumstances all the more relatable, and provides additional contrast to the otherworldliness of the aliens. The aliens themselves are rather novel, being hyper-intelligent flowers from a parallel dimension. All these elements come together to form a story that, much like Brad, moves at its own pace, not really in a particular hurry to get from one place to the next. While this may have been done to try to invoke a sense of the mundane world that Brad calls home, it fails to carry the story when it shifts gear into the more fantastical.

Overall, All Flesh Is Grass is a passable novel, and while not excellent, is still certainly worthy of a Nebula nomination. Fans of Simak will recognize his signature style, and it's certainly something different in the first contact sub-genre. Recommended is Asimov's The God's Themselves for another tale of first contact that might not be all it seems.

In Short
All Flesh Is Grass is a unique take on the first contact story that is both familiar and utterly alien at the same time, with sleepy, small-town 1960s America contrasting hyper-intelligent, hive mind flowers.


It seems that even being on break isn't enough to make me overcome laziness. Oh well. Here's a post anyway. I should probably build up a buffer or something so I can immediately retain my lead when Fern posts again. Also, belated season's greetings!

Oh, and I love foreign book covers.