Friday, March 29, 2024

Clifford D. Simak and Grandpa Jones and Their Dogs

I wrote a few months ago about how much I like listening to Grandpa Jones sing about dogs, though I don't actually like dogs that much, or want a dog as a pet. I've been listening to Grandpa Jones fairly regularly for several months now, and thinking about why I like him so much, and I realized that one of the many reasons I love Grandpa Jones is that listening to him makes me think of one of my favorite science fiction writers, Clifford D. Simak.

The connection between Simak and Grandpa Jones? Well, several things -- a love of the land and nature, simple country characters, bucolic beauty, backwoods simplicity.

But mostly it's the dogs.

Dogs are one of Simak's characteristic story elements, along with aliens, which every SF writer of his generation wrote a lot about. And ghosts, which most SF writers of Simak's generation did not write about. But there are ghosts in a lot of Simak's stories. And robots. Lots of robots.

One of my first experiences reading Simak's work was more than 40 years ago, when he was still alive and writing. (He died in 1988, but published a novel that same year.) I checked out his then-current novel Special Deliverance from the Lilburn public library, along with Piers Anthony's then-most-recent book (Juxtaposition, I think, or else the book that came before it, Blue Adept) and I've been a fan ever since. (Special Deliverance is considered one of his minor novels, but I love it, probably because it was the first thing I read by him. It's got a great cover – there's a robot on it. However, the book doesn't have any dogs in it.)

I recently re-read one of Simak's most famous stories, the 1958 novella "The Big Front Yard," and in that story the main character, Hiram Taine, has a dog named Towser. There's a Grandpa Jones song called "Old Towzer." Sure, Grandpa Jones (or whoever actually wrote the song; I'm not sure if it was him or not) spells it differently – and Simak always spells it the same; lots of his stories have a character kind of like Hiram Taine, and they always have a much-loved dog, who is, it seems, always name Towser – but Grandpa Jones and Clifford D. Simak show a similar affection for their old dogs. Even those that aren't named Towser.

If only Grandpa Jones had some songs about robots!

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Traveling Misanthrope

I do a lot of driving. It always brings out the misanthrope in me.

I go on a lot of recreational drives, like into the mountains of north Georgia or up U.S. 441 toward the Great Smokey Mountains National Park (one of my favorite drives in the world) or on various backroads that seem like they might be interesting. The roads on these drives tend to be twisty and turny and I don't always know them that well, plus I'm trying to enjoy the scenery, and I'm on the lookout for any thing or place worth stopping at to visit or to take a picture of.

So I don't drive especially fast.

Oh, most of the time I'm driving the speed limit, sometimes a tiny bit faster – I may go 50 in a 45 MPH zone, but that's usually as fast as I'm willing to go. But that never seems fast enough for most of the cars that end up behind me. When I'm out there driving, trying to enjoy the scenery while also keeping my eyes both on the road and on the car's mirrors, it seems like all the other cars want me to drive faster than I am, and they sure as heck don't like it when I slow down to look at something that I might find interesting enough to take a picture of. I get passed or tailgated by just about everybody. The only scenery the other drivers care about, it seems, is the trees and mountains whizzing by in a blur as they speed off towards…wherever it is exactly those other drivers are going.

And it makes me hate them, every one of them. Stupid tailgating cars! I drive like I have a sense of self preservation. The other drivers seem to think they're immortal. They drive as though when they're around, all laws, including those of driving, the road, and physics, are suspended. My driving is informed by the knowledge, like Mr. Flood's gentle handling of the whisky jug in that Edwin Arlington Robinson poem, that "most things break." And that includes people who drive like idiots, or who drive too fast on twisty, turny roads they aren't familiar with.

It's pretty much the same on the roads I travel regularly, the roads I am familiar with. Even when I'm just heading to work, I still drive like someone who knows you should exercise caution when piloting a ton of metal down the road -- which is to say, I don't drive fast enough for everyone else.

I don't really know what the people in the cars behind me are thinking. Probably I spend a lot more time thinking about them than they spend thinking about me. There's probably nothing personal when they zip by me at 100 miles an hour. I doubt they really think, "Oh no! It's that Chris Burdett guy who always drives so slow," when they see the hind end of my Hyundai Elantra on the road ahead of them.

I doubt they enjoy passing me.

Do they?