By Clifford D. Simak
Published by Librivox
Read by Kevin Green
Clifford Simak was definitely one of the grandmasters of Science Fiction. His views of the future are always fresh and original and his characters are real-seeming people – the sort you can imagine meeting on any normal day, and he focuses on those people, not on great events. This brings the story to the personal level even as he explores the possibilities for the future of Mankind and those associated with us.
Empire, one of his early works, takes place in a Twenty-second Century in which Man has colonies on most of the planets in the solar system and the chief source of energy is the Sun. Unfortunately, a single, immense corporation controls all that solar energy and thereby owns most of the colonies defacto and has majority influence on the rest. However, a pair of scientists, working in a private lab, discovers a new energy source of possibly unlimited potential. So when the megacorporation learns of their discovery, they fight back with all the resources they have at hand.
There were a few incidents I am uncomfortable about in the story. When the protagonists find they can use their invention to pick the pockets of a man who sold them out to the big corporation, leaving him penniless and without identification, I found myself, both cheering for the justice served but also thinking that made them as bad as the big corporation they were fighting. My modern mindset also rebelled a bit at their manipulation of the interplanetary stock markets. It seemed to me that eventually they ought to be brought up on insider trading charges, but then I also thought it unlikely that markets on the colony planets would deal in the same set of shares traded on Earth and if they did, they would be just as likely to be vulnerable to abuse as they were in this story, albeit in a different manner.
I also wondered if any single invention could do as much as this one seems to be capable of – basic energy generation, three-dimensional TV, teleportation, time travel, force fields and so on. Well, maybe it could, it just seemed a bit too much as the inventors discover more and more that can accomplish with the same discovery.
I also flinched, but just a bit when they first discovered the teleportation ability. It started when a wrench fell into the field and disappeared. They eventually find it inside a wall and in the spirit of experimentation they start dropping other things (BBs, if I remember correctly) in to see where they will turn up. Really? By all rights they should have been killed when some of those things ended up inside of them. They had not yet learned how to control it and results were random. Oh well… it would have been a very short story.
It is possible that Simak had far too much faith in the ability of scientists and their ability to improvise on the fly, in this book at least. On both sides of the conflict, there are characters who instantly recognize and understand what the others are doing and cobble together means by which to battle against them. I’m sure the author meant to imply that one development was a simple extension from the last, but it got a bit strained when the antagonist’s pet scientist replaces a whole nearly burnt out set of gear while in deep interstellar space and rebuilds it with vast improvements. I kept wondering what he built it out of and what he built it with. They were on a spaceship after all, that had been fitted for battle, there should not have been all that much space left for material storage and fabrication.
In spite of these flaws, it is not a bad story even if not one of Simak’s best and if you have enjoyed his other work, this should be worth a read. It is a classic piece of “Old School” science fiction.
Kevin Green seems to have had a lot of fun reading this book. Unlike many of Librivox’s readers, Mister Green has a notable ability to use accents and he manages to do so without being obnoxious about it. Some of his vocal choices seemed odd (or perhaps the word I want is unexpected) to me. Such as his use of an Irish accent for Greg Manning, but it was not your typical and annoying Hollywood-Leprechaun-Faith-and-Begorah accent. No, this is the accent of a well-educated man who just happens to be Irish. It is not strong or hard to understand, but it is pronounced.
Most of Mister Green’s other accents are used similarly and are done in such a way that I hate to accuse him of using “funny voices.” If a reader is going to play with voices, I think Kevin Green sets a good example of how to do it.
So, all told, this is a somewhat early and, perhaps simplistic work of Clifford Simak, but it has a compelling and fun to follow story nonetheless and Kevin Green presents an interesting reading of it.