A very typical offering this time. The story involves a journey by a motley crew: Mark Cornwall is a scholar who found a peculiar hidden document but had to leave town because the local thug wanted the document. Mark believes he can use the document to find a lost university where a wealth of information is kept. Oliver is the rafter goblin who lived in the university and was the one to warn Mark that his life was at risk. Gib is a Marshman who was friends with an old hermit who died. Before he died he asked Gib to take an ancient stone tool back to its mythological makers the Old Ones. Snively, the gnome, was the one who made the sword that Mark took with him on the journey and Snively joined the quest with a feeling of responsibility for having crafted a sword only to lay it in the inexperienced hands of a mere scholar. Hal and his friend Coon (a possibly sentient raccoon) become the guides for the hapless troupe. Mary was picked up by the group at an inn where she confided that she was about to run away from the brutal innkeeper and his equally brutal wife. Mary believed that she and her lost parents had come out of the Wasteland the very place where the group is headed to find the Old Ones and the mysterious university with answers to Mark’s questions.
As the group approached the wasteland they encountered a very strange man whom the local little people believed to be a great wizard. His name was Jones and he confided to the group that he was no wizard but that his technology was such magic to the locals that they named him wizard. He claimed to be from an alternate world where no magic exists and everything is governed by technology; a word that means nothing to the likes of Mark and Mary who cannot grasp the idea of a world with no magic. Mary finds evidence that her parents passed through the area and everyone who had met them agreed that they were something special. They were able to travel through the most dangerous areas with no weapons whatsoever; carrying only their inherent goodness. Jones came to believe that Mary’s parents came from his world, but possibly from farther in the future.
The group took refuge from the Hellhounds in a castle. Hellhounds are some nasty bits of business who act like the local mafia. The castle belonged to the late Chaos Beast and the castle inhabitants beg the group to liberate an object from the putrefying body of the dead Beast. The object turns out to be a sort of metal man who becomes a bodyguard of sorts to the group, saving them time after time.
And so this incredibly diverse and motley crew do eventually find the Old Ones who are not at all what any of them expected; although Jones recognized them instantly. And they do find an end to their quest although it wasn’t what any of them expected there, either. Nor was it an end to the introduction of still more bizarre characters.
Simak enjoys playing with his characters to see what they eventually take away from their pilgrimage. Do they simply see the end of the journey as a step away from returning home very hobbit-wise? Or do they see the end as a beginning of the next new thing? For this story, it was a little of one and a little of the other. For Simak, the plot was always the thing and I feel he picked up the dice and shook them out to see which type of character he’d use next. He reveled in combining the most unlikely characters although he seemed to feel he owed the gentle reader at least one human male and sometimes - one human female love interest. I read these stories for the fascinating mix of characters and their impact on each other; and for the plot. ~~ Catherine Book