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A Heritage of Stars
by Clifford Simak
Berkley, 219pp
Published: May 1977

As I've observed before, Simak tended to write similar plotlines; most of his stories were either first-contact or journey/quest type stories.  This is one of the latter.

In a post-apocalyptic world, Tom Cushing was a woodsman before he was taken in by the University where he learned to read and grow potatoes.  But after a while, wanderlust set in and Tom decided to go find a place so legendary there weren't even any stories about it but for one reference that stuck in his mind:  The Place of Going To The Stars.  In this world, something happened several thousands of years earlier to make all of mankind turn its back on technology.  In a frenzy, all technology was utterly destroyed and all libraries were systematically purged of all written words that described technology.  Everyone knows the story but no one knows why; there are no records after the purge.  Part of the legend is that the bulk of mankind left the planet for the stars but no one has ever come back.  Tom just decides he'd like to see this place which, in his mind, would look like the descriptions of a rocket launch pad but other than the vague direction "west" he really has no idea where to look.

The first person he picks up is a cranky middle-aged woman who declares she is a witch; albeit, a poor one, who is very interested in a reason to leave the city she lives in.  She has no family or friends and is tolerated as a necessary evil but times are changing.  The plains hordes are moving east into the cities and there will be war.  She's pretty sure even a poor witch won't survive. But she also foresees a grand destiny in Tom and convinces him she could help him on his quest; along with her horse which may or may not be smarter than an average horse.

The next companion he meets is a robot.  As a general rule, there are no robots anymore.  They were, of course, technology and fodder for the overall destruction but this one managed to escape and overcome the programming which kept all the other robots from defending themselves.  In a scene lifted from "The Wizard of Oz", Tom rescues the robot who is interested in traveling with them as they don't seem to be interested in dismantling him and taking his braincase as a trophy. Robot braincases are the only part of the robots that were indestructible and the primitive plainspeople keep them as trophies. The robot promises to be useful in protecting them at night as they do their best to avoid the migrating warriors on horseback.  It also contributes another strange companion - some sort of creature made of light that they dub a "shivering snake".

And finally, the little troupe meets up with a middle-aged man and his daughter, who appears to be simple.  But the couple are anything but simple; the man communes with plants and the young woman communes with the universe.  Both will be essential for the mission to succeed.

For now they do have a mission.  Along the way, Tom discovered the location of The Place; and a map left behind by a plains warrior, gave them a direction. But the destination isn't anything any of them anticipated and it will take the combined efforts and talents of all of them to overcome the guardians set to prevent anyone from approaching.  And it will take all of them to understand what they have found and decide what to do with their new-found knowledge…of technology.  Would reintroducing technology take them back to the brink of disaster again; or, could they use just what they need and retain the more pastoral way of the life which seems desirable?

This is soooo typically Simak.  He enjoyed creating a motley group and setting them on a quest.  This story is a bit more simplistic than many of his like stories in that none of them have a philosophical quandary to solve; they are simply on an interesting journey with no particular goal but to find a place.  Simak also liked the image of a quiet Earth without the destruction and devastation that technology brings.  I enjoyed it like I enjoy a perfect cuppa and good chocolate; it was a joyful story.  Nothing was made of the impending conflict with the plains warriors; they weren't even much described.  And our heroes were never really in any danger nor was there any real disturbing conflict to resolve.  Simak must have really been a very gentle person.  ~~ Catherine Book

For more titles by Cliffor D Simak click here

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