The novel “The Trouble With Tycho” by Clifford D. Simak was published for the first time in 1960 in the magazine “Amazing Science Fiction” and in 1961 as a book.
Chris Jackson is a lunar prospector who lives in hardship looking for the rare lichens present in an area of the Moon. The meeting with Amelia Thompson could change his outlook because the girl wants to finish a deed started by her brother but that means venturing into the crater Tycho, where many people have already died, creating a really sinister reputation.
Chris Jackson would rather not risk his life staying away from the crater Tycho but the situation changes when he gets hired as a guide to a scientist who wants to solve the mystery. The risk is huge but the result could be the discovery of the secrets of the lichens, the lunar life form known as hounds and more.
Clifford D. Simak’s best known for his stories set on Earth that often showed his strong bond with a pastoral world. That doesn’t mean that he didn’t write stories set at least in part in space, on the contrary he wrote several of them and “The Trouble With Tycho” is set on the Moon.
In this novel, there’s a human outpost on the Moon and there are prospectors who live thanks to the presence of the rare lichens, one of the mysterious life forms discovered in an area of the Moon. The discovery of the these lichens’ healing properties made them precious creating a market around them.
A prospector’s life is not easy because he has to bring everything he needs along with him to survive in an environment full of dangers. Prospectors use a rig to move on the Moon but any problem out there can be lethal. Apart from the presence of some life forms, the lunar environment is realistic and so are the risks for prospectors.
In particular, the large Tycho crater is considered extremely dangerous after three expeditions crashed inside it for unknown reasons. The most superstitious people thought it’s a cursed crater and even the bravest tend to keep their distance because very few are willing to take more risks than normal.
In some ways, in “The Trouble With Tycho” Clifford D. Simak reproduced a pioneering environment like that of the places where there was the gold rush with the additional lunar dangers and the mysteries of Tycho crater. In short, it’s a novel set out of Earth but the author created a story in many ways tied to the mother planet.
The story is an adventure with the mystery of Tycho and the legends born around the alleged wealth that a man brave enough to face its dangers and skilled enough to overcome them might find. Chris Jackson is a prospector who’d rather stay away from Tycho but ends up being involved in a new research about it.
The plot is very simple and straightforward for a novel that’s very short by today’s standards. In these cases there’s a risk that the result is a dull adventure but Clifford D. Simak manages to put some pathos and some philosophical element in the thoughts of its protagonist Chris Jackson – the only character who has some kind of development – that improve the story.
Overall, “The Trouble With Tycho” doesn’t seem to me among Clifford D. Simak’s best novels. All in all I think it’s pretty good but it’s really short and tied to an adventurous kind science fiction typical of pulp magazines. For this reason I recommend it especially to fans of that kind of stories and of the author.