The Visitors by Clifford D. Simak

The Visitors by Clifford D. Simak (Italian edition)
The Visitors by Clifford D. Simak (Italian edition)

The novel “The Visitors” by Clifford D. Simak was published for the first time in 1979.

Lone Pine is a small town in Minnesota where generally nothing strange happens until one day a huge object that looks like a giant black box appears in the sky. The local barber reacts like he’s facing an invasion and shoots the mysterious object with a rifle he causes just one reaction, a beam that incinerates him.

The object lands on Jerry Conklin’s car and he gets captured and held prisoner for several hours. There isn’t exactly a communication between Jerry and the box yet he understands that it’s a form of intelligent life. Meanwhile, the news of its arrival starts spreading and everyone is wondering where it comes from and what it wants, also because there are many others in orbit.

The idea of ‚Äč‚Äčaliens who arrive on Earth and cause both social and economic problems even when their actions are not overtly hostile isn’t new. Clifford D. Simak himself developed this concept in different ways in various stories, in “The Visitor” he does it again keeping until the end the ambiguity concerning the aliens.

Even a master of science fiction with a career spanning decades can find an external inspiration. In this case, the alien that lands in Lone Pine looks like the monolith from “2001: A Space Odyssey” in its shape and in the absence of real communication with humans.

The problem of communication between humans and aliens is typical of Clifford D. Simak, just like the mix of aliens and country setting. In the last phase of his life, the author expressed in his works a certain pessimism, unlike the previous decades. In “The Visitors” the aliens seem too different from humans and not just physically to be possible to establish communications with them.

Jerry Conklin, who gets captured by the alien at the beginning of the novel, can only understand that it’s a living and intelligent creature but nothing more. The man gets studied by the alien but it’s not clear how much it’s able to understand human beings.

This lack of understanding of the aliens prevents American politicians from deciding what to do about them. The reaction of the first alien landed against a man who shot it shows that they can defend themselves from an attack and that scares politicians. The possibility of studying them and obtain new technologies is alluring and the other nations demand any discoveries to be shared.

“The Visitors” is developed in some subplots that follow the politicians in Washington D.C., Jerry Conklin and other inhabitants of Lone Pine, journalist Kathy Foster and the staff at the Minnesota Tribune. At the center of the story there are the aliens: initially the first one who landed on Earth and then the others who were in orbit and then land as well.

The aliens seem to need plants for food and this is the first problem for humans because Americans are afraid that their forests get destroyed. The aliens also seem to be curious about some human activities and for example they follow aircraft in flight.

The uncertainty regarding the behavior of the visitors and the frustration at the lack of communication with them is a central element of the novel. Attempts to understand the aliens and being understood by them lead to unforeseen developments with consequences that become more and more important on the economy.

At the end, the visitors are neither friends nor enemies: they’re probably too alien to reach a mutual understanding but the consequences of their arrival are remarkable. Even if the aliens are not hostile, there’s a parallel with the contact between Europeans and Native Americans.

In “The Visitors” action is limited because the story mainly concerns the attempts of humans to understand the aliens so there’s a lot of dialogue. That doesn’t mean that the story is boring because it contains a lot of food for thought. There are many characters, perhaps too many for a novel of limited length by today’s standards, so very few of them have some development.

“The Visitors” is a rather peculiar novel about a contact with aliens. In my opinion, Clifford D. Simak wrote some better novel but this is probably the most interesting work he wrote in the last years of his life so I recommend reading it.

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