Reviews of Shakespeare's Planet (1976)
Review by uofm-d (2004-11-09)
By Clifford D Simak
Shakespeare’s Planet by Clifford D. Simak is not a great work of science fiction. It left me unsatisfied and searching for answers as the novel ended. A number of scientific ideas and humanistic issues are raised, but none of them proceed very far or enlighten me to greater insight about humanity.
This novel presents a number of science fiction type ideas like human cold sleep, a space travel tunnel system, and robots with multiple exchangeable brains. None of the ideas are dealt with on an in-depth basis, but do provide a futuristic background and help out the characters. Simak could have taken the novel in many directions with any one of the ideas. Instead he uses them as devices to create problems for the characters, like the one-way space travel tunnel or to attempt to solve a problem like Nicodemus, the robot with multiple brain modules. The effect on human development or society of each of these devices is touched on but the technology seems to be abandoned before its full potential is reached. This may be intentional on the author’s part to emprise his theme of the human mind having great potential but not being developed by humans.
The plot of the novel lacks overall action. There is some exploration of the ruins, pond and hill by Carter Horton but this come to very little information or help to solve the problems the characters face. Most of the time the characters are sitting around waiting and hoping the robot can fix the space travel tunnel so they can leave. The greatest amount of action occurs when the monster emerges from under the hill and the creature from the time cube. Even this is over in a moment and everything quiets down quickly.
Many themes come out in various character discussions verses the character actions or reactions to each other or their surroundings. Ideas are presented by the spaceship’s three minds / personalities in their own private discourses. Horton’s reading of Shakespeare’s margin writings scattered throughout a copy of the Complete Works of Shakespeare reveal other ideas. This leads to a less exciting read and could have been presented in as character reaction to different events for greater effect and reading pleasure.
The climatic scene of the novel is unsatisfying and leaves many questions unanswered. There is no real answer as to who built the travel tunnels. What was the monster under the hill? There are some guesses by characters but no definite resolution. We are left asking who was Shakespeare and how and why did he end up on the planet?
Also why is Horton leaving the planet and where is he going to go? Ship will put him back into clod sleep and they will go off in search of another planet. He can’t return to Earth since he would be out of date. He was originally on a scouting mission for the population of Earth, but that is no longer a driving force.
Clifford D Simak’s novel Shakespeare’s Planet could have been a much better novel if the book was expanded to allow for the exploration of some of the ideas presented or the plotting and thematic elements were woven closer together in the story.