This story is a typical Simak first-contact type story. He was fascinated by the myriad ways we might meet up with aliens and the implications for the future of humanity. In this story, the aliens came upon us unsuspectingly, insidiously even.
Our hero, Brad Carter, is not the gardener his father was. He’s forced to fold up the family business and it’s when he hits rock bottom that he gets a mysterious message from a cordless phone left on his desk. After the phone offers him an improbable job, it then advises him to seek out the richest man in his village someone with whom Brad hasn’t ever really connected, beyond dating the great man’s daughter when they were young. Gerald Sherwood has had a long association with the cordless phones he makes them but he never knew who was at the other end. For Gerald, he gets ‘ideas’ for inventions which have determined his fortune they just sort of pop into his mind. For others, like Brad, they need the physical connection provided by the phone. At about the same time, Brad reconnects with an old friend who also has an improbable job offer for him a think-tank that simply asks questions and requires answers.
Shortly thereafter, Brad’s little back-water village has an astounding event the entire village is surrounded by an invisible barrier that seems to prevent any living thing from leaving the village. And the surprises just keep coming… Tupper Tyler, a mentally-deficient boy who disappeared ten years earlier, suddenly appears in Brad’s yard, without a stitch of clothing but a handmade hat. Tupper is quite insistent on talking to Brad’s father who recently passed away. Brad’s father had been quite the gardener and would pick up odd plants and bring them to his garden where everything grew. Tupper went on at great length about the pretty purple flowers that Brad’s father brought to the town, where they now grew in profusion. The flowers, Tupper insist, have been taking care of Tupper since he left. And the flowers have a message.
When Brad follows Tupper’s path of escape through a patch of the ubiquitous purple flowers he comes out into a valley that looks exactly like his home village but without all the buildings, roads and people but with millions of purple flowers. He discovers Tupper’s little home and is introduced to the flowers who have been taking care of Tupper for the past ten years on an alternate Earth. Tupper’s mind is remarkably receptive to the flowers while minds like Brad’s are not as accessible. Brad then engages in an improbable dialogue with the flowers who are interested in expanding their base of operations in Brad’s village…to our whole world. In exchange for humans’ cooperation, they are willing to share milleniums worth of knowledge that the flowers have accumulated from a multitude of other races.
But it’s Brad’s suspicions about the fate of all those worlds that most concerns him. The evidence he sees leads him to believe the flowers might be responsible for the demise of all those races. It becomes clear to Brad that the flowers have already made inroads into his world the cordless phones who give people jobs and fortunes, and the think-tank that is collecting information on thousands of topics. When the town is inundated with a blizzard of seeds that start rooting almost immediately, the government’s response is typically warlike and panicky. Rather than wait for the flowers to continue expanding their barrier to encompass more of our world, they would rather obliterate the entire town to stop the spread of flowers.
There seems to be little any of the townsfolk can do to stop the government’s fatal response. Brad is frantic to find a solution to stop the flowers before the government launches its missiles but the problem seems to be understanding understanding exactly what the flowers want and exactly what happens to a race when they allow the flowers in. The solution is typically brilliant and sly and is what makes me love Simak’s work.
The plot was solid, which is Simak’s strength. Characters always feel like adjuncts to the plot. He tries hard to give us sympathetic characters but they often feel cold or one-dimensional. There is a female character, a love interest for our hero, but she has little to do or say and her impact to the story is unnoticeable. This is, unfortunately, Simak’s greatest weakness writing a female character. I’m hoping in rereading his work, I’ll find a better example. ~~ Catherine Book