A Choice of Gods

By Clifford D. Simak

1,557 ratings - 3.73* vote

One day most of humankind disappeared. A few human beings were left on the deserted earth along with countless robots. The human beings--including a small tribe of American Indians--made do. The Indians returned to ancient tribal ways, the others stubbornly tried to rebuild technology. The robots--some stayed with the humans performing their service functions, some went of One day most of humankind disappeared. A few human beings were left on the deserted earth along with countless robots.

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Book details

Hardcover, 186 pages
January 1st 1972 by G.P. Putnam's Sons (NYC)
Original Title
A Choice of Gods
ISBN
999740856X (ISBN13: 9789997408563)
Edition Language
English

Community Reviews

mark monday

It has been funny reading the irritated, disgusted, sometimes outraged reactions towards this anti-science & technology novel - reviews written mainly by my fellow science fiction nerds. I guess I can understand the sour reactions, as Simak is pretty much saying that technology is for dumb-asses who don't want to grow as human beings. That must really rankle anyone who loves technology LOL! I guess for me it would be like reading a book that is all about how reading books is for simpletons.

But really, c'mon! Science Fiction is not just about science and tech. Don't get so pressed about this, my nerd brothers and sisters. The genre is often seen as being all about the sagas, those amazing and usually multi-part adventures. Sometimes those sagas focus on hard science, and all the science-fixated can delight in that. But the genre is also speculative. Indeed, it was once referred to as "Speculative Fiction". Sometimes the speculation taking place is one that is all about a particular invention or piece of technology taken that next step, and how that would impact mankind; sometimes it is about a Big Dumb Object mysteriously appearing and ready for our study. Many classic scifi novels have such things as their foundation; time again for the science and technology lovers to rejoice. But speculative novels can speculate on many things. As any fan of Ursula K. Le Guin or Isaac Asimov or Samuel R. Delany understands, speculative fiction can also be about sociology or psychology or sexuality - all the aspects of culture and personality. That's my kind of scifi. A Choice of Gods is one such novel.

Synopsis: The vast majority of humanity on Earth have vanished, leaving small groups behind. Thousands of years later, these groups have evolved in their own unique ways. One group develops psychic powers allowing them telepathy and teleportation to the stars beyond. Another group bonds to the land, developing less easily described powers that connect them to nature on an intimate level. A third group does little evolving and much fleeing in ignorance at strange things - but one individual from this clan has evolved in his own unique way. Also left on earth: robots! And they evolve as well: some into perfect servants, how boring (but useful? sorry), others carrying the torch of religion that humanity has left behind, others working to get to the next level of purpose and intelligence. All of these groups receive troubling news: (1) something coldly omniscient has been discovered at the center of the universe, and (2) the vanished majority have not only been found, they have found the path back to Earth - much to all of these small groups' chagrin.

That's a lot! Simak has an incredibly fertile imagination, layering idea upon idea, hinting at one and then the other, eventually unfurling each for all to contemplate. The effect of so many ideas could be dizzying, and the multiplicity of perspectives could confuse things, but fortunately Simak is also blessed with a very easy-going, almost folksy style. A comforting style, and a cozy one. Reading Simak is like snuggling up by a fire and lazily free-associating ideas, or like relaxing in a park on a sunny day, letting all sorts of thoughts flit and flutter in and out of your mind.

This is my fourth novel by the author, following City and Way Station and Cosmic Engineers. It was written after those three as well. I loved seeing many of his themes and many of his favorite ideas from all three of those books come to a certain sort of fruition in this book. In particular:

- Simak's commitment to portraying human disgust at the "alien". His realization that not only is this an understandable response, it is also a block to true empathy. Just as it is with humans dealing with other humans who look different. One of my favorite bits: a character being comforted by the tentacle formed by an alien - an alien described as looking like a bucket of worms. That was an incredibly endearing moment. The book makes it clear that "a person" can be so many different things.

- A rejection of technology as a path or means for man to get to a higher place. Sorry science nerds, but I'm on Simak's team with this idea. 100%! Simak recognizes the barriers that technology creates in our striving for more ease, more convenience, less heavy lifting and less delay. He sees evolution as occurring on not just an intellectual level, but on an emotional level as well. Evolution as an increase in understanding - an understanding of not simply science and technology, but an understanding of life and all of its differences and all of its commonalities and all of its potentials. An understanding of who we are and how we can break free of physical limitations. An emotional evolving, a psychic evolution. Of course, I'm a big hypocrite because I would have an aneurysm if I permanently lost the internet or spreadsheets or, I suppose, tv. But still: technology is often a barrier to empathy. True, it has helped us so much in getting to understand different people and viewpoints and cultures that we would otherwise never be able to engage with. I certainly get that and so that's the love in my love-hate relationship with technology. But our over-reliance on it means that our thoughtfulness is reduced (hello Twitter). Our tendency to immediately react in a toxic sort of group-think is increased (hello reddit and every single political website). Our ability to connect slowly, personally, and therefore more deeply is diminished as we rely on pithy snark and easy labels and images to define who we are (hello Facebook, Instagram, and so many dating sites). My God, our humor replaced by... memes! Ok now I'm being intensely old man-ish, so I'll stop. I don't hate you, social media, or you, technology in general, I promise. I just wish your easy shortcuts didn't so frequently replace true meaning or understanding. Some things shouldn't be so easy.

- The question of God: in a universe full of so many moving parts and yet so little potential for life... what that God would look like, how they would act, what their purpose and goals could be. Obviously the title makes it clear that this is the central concept behind the story. It is a concept and theme that is treated, at times, quite broadly: "a choice of gods" could mean a choice of what an individual - be they human, robot, or alien - decides is their own purpose for being. That purpose could be religion. It could be creating a higher intelligence. It could be caretaking a newly fecund Earth. There are many choices. But Simak also quite specifically addresses the nature of a more singular God as well. I loved how he envisioned God. It may not have been a comforting vision of a white, bearded, elderly gent looking out for us all, but there was still much about his idea of a Higher Power that comforted - if only because it felt logical and fresh while still being very challenging, even disturbing. A cold sort of comfort, perhaps. But it made a lot of sense to me. Just like this entire book.

Denis

Aside from a rather good tale called "The Visitor" published in 1980, I'd only read a few early works from Simak - 1940's and early sixties. "A Choice of Gods" was published in 1972 and was nominated for a Hugo - it lost to Asimov's "The Gods Themselves" ("Damnation!" Simak must have thought when he saw that he was in competition with the 'Good Doctor' of all writers, and with a book with a similar title!) What it also has in common with Asimov's work is, in part, the 'is a self-aware robot a sentient being?' issue, one that Asimov often contemplated with many of his robot stories.

Naturally, I love Asimov's robot stories but I have to say that Simak's "A Choice of Gods" is a worthy companion. Well beyond what I thought Simak was capable of. It is more complex and sophisticated than his earlier efforts, which tend to be charming, tightly written and well told - and dare I say, simple in tone, mostly rural set stories. "A Choice of Gods" does have some of that, but is laced with a tightly written wide-scope tale with properly developed characters and that true sense of wonder atmosphere that only a golden age master can conjure. I felt it was, by far, his greatest achievement - that said, I still have much to discover from his vast cannon of work.

Charles

A Choice of Gods is classic Simak. Who? Right. Clifford Simak is one of the champions of early science fiction. He is credited with creating the “pastoral science fiction” genre, sci-fi set in the countryside. Heinlein once said, “to read science fiction is to read Simak. Anyone who doesn’t like Simak doesn’t like science fiction.” It would be hard to find many who agree with that sentiment today. Though his book, Way Station, won the Hugo, and four other books, including A Choice of Gods, were nominated for the Hugo, most of Simak’s books are out of print. He is largely ignored. And he is one of the neglected masters of the form.
You will not find space battles, swords, sorcery, blasters, urban dystopias, or zombies in Simak’s A Choice of Gods. What you will find is a tale set on planet earth, in the far future, with bucolic descriptions of rural life. A tale of country folk who encounter extraordinary events. A beautifully written, well-conceived story that moves right along without seeming hurried. It’s old-school writing. And pastoral. He takes time to smell the flowers. And it may annoy some modern readers.
But to put some perspective on it, it was published in 1972. And he talks about travelling to other planets in the galaxy by the parapsychic power of the mind alone. He brings mysticism and fantasy into his science fiction picture. And AI. And sentient robots. And musical trees. And truly alien aliens. He sprinkles non-chronological journal entries into the narrative—something we modernists take for granted today. On the downside, his anti-technological stance is a bit heavy-handed, even illogical—there’s a small army of robots to do the manual labor in this rural paradise. And a lot of the significant action occurs off-stage, and is reported later in conversations. Finally, his pleasant pastoral style may be a bit too bucolic for some of today’s hyper-wired readers.
But to my mind, it’s well worth haunting second-hand bookstores to find copies of Simak’s work.

Emily

Most of the people of Earth have disappeared leaving only a rich, white family, a tribe of Native Americans, and another small group of people who are not really introduced. And, the robots. Of course, the robots who were only ever made to serve humans. The remaining whites, the Whitneys, have developed parapsychic abilities and now travel among the stars without the aid of any machinery. The Natives have returned to the old way of nomadic communion with the Earth. Of the robots, some serve the Whitneys, some are trying to figure out Christianity, and the rest are engaged in the Project. All of the humans now live about 8,000 years and never get sick.
The book is mostly philosophical discussion of the how and why of the universe. Why are we still here? Where's everyone else? How come we no longer suffer from illness? Where did our new abilities come from and what's the next evolutionary step? What are the robots building? Is a robot who worships God a blasphemy? Sometimes this can seem heavy, but it is so steeped in narrative, that it's mostly digestible (although, I spent a lot of time with the book open in my hands, staring off into space, considering just these questions).
The conflict comes when the People who disappeared are located and are threatening to come back. What does that mean for those still on Earth?
All I know is, I'd like to have 8,000 years to live with an abandoned library at my disposal and a fleet of robots to serve my basic needs. (Though, I'm quite sure, this is not the impression the author meant to leave with the reader...)

Ann-Marie

I have to say this story defeated me. I thought I knew what was going on until just near the end when the whole thing blew up in my face. Too metaphysical for me, I guess.

spikeINflorida

The "People" and their high-tech are very eeevil. Earth's indigenous natives have been raped and decimated. A mysterious UBER Intelligence who presides at The University of Central Universe (UCU) is forced to step in and, uh, remove said eeevil People and resettle them to unexplainable triplet exoplanets. Well, except for the nature and library loving types...who are BFFs with the natives...and mysteriously live longer and look better than Robert Redford and Jane Fonda. Oh... And there's first contact with a...can of worms. Really? Written in 1972 and nominated for a Hugo, this ludicrous-speed story has me wondering if Cliff hooked up with Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds. Meh

Ram

Earth in 2135 has over 8 billion people (wishful thinking). One day, all but a few are gone, apparently left to find other worlds to live in (as earth is overpopulated).
Left behind with the few people are many robots.

The humans don't have the knowledge to maintain and develop the existing technology and actually don't have a need either. The robots are still there to serve them and there are plenty of them to spare.
In addition, the humans left behind seem to age very slowly.

The native Americans (or Indians as referred to in the book) return to their traditional tribal ways and the rest of the humans live easy pastoral lives.

The robots do weird things like building weird structures. These activities seem to be some kind of religious practice….or something.

The story is told from the point of view of the a person who is chronicling the events of the world and his grandson who continues his work. People live long and peaceful lives.

At some stage, a human returns to earth from wandering the universe and brings news of something intelligent or similar that exists in the center of the universe.
In addition, the people of earth are planning on returning and there is a threat that they will destroy the harmony of the small remaining population.

I enjoyed reading the book but I admit that I did not really understand it. It seems to have an opinion about technology and has some references to religion and social structure in it too but I am not sure what the actual point is in reference to these subjects.

I assume that I can read about it more, but I am not interested. My general assumption is that the ideas are probably outdated and if not, I can find more modern thinkers who can express them in a more accessible way for the modern reader. Therefore, the interest in these ideas is mostly philosophical/historical.

This is the first book I have read of this well acclaimed author and I have yet to decide if I want to read more.

Deborah Ideiosepius

Another masterful story from one of the greats (in my opinion) of classic science fiction, probably more properly classified today as 'speculative fiction'.

In A Choice Of Gods, Simak starts the reader off with a future world scenario where,when Earths population was more than eight billion, suddenly one day, most of them were gone. Not dead, no wars or catastrophes, just most people vanished. Slowly, over time it became obvious that in addition to the reduced population a major change had occurred in that disease had virtually vanished and lifespans were increased - incredibly increased.

Technology slowly degraded since there was not the know-how to keep it going, quite a few people of first nations background (this book was written long ago enough that they are called American Indians - don't be offended, it is from 1973 and I don't think the phrase 'first nations'even existed) went back to a lifestyle similar to that their ancestors had lived. But the remaining people lived a comfortable life in the large family home due to the fact that the robots had not vanished, and more kept flocking to their home to serve the remaining humans.

The point of view shifts from the first person to keep a chronicle, starting 50 years after the disappearance to his grandson, keeping it still, sporadically,thousands of years later -lifespans increased to biblical proportions- when most of the family had developed the spontaneous ability to travel to the stars, so Earth is practically empty.

But then, one star traveler returns, with worrying news about what lies in the center of the universe, where all the people might have gone, and what might happen of they return.

I have a long seated addiction to the old, classic science fiction novels, outdated as they are ( only 8 billion in 2130?how cute...). The speculation side of it, what the future might hold, how things could happen, what responses would be, these were so fresh, new and exciting. Sci-fi today, which I still adore, is often exciting, frequently technically creative with top notch science and logistically well thought out. In other words the solid literary background and amazingly open minded "What if" attitude that the early sci-fi writers has evolved into something very good - but I still love the old anything goes style of the early adventurers in the genera. Antiquated (almost none of them for saw computers as they have come to be) misogynistic and racist as some of them are (let's not even start on that), but still exploring a world of literature and speculation that was brand new, boundless and exciting.

Thoroughly loving Simak's writing in general as I do, I think this is one of the better ones, posing questions, as it does, about what social evolution really is, and how society would change under unusual circumstances.



Jerry

Reading Simak is often like reading an alien author; his writing is strangely different from everything that has gone before. There are no villains; his planet Earth is very much an idyllic forest, at least the part that the main characters know, and completely prosaic… except that every time you get caught up in the normalness of it, he mentions the music trees gearing up for a concert.

Except for that, this is very much just another entry in the post-apocalyptic socialist paradise genre; that is, the entire human race has left in an unknown way, leaving behind a great plenty that those who remain can live off of practically forever (in this case, robots who farm for them), while at the same time philosophizing about how great it is that they can no longer create such a surplus for others—and even getting in the way of providing for others.

A Choice of Gods has very similar ideas to City, and in fact may be in the same world or an alternate reality related to it, right down to robots building a special, unknown project.

Having recently read Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, I got a sense of Douglass’s disappointment from the narrator, except that the narrator hasn’t yet learned that living under slavery rather than freedom means that even the slaveowner’s life is held back.

The narration is all over the place; the narrator rages against property, and considers all of the earth his property. As a caretaker for the rest of humanity, or at least the rest of humanity he cares about, but they don’t actually care about the earth any more. He speaks not just for himself as owner of the earth, but for the American Indians as if they were his charges who need his protection. He recognizes his arrogance in one breath, and then goes back to speaking as if he owned the earth in the next.

He thinks he knows everything, at one point telling someone that he can’t teach psychic powers, not because he doesn’t know how but because it’s impossible. It can’t be taught. Except that as reader we know that he knows practically nothing about psychic powers. He doesn’t know where they come from or how they’re used. But he’s adamant that they can only exist in the absence of technology.

He is a very annoying narrator.

That said, there are very neat ideas here, just as there were in City. The basic starting point is that almost all of humanity has just disappeared; a few people remain and are super-long-lived, but as their technology fades they develop incredibly powerful psychic powers. The narrator thinks that the two are related, although there’s a strong indication that the two events—the disappearance of most of humanity and the development of super-long life and psychic powers—are both caused by the same force.

Everything important in the book is seen obliquely, from the super psychic powers to the robot search for God. We don’t actually see any of this happening, only that it has and is happening while the main characters go about their very prolonged daily lives.

And occasionally listen to music trees.

Doug Armstrong

Boring, with absolutely no payoff, and mildly insulting actually. It boils down to basically the dual cliches of technophobia and the old classic trope "Native Americans lived in harmony with the earth until the evil white man ruined everything." I kept reading hoping for something beyond those two themes, but that's all there is. The first one is galling enough as he doesn't present one unique idea as to why technology is a bad thing, it's just the same shit you've heard a billion times before, and the Native American thing seems just thrown in there because it's an easy and lazy way of emphasizing the "evils" of technology. The Native Americans never do anything, they exist purely so that the main character can reference them in his inane thoughts about technology.

The characters are also incredibly weak and allow the author to not have to explain anything scientific because none of them give a shit how anything actually works, they're all content just sittin' on the porch whittlin' away the days of their 5000 year life spans. That works perfectly for the author because the stuff he wants the reader to accept is ridiculous; telepathy, teleportation (simply by thinking about teleporting), healing-- these are all the psychic powers that apparently humans can develop if they'd just forget about technology and science and live in harmony with the earth. I mean it's not like that's how humans spent every day of their lives up until the last couple centuries, it's totally plausible that turning your back on tech would result in humans evolving to live 5000 years and have ultra powerful psychic abilities, just like the Amish.

Anyway, the more I think about this book, the more I hate it. I should have bailed in the first 30 pages when it was so excruciatingly boring that I couldn't get through 2 or 3 sentences without my mind wandering, but I thought "he's just getting the boring setup out of the way before all the interesting stuff starts happening". About 140 pages later, one single fucking thing had happened, barely anything was explained, and what was explained was retarded.

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