All Flesh is Grass

By Clifford D. Simak

2,268 ratings - 3.86* vote

A mysterious invisible barrier suddenly encloses a small, out-of-the-way American town. It's been put there by a galactic intelligence intent on imposing harmony and cooperation on the different peoples of the universe. But to the inhabitants, the barrier evokes stark terror. A mysterious invisible barrier suddenly encloses a small, out-of-the-way American town. It's been put there by a galactic intelligence intent on imposing harmony and cooperation on the different peoples of the

... more

Book details

Paperback, 250 pages
1985 by Methuen (London)

(first published 1965)

Original Title
All Flesh Is Grass
ISBN
0413599906 (ISBN13: 9780413599902)
Edition Language
English

Community Reviews

Bradley

It's 1965, so there's a general sense of small town glorification and everymen are everywhere. This novel happens to be one of Simak's most firmly grounded in modern ('60's modern) society, and that's the expectations I had when I began reading.

And then we've got our WTH moment. How many impenetrable domes encapsulate small towns in SF, anyway? Stephen King did it twice, first in Tommyknockers and then in The Dome, but is there a direct line connection to this tale or how far back does the concept go? I was worried that I've already read this book before, albeit from later incarnations by later authors, but... I shouldn't have worried. Simak won't lead me astray and won't disappoint.

Suffice to say, it's full of lots of surprises and a wild alien invasion and discovery, time travel, alternate earths, action, betrayal, and a satisfactory end. The title may be referring to a bible passage, but I wouldn't take too much *stalk* in that. There are plenty of grassy knolls to stroll down, idea-wise, and enough new horticultural discoveries to confound any social scientist. Sense a theme? Yar, the aliens quite grow on you.

I give this novel full props for taking the SF in odd and cool ways, for staying grounded in '60's character tropes, and being immensely readable like all the rest of his novels. Its not the individual ideas, though, that make this great. It's the way he mixes the pot and grows the flowers. :)

mark monday

It starts with a crash: the protagonist's car into the invisible dome that has mysteriously surrounded his village, the car bouncing back, a truck doing the same then plowing into his vehicle. Exciting! And then the story becomes something sad and beautiful: Simak writes with an elegiac melancholy about a small town getting smaller and sadder, and a small life getting smaller and sadder. His literary sensibilities when writing on the evanescence of such towns, such lives, make many passages a joy to read, as nature and time and life are reflected upon. The story then becomes wider, more bizarre, involving an alien incursion into our world, a human incursion into another dimension's Earth, plants with a hive mind and an altruistic nature, bizarre singing humanoids watching the death of a world as a form of entertainment.

And then it becomes a crashing bore, alas. I get what Simak intended: to show his frustrations with small-minded, suspicious, petty humans, their inability to think beyond themselves and to react to the new and the different with anything approaching grace, let alone open-mindedness. But I don't enjoy reading that perspective. Having it come from the protagonist made this story a very frustrating, irritating experience. I just wanted to shake him, yell at him, smack him upside his stubborn head. And the story expands to bring in the perspectives of his fellow villagers, and the U.S. government. My God it was too much. Like being forced to listen to conspiracy theories about masks and diseases and the government, told to me by a group of people too mulish to entertain any ideas or opinions that differ from their own. I get what Simak was illustrating, but he did it too well: the book eventually drove me up the wall, despite all of the strangeness and all of the mournfulness that came before.

Sandy

In the 1966 3-D movie "The Bubble," later rereleased as "Fantastic Invasion of Planet Earth," an impenetrable and transparent dome of unknown origin encases a small American town, trapping its residents inside. Forty-three years later, in Stephen King's doorstop best seller of 2009, "Under the Dome," another American town, Chester's Mill, is similarly and mysteriously ensnared. Beating both these projects to the punch, however, and a possible inspiration for both of them, was Clifford D. Simak's 10th novel, "All Flesh Is Grass." The book was initially released as a Doubleday hardcover in 1965, immediately following the author's Hugo-winning "Way Station" one year earlier.

"All Flesh Is Grass" was nominated for the very first Nebula Award in what was undoubtedly the toughest competition for that coveted prize ever. No fewer than 11 novels were nominated for that first Nebula, including Philip K. Dick's "The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch" (this reader's favorite Dick novel) AND "Dr. Bloodmoney," as well as Keith Laumer's "A Plague of Demons" and William S. Burroughs' "Nova Express"; Frank Herbert's "Dune" deservedly copped the prize. Released when Simak was already 61 years old and in his 27th year on the "Minneapolis Star," "All Flesh Is Grass" touches on one of the author's favorite themes--the manner in which its common-man characters rise to the challenge of encountering alien life--in a unique way, while retaining the rural setting that Simak seemed to favor most.

In the book, the reader encounters a young man, Brad Carter, who, we gather, is in his mid-20s. Brad is a resident of the small town of Millville (in Wisconsin, we must infer; Simak had been born in Millville, Wisconsin), and when we first meet him, his small real estate/insurance business is about to go kaput. But Brad is soon shaken out of his doldrums by a series of startling events. A strange cordless and dialless telephone appears on his office desk (no, not a smartphone), connecting Brad with a personage with three distinct voices, who asks the young man to be his/her/its representative. The town's preeminent businessman gives him $1,500 for some unnamed task. The town drunk starts babbling about the government and The Bomb. Brad's high school sweetheart, Nancy, returns to Millville after several years away. The "village idiot," Tupper Tyler, emerges out of nowhere after a 10-year absence. And, most distressingly, a mysterious dome is erected overnight, completely sealing Millville off from the rest of the world! "All Flesh Is Grass" follows the citizenry of Millville over the course of three days, during which time Brad discovers a time portal in his backyard that leads to an alternate Earth. In this alternate Earth he finds a world of sentient, purple flower creatures, the entities responsible for the whole mishegas. The Flowers only want to share their billions of years' worth of accumulated knowledge with mankind, but can we humans put aside our fears and suspicions before the trigger-happy U.S. government simply drops an H bomb on Millville?

Simak's great novel of 1953, "Ring Around the Sun," had also touched on the subject of alternate Earths, and in more depth than this 1965 offering. Still, the 50-page section (I refer here to the 1966 Berkley Medallion paperback, which I was fortunate enough to find somewhere) in which Brad explores this strange world is a fascinating and atmospheric one. Basically, though, "All Flesh Is Grass" strikes the reader as a sci-fi rendition of Thornton Wilder's 1938 play "Our Town," with Millville itself being the central character. The town sports a population of eccentric oddballs, and we ultimately do get to know several dozen of Millville's 200-odd residents fairly well. It is a nostalgic tribute by the author to his birthplace, although not quite as loving as one might expect. Brad often ponders on the need for himself to move away, while Nancy, as well as Brad's friend Alf, are only visiting after happily having gotten out.

As one might imagine, some of the wacky residents are very decent folk, many are petty and small-minded, while still others are reactionary and vicious. (In one of the book's most satisfying scenes, Brad beats the tar out of the town constable, who used to be the school bully and is still quite the despicable sort.) The book contains some of Simak's loveliest writing, and his descriptions of the town--and the alternate Earth--are very well drawn. In one early section, Brad thinks back on his high school sweetheart Nancy, and tells us "…we talked in whispers and we willed that time should move at a slower pace so we might hold the magic longer. But for all our willing, it had never come to pass, for time, even then, was something that could not be slowed or stopped.…" But Brad soon learns that the manipulation of time is possible, indeed, as had Shepherd Blaine in Simak's 1961 offering "Time Is the Simplest Thing."

And not only is "All Flesh Is Grass" written in a lovely, compulsively readable style, it also gives us some of Simak's philosophy on writing. Nancy, a budding author herself, says at one point "…it's a thing that you don’t talk about--not until you're well along with it. There are so many things that can go wrong with writing.…" To which sentiment Brad tells us "…You had to have a hunger, a different kind of hunger, to finish up a book…." (Fortunately for his millions of fans, Simak had the hunger, and pretty much nothing went wrong with this book!)

In his 10th novel, Simak seems to take a dim view as to mankind's chances of making a successful first contact with an alien race. As a matter of fact, strike that "seems to"; he is absolutely scathing in his denunciation:

"They would fail. We would always fail. We weren't built to do anything but fail. We had the wrong kind of motives and we couldn't change them. We had a built-in short-sightedness and an inherent selfishness and a self-concern that made it impossible to step out of the little human rut we traveled...."

Surprisingly, then, Simak does manage to resolve things on a positive note, with a last-minute, slightly rushed, deus ex machina ending that may as well have inspired Lennon & McCartney's song "All You Need Is Love."

"All Flesh Is Grass" also contains some throwaway bits that might strike the reader as somewhat weird. For example, Millville's sole Catholic priest is one Father Flanagan...the same name that Simak had given the Catholic priest character in "Time Is the Simplest Thing." Whether this is supposed to be the same Father Flanagan or not is a question for the reader to decide. Meanwhile, the name of the town barber is Floyd, and in 1965, the character of Floyd the barber, as played by Howard McNear, started to appear on "The Andy Griffith Show"! Coincidence? Who knows. And you've doubtless heard that old expression "Money doesn’t grow on trees"? Well, here, Simak demonstrates how true that maxim is: It grows, rather, on bushes, and Brad finds a whole bunch of them, sprouting $50 bills, right in his backyard!

Writing of Simak's book in his "Ultimate Guide to Science Fiction," Scottish critic David Pringle calls it a "charming sf pastoral in Simak's best vein. Not exactly mind-stretching, but most enjoyable reading for those who like their sf to be gentle and predictable." Well, I would agree with Mr. Pringle on everything except that last "predictable" part; personally, I could never tell where this book was headed next, and had no idea how the author could possibly tie things up neatly (which, impressively, he manages to do). Like many other Simak books, "All Flesh Is Grass" is a novel that could easily have served as the basis for a string of sequels; a temptation that Simak never gave in to. It is a novel that comes more than highly recommended by yours truly. And, oh...watch out for that nasty seed storm!

(By the way, this review originally appeared on the FanLit site at http://www.fantasyliterature.com/ ... a most ideal destination for all fans of Clifford D. Simak....)

Donna

Clifford D. Simak was an American science fiction author, writing from the 1930's-1980's. He won numerous honors including three Hugo Awards and one Nebula Award, plus he was named a Grand Master by the Science Fiction Writers of America, as well as receiving recognition in the genre of horror. He was also a person who was very concerned about the fate of mankind in light of the rise of nuclear weapons during his time, and the turmoil of nations at war, as well as the violence within people's own communities. He was also concerned about how technology and other forms of progress might just not be a step forward. He examined these concerns and his fears by writing stories set mostly on Earth that involved people encountering aliens, which brought mankind to a crisis point, especially considering how people acted toward other humans right here on Earth. But he didn't write his stories for shock value as much as write them to shock people out of their complacency where their future and that of the world was concerned. So Simak, with his honors and thought provoking stories, comes with much to recommend him, even though he doesn't seem as well known as others writing in his genre during his time. I hadn't heard of him myself except by chance when going through a GR "best of science fiction" list. Using that list, I've read what are considered two of his best books, City, which I really enjoyed, and Way Station, which I liked quite a bit, too. After that, I had no real recommendations to go by and randomly chose this book next. The premise sounded like something out of a Twilight Zone episode, a show I enjoyed, but with Simak writing the book, I knew there'd be depth to the characters and a story that would get me thinking. And I was right, though I admit I didn't enjoy this story nearly as much as the other two, but I still found it interesting and worth reading.

This story takes place in the 1960's in a small town In Wisconsin named Millville which happens to be a real town where Simak was born and raised. It is filled with a regulation cast of small town characters, some weary, some wise, some foolish, and some just plain eccentric. Even the town of Millville is portrayed as a character as reflected on by another one.

"The town lay dusty and arrogant and smug beyond all telling and it sneered at me and I knew that I had been mistaken in not leaving it when I’d had the chance. I had tried to live with it for very love of it, but I’d been blind to try. I had known what all my friends had known, the ones who’d gone away, but I had closed my mind to that sure and certain knowledge: there was nothing left in Millville to make one stay around. It was an old town and it was dying, as old things always die. It was being strangled by the swift and easy roads that took customers to better shopping areas; it was dying with the decline of marginal agriculture, dying along with the little vacant hillside farms that no longer would support a family. It was a place of genteel poverty and it had its share of musty quaintness, but it was dying just the same, albeit in the polite scent of lavender and impeccable good manners."

One day, without warning, the residents find themselves trapped inside their town by an invisible dome-shaped barrier that allowed only objects and not people to enter or exit it. Brad Carter, a failed businessman, is the first to discover the barrier and is one of several people in town to learn who or shall I say "what" put it there and why. What he learns has him, in turns, curious, cautious, worried, and panicked. And when the entire town learns what Brad and few others know, and then the entire country and world learn about it, the stakes get even higher with Millville's residents as unwilling players in what amounts to a game of survival. How the game will end is dependent on a show of humanity, even if it must be shown by aliens.

As I mentioned, Simak wrote his stories with a message in mind besides wanting to entertain. His stories are cautionary tales of what mankind can look forward to if it isn't careful with its weapons of destruction used not only towards others, but towards the earth, with the deadly results falling back on mankind. And he wasn't speaking only of nuclear weapons, but ones like hatred and intolerance.

This story, written in 1965, is dated in that drinks at a bar cost less than a buck and there are near extinct items such as rotary phones, but the messages coming through it from the past were meant to be heard well into the future, such as this one:

"Some day," said Davenport, angrier than ever, "the human race will have to find a solution to its problems that does not involve the use of force."

Clouds

[the interesting words are in the comments]

This is a book.
Filled with words.
One of those words is spleen (which is an innately funny word).
Another of those words is pandemonium (which is one of my favourite words - I'm going to name a puppy Pandemonium one day, and call him Pan for short).

Mr Simak knows many good words and arranges them into a story, with a beginning, a middle and end.

It is a good book.

I highly recommend you spend your dollarpounds on this product at Amazon.com (or .co.uk, or whatever your local equivalent) and support our benevolent overlords.

Stephen

3.0 stars. I am a fan of Cliff Simak's work and really enjoyed Way Station, City and The Goblin Reservation. I liked this book too, but not quite as much as the three previously listed.

In typical Simak fashion, we have aliens arriving at a small rural town (in this case an invisible barrier completely cuts off the town of Milville from the rest of the planet) and introduce humanity to the wider universe. Well written with decent characters and Simak's trademark "small town" feel, it was a good, fast read. I just didn't like it quite as much as I have some of his other books.

Nominee: Nebula Award for Best Science Fiction novel.

Kirsten

What an engaging and absorbing book! Written in 1965 - many years before Stephen King's Under the Dome - it posits a very unusual first contact scenario, not from outer space, but from another dimension. Not another animal species but from a plant. Fascinating!

Clifford Simak's language and story building I was first exposed to in Way Station (1963) but it was so much more advanced by the time he wrote this one. Just incredible.

Metaphorosis

I recently re-read this, and discovered what I'd forgotten - what a consummate literary writer Simak could be. This story, while it's about an invisible barrier and the aliens that create it, is a classic exploration of small-town America. Extremely readable, with likeable characters that consider problems the way you and I might. The language and story aren't zippy action sequences, but flowing prose about real people. Definitely worth reading if you like intelligent writing.

This story reminds me of Jack Finney, a rough contemporary of Simak's.

Vincent

A decent effort but with a flawed ending.

Brad is a likeable enough character who behaves in a believable way, not too smart or dumb or heroic, a reasonable everyman.
The other characters are the usual Simak mixture of small town life, some nice some not.

The pace is good, lots of things happen in a short space of time so there is plenty going on, not action in the adventure sense but never dull.

The plot is also good with a few twists and turns, it uses a recurring theme of Simak's with time treated in a very different way to the usual sense.

The book is let down by the ending, it relies on too high a level of naivety for it to be believable.

Still, good light entertainment; not one of his best but still good.

Apatt

First sf book I ever read, stumbled upon it in the local library, got me totally hooked on the genre. Great sf starting point for any young reader (not actually YA). A little bit like Stephen King's Under The Dome but without the violence. Simak's compassion shines through in all his stories.

Topics