Time is the Simplest Thing

Last updated
Time is the Simplest Thing
First edition
Author Clifford D. Simak
Cover artist Mel Hunter
CountryUnited States
Genre Science fiction
Publisher Doubleday
Publication date
Media typePrint
OCLC 795534323

Time is the Simplest Thing is a science fiction novel by Clifford D. Simak, first published in 1961. The story combines paranormal abilities with themes of space and time travel. The underlying theme is intolerance of ordinary people towards those with unusual abilities. [1]


The novel is notable for long passages meditating on power, fear, and prejudice in people. The protagonist finds himself caught between people pursuing commercial power, some exploiting fear and anger for personal reasons, and others attempting to overthrow what they regard as evil institutions in the name of a greater good, but using questionable methods. There is a discussion with a Catholic priest on the nature of superstition, good, and evil. In the end the hero must create a new path for some to follow to escape persecution, while leaving the rest of humanity to deal with the world they have created.

Time is the Simplest Thing was nominated, under its original title The Fisherman, for the 1962 Hugo Award for Best Novel, which was won by Stranger in a Strange Land . [2]


The prologue of the novel relates how humanity gives up the dream of space travel, which is too difficult and dangerous and offers too little benefit, only to discover that there is another way to explore the universe. Some people possess the ability to travel with their minds to other worlds. Helped by new technology, they can explore another planet far across the galaxy while their bodies remain on Earth.

Shep Blaine is an explorer working for Fishhook, an organization exploiting paranormal powers to explore planets around other stars. Because of anti-paranormal prejudice in the US, Fishhook operates in northern Mexico. Explorers spend time in "star machines", which are boxes shaped and decorated to stimulate the mind to leave the body and explore the universe. They are accompanied by a small machine that can record experiences and gather physical samples. Some explorers have returned with minds affected by what they encountered. Those explorers have disappeared and never been heard from again.

Blaine returns from one expedition having encountered an intelligence that looks like a large pink blob sitting immobile in a room open to the sky. The blob greets him telepathically with the message "Hi pal! I trade with you my mind." Blaine immediately feels the alien mind alongside his own. Returning to his body, he knows he must get away before the recording of his trip is checked. However he is impeded, first by Kirby Rand, Fishhook's head of security, and then by a friend who persuades him to go to a high society cocktail party. Realizing that fleeing to the US is the obvious thing to do, he goes along with this, since Fishhook would not risk the scandal of arresting him at the party, and he might find an opportunity to do something his pursuers are not likely to expect. At the party he meets Harriet Quimby, an investigative reporter who reveals herself to be a telepath. She knows he is in trouble and tells him to discreetly leave the party and meet her outside. His pursuers are waiting for him, but he escapes them as, for some reason, time slows down enabling him to slip past. Harriet uses her knowledge of back roads, practiced for situations like this, to escape with him.

In the United States, he is separated from Harriet by local townspeople who identify him as a witch and intend to hang him. Again, something unexpected happens to the flow of time, placing him a short time in the past, which is a ghostly, decaying shadow of the world. He is able to walk out of the town before returning to normal time. He encounters Riley, an old man nursing a decrepit pickup truck on a journey north. They travel together for a while, discussing the state of the world. Fishhook is operating a commercial monopoly on the science and technology found in the galaxy, disrupting commerce and daily life while people lapse into superstition and hatred of paranormals. Some paranormals are retaliating by using their powers to terrorize people. They meet a group of young levitators who fly around at night. Riley shoots at them with a shotgun, but Blaine tries to make peace using his telepathy. He bonds with one young girl, Anita. He becomes separated from Riley, and enters a trance which results in him returning to visit the alien, who he calls the Pinkness. The Pinkness is far older than the human race, and has been traveling the universe, exchanging minds with beings of all kinds. Blaine settles in to learn from the Pinkness, but is abruptly returned to his body which has been in a coma for days. He is in hospital next to Riley, who is severely injured.

Harriet shows up with Godfrey Stone, one of the travelers who disappeared. He claimed to have seen a world free of evil, and was sent to an isolated institution where he could have lived in comfort. He escaped, as did Lambert Finn, another explorer who found a place of total evil and became obsessed with eliminating Fishhook and all paranormal people. Harriet reveals that Riley was transporting a stolen "star machine" for Stone, but intended to give it to Finn for use in his campaign. Stone is killed by an unknown assailant, and the star machine is held by the police. Again Blaine is able to manipulate time, removing the star machine to the future, which is a formless void. Having done this, he is confronted by Kirby Rand, who has been tracking Blaine and the stolen machine. Fishhook is determined to maintain its monopoly at all costs. Finn is playing into their hands by keeping the technology illegal in the US.

Blaine is about to be returned to Fishhook when he uses another part of the alien knowledge to escape. Confronting Finn, he uses his ultimate weapon: he trades minds with Finn. Finn is driven insane by the presence in his own mind of all the things he hates and fears. With Finn's mental state in his own mind, Blaine discovers that Finn had been secretly encouraging groups of paranormals to unleash a night of terror on Halloween, in order to turn the rest of the population against them. He leaves to spread a warning among the paranormals, but in the process is trapped in an icy storm and almost freezes to death.

Ironically the horrors that Finn experienced, and that drove him to try to eliminate all paranormals, contained a clue to the ability to travel to other stars physically as well as mentally. Blaine uses this to find an Earth-like planet and travel there to escape the storm. He passes this knowledge to the other paranormals in the hope that they can escape the coming witch hunts. Returning to Finn he finds that the man has committed suicide. He decides to remain on Earth until all the paranormals have made it to safety.

Related Research Articles

Doctor Doom Comic book supervillain

Doctor Victor Von Doom is a fictional character appearing in American comic books published by Marvel Comics. Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the character made his debut in The Fantastic Four #5. The monarch of the fictional nation of Latveria, Doctor Doom has been portrayed as both a supervillain and antihero, and is most frequently depicted as the archenemy of the Fantastic Four. Doom has also come into conflict with other superheroes; including Spider-Man, Iron Man, Doctor Strange, Black Panther, the X-Men, and the Avengers.

David Blaine American illusionist, endurance artist, and extreme performer

David Blaine is an American illusionist, endurance artist, and extreme performer. He is best known for his high-profile feats of endurance and has set and broken several world records.

Riley Finn Character in Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Riley Finn is a fictional character created by Joss Whedon for the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Portrayed by Marc Blucas, Riley was introduced in the 1999 season four premiere episode, "The Freshman", and Blucas was part of the series credited cast for the second part of season four and the first part of season five. Most notably, Riley is one of three long-term romantic interests for series' heroine Buffy Summers.

Fugitive slaves in the United States Aspect of history

In the United States, fugitive slaves or runaway slaves were terms used in the 18th and 19th century to describe enslaved people who fled slavery. The term also refers to the federal Fugitive Slave Acts of 1793 and 1850. Such people are also called freedom seekers to avoid implying that the enslaved person had committed a crime and that the slaveholder was the injured party.

Challengers of the Unknown Group of fictional characters in comic books published by DC Comics

The Challengers of the Unknown is a fictional group of adventurers appearing in comic books published by DC Comics. The quartet of adventurers explored paranormal occurrences while facing several fantastic menaces.

Cerebro Fictional device appearing in American comic books

Cerebro is a fictional device appearing in American comic books published by Marvel Comics. The device is used by the X-Men to detect humans, specifically mutants. It was created by Professor X and Magneto, and was later enhanced by Dr. Hank McCoy.

The Mind of Evil is the second serial of the eighth season of the British science fiction television series Doctor Who, which was first broadcast in six weekly parts on BBC1 from 30 January to 6 March 1971.

Warp is a fictional character appearing in American comic books published by DC Comics.

<i>Terror Firma</i> Audio drama based on the television series Doctor Who

Terror Firma is a Big Finish Productions audio drama based on the long-running British science fiction television series Doctor Who. The story follows on directly from the previous Eighth Doctor audio drama The Next Life and flashes back to scenes that take place before the first Eighth Doctor audio story Storm Warning. Terror Firma was voted Doctor Who Magazine readers' favourite of the previous year's Doctor Who audio plays in the annual poll held in 2006.

<i>World of Ptavvs</i> Science fiction novel by Larry Niven

World of Ptavvs is a science fiction novel by American writer Larry Niven, first published in 1966 and set in his Known Space universe. It was Niven's first published novel and is based on a 1965 magazine story of the same name.

<i>Love and War</i> (Cornell novel) 1992 novel by Paul Cornell

Love and War is an original novel written by Paul Cornell and based on the long-running British science fiction television series Doctor Who. It features the Seventh Doctor, Ace and introduces a new companion, Bernice Summerfield. A prelude to the novel, also penned by Cornell, appeared in Doctor Who Magazine #192.

<i>Head Games</i> (novel) 1995 novel by Steve Lyons

Head Games is an original novel written by Steve Lyons and based on the long-running British science fiction television series Doctor Who. It features the Seventh Doctor, Bernice, Chris, Roz, Mel and Ace.

Clifford D. Simak American science fiction writer (1904–1988)

Clifford Donald Simak was an American science fiction writer. He won three Hugo Awards and one Nebula Award. The Science Fiction Writers of America made him its third SFWA Grand Master, and the Horror Writers Association made him one of three inaugural winners of the Bram Stoker Award for Lifetime Achievement.

"The Role You Were Born to Play" is the fifth episode of the fourth season of the American musical television series Glee, and the seventy-first episode overall. It was written by Michael Hitchcock and directed by Brad Falchuk, and aired on Fox in the United States on November 8, 2012. The episode features the return of Mercedes and Mike, and the introduction of The Glee Project second-season winner Blake Jenner as McKinley student Ryder Lynn. This is the first episode of the show where lead star Lea Michele did not appear as Rachel Berry since her introduction in the show's pilot episode.

"Dynamic Duets" is the seventh episode of the fourth season of the American musical television series Glee, and the seventy-third episode overall. Written and directed by series co-creator Ian Brennan, it aired on Fox in the United States on November 22, 2012.

"Dreams Come True" is the series finale of the American musical television series Glee. It is also the 13th and final episode of the show's sixth season and the 121st episode overall. Written by the show's co-creators Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, and Ian Brennan and directed by Bradley Buecker, it aired on Fox in the United States on March 20, 2015, along with the previous episode, "2009", as a special two-hour finale.

Clifford D. Simak bibliography Wikipedia bibliography

The American science fiction writer Clifford D. Simak was honored by fans with three Hugo Awards and by colleagues with one Nebula Award. The Science Fiction Writers of America made him its third SFWA Grand Master and the Horror Writers Association made him one of three inaugural winners of the Bram Stoker Award for Lifetime Achievement.

Finn (<i>Star Wars</i>) Star Wars character

Finn is a fictional character in the Star Wars franchise. The character first appeared in the 2015 film The Force Awakens as a First Order stormtrooper who, shocked by the Order's cruelty in his first combat mission, flees and joins forces with Rey and later the Resistance. He is portrayed by English actor John Boyega, who reprised the role in The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker. Boyega's performance and the character have received praise. For his performance in The Force Awakens, Boyega won the BAFTA Rising Star Award, and was nominated for the Saturn Award for Best Actor.


  1. "RYO Review: Time is the Simplest Thing by Clifford D. Simak - Worlds Without End Blog".
  2. "1962 Hugo Awards". 26 July 2007.