This novel is difficult to situate within the categories of today’s science fiction and within Simak’s oeuvre. It belongs to the genre of science fantasy, in that the fantastical beings, powers, and events receive a (sort of) scientific explanation. There is also an outrageous sense of humour that we associate more with Robert Sheckley or Douglas Adams, only a little slower as befits Simak’s style.

The whole story revolves around a man commissioned to broker a deal for the purchase of a repository of knowledge both from the previous universe, prior to our Big Bang, and from our own universe’s long history up to now.The knowledge is stored on a mysterious nomad crystal planet

The antics revolve around a coarse but loveable Neanderthal (retrieved from the past by time travel), a sabre toothed tiger (produced as an experimental model and a pet by bio-mechanical engineering), teleportation, time travel, goblins versus trolls, a ghost who has forgotten who he used to be when alive, and villainous aliens taking the form of hives of insects on wheels.

The world-building is that of an off-the-cuff space opera universe as background to the action, which takes place mainly on Earth.

This is more a long novella than a novel, by today’s standards. It is a fast and enjoyable read, although perhaps a bit lacking in the intellectual depth we expect from Simak.It is also a paean to the value of knowledge and friendship in the face of the entropic running down of the universe and of its magical possibilities.

Note: I am greatly indebted to the inspiration provided by the discussion of this novel on the SFFaudio Podcast: