The Trouble with Tycho

By Clifford Simak

Reviewed by Ted Gioia

In his classic 1968 novel
2001: A Space Odyssey, Arthur C. Clarke
builds the centerpiece of his narrative around the discovery of
magnetic aberration centered on the moon crater
Tycho.   Further investigation uncovers a large
black slab hidden beneath the lunar surface—a
puzzling artifact not made by humans.  The
mystery of this monolith links the different
elements of Clarke’s plot, which span some three
million years of history, and more than 300
million miles.

Yet seven years before Clarke’s novel, Clifford
Simak wrote his taut adventure story
Trouble with Tycho
which also presents a
mysterious alien relic on the moon—and one
centered in the exact same crater later chosen by Clarke.  What are
the odds that two different authors would select the same plot of lunar
real estate—only fifty miles in diameter—as the epicenter of activity
for extraterrestrial intelligent life?  

Simak’s novel is more compact than Clarke’s, and more limited by
pulp fiction conventions.  Simak blends in a love story—never Mr.
Clarke’s strong suit, thank you very much—and a hero who (in time-
honored sci-fi fashion) takes on the worst that the universe can throw
at him.  In this case, the protagonist is Chris Jackson, who is working
over the deserted lunar landscape the way prospectors took on
California in the wake of the Gold Rush.  

Funded by a syndicate back on earth—really just the banker, barber,
and assorted retailers from his home town—Jackson is hoping for the
big strike in uranium or diamonds that will make him some serious
money and please his backers. But the “eureka moment” eludes our
ambitious treasure hunter.   His prospecting trips have yielded little—
mostly a few strange moon lichens which contain microbes that can
be used for medical treatment.  These strange quasi-life forms seem
to be concentrated in the area around Tycho.

But none of the moon prospectors are willing to visit this ominous
crater.  Thirty years before our story begins, the Third Lunar
Expedition landed in Tycho, only to vanish—two ships and eleven
astronauts gone without a trace.  Further attempts to survey the area
led to further disappearances.  Nowadays lunar residents give the
area wide clearance.

Jackson runs into Amelia Thompson, another prospector who is an
illegal immigrant on the moon—yes, they probably need a big fence
up there too—who thinks she can find her way to the remnants of the
missing Tycho expedition parties.  If Jackson will accompany her, they
could be on top of the story of the century, and pick up some
valuable odds and ends along the way.   Fame, money, adventure,
maybe romance too—what self-respecting moon prospector can turn
that down?

Simak works all the angles on his story, which makes up for lackluster
writing with its pacing and endearing details.  A master of sci-fi pets—
City is the Lassie of speculative fiction—our author
hypothesizes a type of free-floating lunar energy which resembles a
hound dog, at least in its loyalty to humans and skill in hunting
(lichens in this instance).  He also takes time to add commentaries on
the best places to construct a building on the moon, or the best of
way of exiting from your lunar rig (“like a worm wriggling from an
apple”).  Simak’s imaginative immersion into his story and setting are
often best demonstrated in the asides and throwaway passages.  

Other sly details add to the texture of the book.  On the moon, you
never need to send your spacesuit out to the cleaners, no matter how
stinky and sweaty it has become;  just leave it on your doorstep,
exposed to the atmosphere-free outdoors, and the next day it is clean
as a whistle.  And did you know that the booze on the moon is always
the best?—given how ridiculously expensive freight costs are, no one
saves money to buy a lesser brand.   

Simak has put enough thought into these particulars to flesh out an
otherwise thin story.  Our hero and his lady friend, needless to say,
decide to journey into the depths of Tycho to find out the source of all
the trouble—and create some of their own.  They don’t run into a big
black slab.  But leave the monoliths to Arthur Clarke.  Simak likes
extraterrestrial intelligent life forms that bring better special effects
along with them on their journeys.  Probably more than few readers
will as well.   
conceptual fiction
Follow Ted Gioia on Twitter at

Conceptual Fiction:
A Reading List
(with links to essays on each work)

Home Page

Abbott, Edwin A.

Adams, Douglas
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Aldiss, Brian
Barefoot in the Head

Aldiss, Brian

Aldiss, Brian
Report on Probability A

Allende, Isabel
The House of the Spirits

Amado, Jorge
Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands

Amis, Martin
Time's Arrow

The Golden Ass

Asimov, Isaac
The Foundation Trilogy

Asimov, Isaac
I, Robot

Atwood, Margaret
The Handmaid's Tale

Banks, Iain M.
The State of the Art

Ballard, J.G.
The Atrocity Exhibition

Ballard, J.G.

Ballard, J.G.
The Crystal World

Ballard, J.G.
The Drowned World

Barth, John
Giles Goat-Boy

Bester, Alfred
The Demolished Man

Blish, James
A Case of Conscience

Borges, Jorge Luis

Bradbury, Ray
Dandelion Wine

Bradbury, Ray
Fahrenheit 451

Bradbury, Ray
The Illustrated Man

Bradbury, Ray
The Martian Chronicles

Bradbury, Ray
Something Wicked This Way Comes

Brockmeier, Kevin
The View from the Seventh Layer

Bulgakov, Mikhail
The Master and Margarita

Bunch, David R.

Burgess, Anthony
A Clockwork Orange

Card, Orson Scott
Ender's Game

Carpentier, Alejo
The Kingdom of This World

Carroll, Lewis
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Chabon, Michael
The Yiddish Policemen's Union

Chiang, Ted
Stories of Your Life and Others

Clarke, Arthur C.
Childhood's End

Clarke, Arthur C.
A Fall of Moondust

Clarke, Arthur C.
2001: A Space Odyssey

Clarke, Susanna
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Crowley, John
Little, Big

Danielewski, Mark Z.
The Fifty Year Sword

Danielewski, Mark Z.
House of Leaves

Davies, Robertson
Fifth Business

Delany, Samuel R.

Delany, Samuel R.

Delany, Samuel R.
The Einstein Intersection

Delany, Samuel R.

Dick, Philip K.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Dick, Philip K.
Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said

Dick, Philip K.
The Man in the High Castle

Dick, Philip K.

Dick, Philip K.

Disch, Thomas M.
Camp Concentration

Disch, Thomas M.
The Genocides

Doctorow, Cory
Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom

Donoso, José
The Obscene Bird of Night

Ellison, Harlan (editor)
Dangerous Visions

Ellison, Harlan
I Have No Mouth & I Must Scream

Esquivel, Laura
Like Water for Chocolate

Farmer, Philip José
To Your Scattered Bodies Go

Fuentes, Carlos

Gaiman, Neil
American Gods

Gaiman, Neil

Gibson, William
Burning Chrome

Gibson, William

Grass, Günter
The Tin Drum

Greene, Graham
The End of the Affair

Grossman, Lev
The Magicians

Haldeman, Joe
The Forever War

Hall, Steven
The Raw Shark Texts

Harrison, M. John
The Centauri Device

Harrison, M. John

Heinlein, Robert
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

Heinlein, Robert:
Stranger in a Strange Land

Heinlein, Robert
Time Enough for Love

Helprin, Mark
Winter's Tale

Herbert, Frank

Hoffman, Alice
Practical Magic

Huxley, Aldous
Brave New World

Keret, Etgar
Suddenly, A Knock at the Door

Keyes, Daniel
Flowers for Algernon

Kundera, Milan
The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

Kunzru, Hari
Gods Without Men

Lafferty, R.A.
Nine Hundred Grandmothers

Le Guin, Ursula K.
The Dispossessed

Le Guin, Ursula K.
The Lathe of Heaven

Le Guin, Ursula K.
The Left Hand of Darkness

Leiber, Fritz
The Big Time

Leiber, Fritz
Conjure Wife

Leiber, Fritz
Swords & Deviltry

Leiber, Fritz
The Wanderer

Lem, Stanislaw
His Master's Voice

Lem, Stanislaw

Lethem, Jonathan
The Fortress of Solitude

Lewis, C. S.
The Chronicles of Narnia

Link, Kelly
Magic for Beginners

Malzberg, Barry N.
Herovit's World

Mann, Thomas
Doctor Faustus

Márquez, Gabriel García
100 Years of Solitude

Markson, David
Wittgenstein's Mistress

Matheson, Richard
Hell House

Matheson, Richard
What Dreams May Come

McCarthy, Cormac
The Road

Miéville, China
Perdido Street Station

Miller, Jr., Walter M.
A Canticle for Leibowitz

Millhauser, Steven
Dangerous Laughter

Mitchell, David
Cloud Atlas

Moorcock, Michael
Behold the Man

Moorcock, Michael
The Final Programme

Morrison, Toni

Murakami, Haruki

Murakami, Haruki
Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the
End of the World

Nabokov, Vladimir
Ada, or Ardor

Niffenegger, Audrey
The Time Traveler's Wife

Niven, Larry

Noon, Jeff

Obreht, Téa
The Tiger's Wife

O'Brien, Flann
At Swim-Two-Birds

Okri, Ben
The Famished Road

Percy, Walker
Love in the Ruins

Pohl, Frederik

Pratchett, Terry
The Color of Magic

Pynchon, Thomas
Gravity's Rainbow

Rabelais, François
Gargantua and Pantagruel

Robinson, Kim Stanley
Red Mars

Rowling, J.K.
Harry Potter & the Sorcerer's Stone

Rushdie, Salman
Midnight's Children

Russ, Joanna
The Female Man

Saramago, José

Sheckley, Robert
Dimension of Miracles

Sheckley, Robert

Sheckley, Robert
Store of the Worlds

Shelley, Mary

Silverberg, Robert
Dying  Inside

Silverberg, Robert

Silverberg, Robert
The World Inside

Simak, Clifford

Simak, Clifford
The Trouble with Tycho

Smith, Cordwainer

Smith, Cordwainer
The Rediscovery of Man

Stephenson, Neal
Snow Crash

Spinrad, Norman
Bug Jack Barron

Stross, Charles

Sturgeon, Theodore
More Than Human

Sturgeon, Theodore
Some of Your Blood

Swift, Jonathan
Gulliver's Travels

Thomas, D.M.
The White Hotel

Tiptree, Jr., James
Warm Worlds and Otherwise

Tolkien, J.R.R.
The Hobbit

Updike, John
The Witches of Eastwick

Van Vogt, A.E.
The Mixed Men

Van Vogt, A.E.

Van Vogt, A.E.
The Voyage of the Space Beagle

Van Vogt, A.E.
The World of Null A

Vance, Jack

Verne, Jules
Around the Moon

Verne, Jules
From the Earth to the Moon

Verne, Jules:
Journey to the Center of the Earth

Vonnegut, Kurt
Cat's Cradle

Vonnegut, Kurt
The Sirens of Titan

Vonnegut, Kurt

Wallace, David Foster
Infinite Jest

Walpole, Horace
Hieroglyphic Tales

Wells, H.G.
The First Men in the Moon

Wells, H.G.
The Island of Dr. Moreau

Wells, H.G.
The Time Machine

Wilson, Robert Anton & Robert Shea
The Illuminatus! Trilogy

Winton, Tim

Woolf, Virginia

Zabor, Rafi
The Bear Comes Home

Zelazny, Roger
Lord of Light

Zelazny, Roger
This Immortal

Special Features
Notes on Conceptual Fiction
When Science Fiction Grew Up
Ray Bradbury: A Tribute
The Year of Magical Reading
Remembering Fritz Leiber
A Tribute to Richard Matheson
Samuel Delany's 70th birthday
The Sci-Fi of Kurt Vonnegut
Curse You, Neil Armstrong!
Robert Heinlein at 100
A.E, van Vogt Tribute
The Puzzling Case of Robert Sheckley
The Avant-Garde Sci-Fi of Brian Aldiss
Science Fiction 1958-1975: A Reading List

Links to related sites
The New Canon
Great Books Guide
Postmodern Mystery
Fractious Fiction
Ted Gioia's web site
Ted Gioia on Twitter

SF Site
Graeme's Fantasy Book Review
Los Angeles Review of Books
The Millions
Big Dumb Object
SF Novelists
More Words, Deeper Hole
The Misread City
Reviews and Responses
SF Signal
True Science Fiction
Tor blog

Disclosure:  Conceptual Fiction
and its sister sites may receive review
copies and promotional materials from
publishers, authors,  publicists or other