A Charming Tale of Adventure and Survival by

... says so on the cover. I'd tend to agree.

Special Deliverance is a smallish science fiction novel, published in 1982 by Ballantine Books, toward the end of Simak's career. I picked it up at a second-hand bookstore mostly due to the intriguing illustration on the cover (drawn, incidentally, by noted sci-fi artist Michael Whelan).

It's an odd scene. In the foreground of the picture, an Asimov-style robot with a hatchet on his belt sits on a boulder pouring a cup of tea. Behind him is a man in a brown jacket, staring off into space. In the middle distance, what looks to be a black-robed country preacher and a uniformed major general are standing toe-to-toe and shouting at one another, and in the background, a distant figure is studying the gigantic sky-blue cube that overshadows the entire panorama.

This depicts an early moment in the story, and each of these characters are fellow travelers of a sort. They are all Earthlings, but each comes from a very different version of Earth, mysteriously swiped from their alternate timelines and deposited near this massive monument without the slightest idea as to why.

The chap in the brown blazer is Edward Lansing, the protagonist of the story, a college professor from what you might think of as our own version of Earth. (from New England, actually, if you want to be exact. None of the others have ever heard of it.)

The robot's name is Jurgens. He is an android caretaker from an Earth that has been virtually abandoned for distant stars.

The pastor and the general are just that, Parson Ezra Hatfield and Brigadier-General Everett Darnley, better known as simply The Parson and The Brigadier. The Parson comes from a peaceful but severe world of religious fanatacism. The Brigadier comes from an Earth that is torn apart by centuries of war.

The woman in the distance is Mary Owen, a British engineer who hails from a 21st century Earth that is still controlled by the 18th century empires, which has lead to great advances in industry.

The 6th traveler, not pictured (perhaps the illustration is from her perspective?), is Sandra Carver, a poetess from a utopian society that runs without any need for a government or money, modeled in some ways after classical Greece.

Soon, the six adventurers discover that this strange world they've been transported to is also Earth, though an even more sophisticated version, much further along the timeline than any of the others. The planet is seemingly empty, but filled with danger. And they are not alone. Other such groups have been roving the land, always in bands of six, each one more ecclectic than the one before it.

Many have followed the road to the Blue Cube and beyond, in search of answers and escape...

None have ever returned.

A clichéd story, sure, but a fun one. Not an earth-shattering narrative by any stretch, and Simak's novels rarely are, but sort of a sweet mixture of the classic survival story with the sudden, unmitigated oddness of Lewis Carroll or The Prisoner.

All in all, it's a light and entertaining read, and a cool book to have on your shelf, especially for fans of Simak's earlier, more highly-acclaimed works, e.g. Way Station, All Flesh is Grass and The Goblin Reservation.