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Literature / The Goblin Reservation

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The Goblin Reservation is a 1968 science fiction novel by Clifford Simak, set in the distant future when the Earth has been transformed into a university planet; a planet where creatures from all over the galaxy come to study, teach, and be entertained by the amazing discoveries that Earth is now rich with. Among the many things that Earth can now boast is Time University: a university devoted to slipping through time and discovering the truth about past events. People and creatures from the past are brought forward in time to be interviewed, studied and to provide entertainment for the people of the future. The creatures that people of the past always thought to be myth — such as trolls, fairies, goblins, and the like — have been discovered and placed on various reservations where they live and are studied by those working at Supernatural, a division of the planet-wide university.

Peter Maxwell, professor of Supernatural and a dear friend to most of the Little Folk, travels to a distant Coonskin stellar system to check the rumors about the dragon there, only to find himself on a strange, free-roaming crystal planet inhabited by ghostly creatures who make him — and the humanity — an incredibly generous offer. Upon returning to Earth, Maxwell learns, to his further shock, that the Crystal planet did not intercept him in subspace, but duplicated him instead. The other Maxwell went to Coonskin as intended, found nothing and returned early... only to die in a freak accident a week later. Maxwell finds himself legally dead, his place at Supernatural already taken and his old apartment rented by Time historian Carol Hampton and her pet bio-mech sabertooth cat Sylvester.


Confused, he invites the girl for a dinner, where they meet Maxwell's friends — Alley Oop, a Neanderthal rescued from certain death in his native age (or so he says) and educated in the future, and the Ghost. When, while discussing Maxwell's accident, Carol slips that Time is going to sell the mysterious Artifact — a black, indestructible block of unknown material found in Jurassic, Maxwell starts to suspect that "his" murder, the offer he was made, the Artifact and the Wheelers — creepy hive-like wheeled aliens from the other side of galaxy — may be tied together.


Tropes described in The Goblin Reservation:

  • Alien Fair Folk: Various fantasy creatures (goblins, trolls, banshees) turn out to be extraterrestrials who came to Earth thousands of years ago.
  • Badass Adorable: Sylvester is the cutest thing alive, but try and harm his friends and he'll eviscerate you.
  • Badass Bookworm: Though Maxwell isn't as strong as Oop, he's still young, physically fit and knows how to fight.
  • Bizarre Alien Locomotion: The Wheelers are basically living hives suspended between two large organic wheels.
  • Casual Interstellar Travel: The galaxy is covered by a transporting network, whereby objects are instantly transmitted between any two nodes as infinitely-fast "wave patterns". The network itself, though, is expanded by slower-than-light spaceships.
  • Casual Time Travel: Since Albert Lambert got a time machine implanted into his brain, he can now time-travel by will to any epoch he wishes. Well, he could, before the navigation system broke; since that, whenever he tried to time-travel, he was thrown into completely random time.
  • Clarke's Third Law: Little Folk's magic is actually Crystal planet's technology.
  • Contemporary Caveman: Alley Oop.
  • Cyborg: Bio-mechs used to be Mechanical Lifeforms, but ow they are closer to this trope, as most of their body is now organic (cloned or genetically engineered), and the only organs that are mechanical are those most subjected to wear and tear — heart, lungs, joints etc.
    • The artist Albert Lambert also is one, with a freaking Time Machine as a cranial implant.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Maxwell.
  • Destructive Savior: Nothing like accidentally unleashing a dragon in the museum.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The Wheelers are the most alien lifeform encountered yet, and there's a lot of ominous rumors about them. Fitting, since they originate from another universe.
  • Expendable Clone: The other Peter Maxwell dies before the beginning of the book. Subverted, however, as Oop says that he was the same person as the POV Maxwell. Oop comes to conclusion he should both mourn the late Maxwell as his death still was the death of a person, and celebrate the return of the protagonist Maxwell as his friend essentially came back from the dead.
  • Fearless Fool: Sylvester's default response to any remote threat is Attack! Attack! Attack!, be it Bar Brawl, or a Wheeler, or a dragon. Oop is usually tasked with restraining him.
  • Field Trip to the Past: The modus operandi of Time. They either travel to the past themselves and study history there, or invite a famous person from the past to the present to read a lecture, like they do with William Shakespeare during the course of the book. They also have a museum full of artifacts saved from certain destruction in the past.
  • Fish out of Temporal Water: Averted. Oop is remarkably well-adjusted to the future, although he still has some old habits like being uncomfortable in bed and preferring a pile of dry leaves.
    • Also averted with Shakespeare (invited to read a lecture about his works), who is positively fascinated by the future.
  • Five-Man Band:
  • Fling a Light into the Future: the purpose of the Crystal planet is to store all the knowledge of its makers after the death of their universe and the birth of ours. And now they need someone to pass it to.
  • Future Me Scares Me: Because it's from a future far enough for it to be a ghost.
  • Gargle Blaster: The only person who can drink Oop's moonshine without choking is Oop himself.
  • Genius Bruiser: Alley Oop, a big burly Neanderthal... who's working on his doctorate. He effortlessly deduces what happened to Maxwell using a few throwaway clues.
  • Genre Shift: In-universe example: the style of Albert Lambert, an artist who lived several centuries before the events of the book, and whose painting is bought by Nancy Clayton, underwent a sudden and drastic change at one point of his life. Specifically, after he got into that time-travelling adventure.
  • Ghost Amnesia: The only thing that Ghost remembers about his mortal life is that he lived in England. Until he meets his past self.
  • Great Big Library of Everything: The Crystal planet is a colossal library containing all the knowledge of the period spanning tens of billions of years and two universes.
  • Hillbilly Moonshiner: Perhaps Oop adapted a little too well....
  • Hive Mind: Wheelers are sentient hives, and may or may not have the superhivemind.
  • Last of His Kind: There were only three banshees left in the world, and one dies near the end of the book. The dragon is also an example.
  • Legally Dead: Naturally Maxwell runs into this problem.
  • Made of Indestructium: The Artifact.
  • Ninja Pirate Zombie Robot: Sylvester is, basically, a cloned cyborg sabertooth cat.
  • Not Evil, Just Misunderstood: The trolls reveal that their rivalry with the goblins started when they asked goblins to brew them some October ale (and offered to help with that in exchange) and were rejected.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Oop plays with this just to mess with people's heads. He alternates between shocking the others with his (lack of) manners, and with his surprising intellect. He's much more serious when alone with Maxwell.
  • Ominous Cube: The Time Museum has the "Artifact", a large, vaguely cubical thing whose origins nobody has ever been able to discern. It later turns out to be a container for the last known dragon in the universe.
  • Panthera Awesome: Sylvester is a cloned cyborg sabertooth cat.
  • Phrase Catcher: Cut it out, Sylvester!
  • Power Incontinence: While Lambert still can time-travel at will, he can't control the destination after the targeting system on his time machine went haywire.
  • Really 700 Years Old: Mr. O'Toole remembers the sacking of Rome, while the generation before him were the contemporaries of the battle of Three Hundred Spartans.
  • Sealed Badass in a Can: or rather, Sealed Dragon In The Artifact. A rare case where the badass is sealed for their own protection.
  • Servant Race: Wheelers were this to Crystal planet. This is one of the reasons they make bids for it, possibly against the will of their former masters.
  • Shout-Out: To Alley Oop, a long-running comic strip about a caveman of that name, who in a significant story arc was plucked from his own time by a scientist of the future.
  • The Slow Path: Shakespeare eventually got to live sort of and work in the future he liked so much.
  • Stable Time Loop: Downplayed. Nancy showed Lambert his painting (depicting the Artifact in the past)... which he hadn't painted yet, althrough he recognized his own style. But he already had plans for it, and the sketches.
  • Stink Bomb: The Wheelers can produce a gas so awful, it literally paralyses people with its stench. This is how they killed the other Maxwell. However, the one who attacked the gang with it didn't count for Sylvester with his inhuman smell and mechanical lungs.
  • Swiss Army Character: The Wheelers can shapeshift their hive-like bodies into a variety of tools and weapons.
  • Tall Tale: Alley Oop is big on these when it comes to his native time.
  • There Was a Door: Downplayed, Shakespeare did go through the door after learning that the Ghost is his ghost, he just didn't bother to open it first.
  • Time Abyss: Banshees remember their colonisation of Earth, which happened some time during the Triassic. That pales in comparison with the Crystal Planet itself, which predates our Universe.
  • Twin Maker: Maxwell was duplicated and abducted in transit to Coonskin and the narrator who returns from the Crystal Planet learns that the original died in a freak accident shortly after his return.
  • Upper-Class Twit: Nancy Clayton, an air-headed party girl. Maxwell thinks that she may be one truly happy person that he knows.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Maxwell gives a big one to everyone in the climax when they keep arguing while the dragon is being hunted by Wheelers. Carol gives him one in response, but, after calming down, realizes he had no choice and comes to apologise.
  • Whodunnit to Me?: The death of the Maxwell who returned first.