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City by Clifford D. Simak
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City (original 1952; edition 2011)

by Clifford D. Simak

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1,678484,262 (3.99)91
Member:G.vanderHeide
Title:City
Authors:Clifford D. Simak
Info:Gollancz (2011), Paperback, 256 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****
Tags:S.F. Masterworks, genre: science fiction, @amazon.co.uk, acquired in 2011, read in 2012

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City by Clifford D. Simak (1952)

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Published in 1952 this is another novel from the science fiction masterworks series, which according to wiki:

“began in 1999 and comprises selected pieces of science-fiction literature from 1950 onwards (with a few exceptions). The list was compiled by the managing director of Orion Books, Malcolm Edwards, with the help of "leading SF writers and editors" and the goal of bringing important books back into print. The list was described by science fiction author Iain M. Banks as "amazing" and "genuinely the best novels from sixty years of SF”

City is definitely worth its place in the 170 odd books that now form the masterworks series. It is a collection of eight short stories linked by generations of one family and covers a 12000 year span of the future of the human race and their future is not great. Simak’s theme that man is a self destructive animal is present in nearly all of these stories. Each tale is forwarded by a short essay written by a representative of the dogs at a time in the far distant future when the existence of man no more than the stuff of myth and legend. The stories are tales that the dogs tell their pups when they are close together in the family circle and the inevitable questions arise:

“What is Man?
“What is a city?
“What is a war?”


The Webster family are the anti-heroes of the tales; they hold positions of power and influence and it is to some extant the result of their decision making that leads to man no longer being present on earth. Dogs, ants and robots are the inheritors of a world where killing is almost unknown.

This book is very much of it’s time with Simak’s use of generations of one family giving the whole book a sense of home spun story telling. It does not pretend to be great literature but it is well enough written and the forward progression of the tales with an intelligent linking device provides an expectation of things to come. No hard science fiction, no over the top moralising just a series of intriguing stories with some interesting ideas. A four star read. ( )
1 vote baswood | Apr 30, 2017 |
Summary: A collection of eight connected stories stitched together by "notes" from dog commentators on how human beings died out as a species on earth.

Clifford Simak was one of the science fiction writers from what many call the "Golden Era" of science fiction from the 1940's to the 1960's--the age of Bradbury, Heinlein, and Asimov, among others. This was the science fiction of my youth, but I never encountered Simak's work. In this new e-book edition published by Open Road Media, David Wixon, Simak's literary executor introduces the book to a new generation (and an old one that may have missed it!). The book, published in 1952 consists of eight related short stories linked by introductory notes by "doggish" commentators. An "Epilog" was added later.

Dogs are one of three connecting threads through the whole book. The others are the Webster family, civic leaders, inventors (including the invention of a space drive), and scientists (including one who modified dogs so they could speak and read, creating an evolutionary jump for the dogs which is also traced through the book). The other linking thread is Jenkins, the robotic butler of the Websters, who becomes the caretaker of their house, and the evolving race of dogs who forge a peace with all the other animals ending the killing of one beast of another.

The story is of a human race whose existence is dramatically changed by its technology. Hydroponics and personal air travel result in the forsaking of cities for self sufficient rural enclaves supplying all one's needs. One Webster invents an innovation in space travel making interplanetary travel easy, and humans begin to leave for other worlds. Humans try to settle on Jupiter, and modify their physical makeup to adapt to the harsh gravity and atmosphere. None who are sent out to test the alterations return. Finally the director and his old dog Towser do, and understand why--in their altered state Jupiter is incredibly beautiful and their minds are capable of things their human brains could never do. The director comes back long enough to tell the truth, leading to wholesale abandonment by most people for this better existence.

A few remain. Among them are Joe, who lives near the Webster homestead, and others like him, human mutants pursuing their own mysterious existence. Before Joe vanishes he experiments with creating a climate where ants do not need to hibernate but live year round and develop, then he smashes their enclosure, setting off another evolutionary trajectory.

Meanwhile, the dogs, under Jenkins watchful tutelage, more or less replace humanity, enclosed and living in suspended animation in Geneva until their existence is threatened by the ants who they refuse to kill. Jenkins helps the dogs relocate to other worlds (and the remaining humans to an earth in an altered reality until they die out) and the ants take over only for their rule in turn to collapse.

Only Jenkins is left with some field mice, when a space ship of robots stops by, and Jenkins, his work done, bids Earth good-bye.

Simak's work explores some classic themes of science fiction. One is the impact of our technology. What happens to human beings when our technology makes life so easy that there is no apparent reason to fight for our existence. A technologically altered existence or suspended animation become the desired be-all and end-all of life. The second is the curious imaginary of a dog-ruled world, and what that would be like. A third question is the unintended consequences of altering natural courses, typified in Joe's experiments with the ants. And the final piece is the development of the butler-robot Jenkins, in some ways shaped by his programming, and yet going "off program" in becoming a kind of god to the dogs and guiding their development.

Simak in many ways anticipates many of the more recent technological dystopias recent science fiction and young adult literature has envisioned. Do these authors render an important service in helping us grapple with the dark side of our technological innovations? Writing at a time when nuclear holocaust was the great fear, he suggests that it might actually be apparently "good" things that could kill us off over time, robbing us of qualities essential to our humanness--the sociality of the city, the challenge of eking out our existence, or finding larger purposes to life than our own ease and satiation. These are matters just as important today as they were sixty-five years ago when this work was first published.

City received the International Fantasy Award in 1953. "Epilog," written in 1973, was included in a 1980 edition of the book. ( )
  BobonBooks | Apr 27, 2017 |
I'm giving this book three and a half stars mostly because I'm more of a literary type than a science fiction fan, and there are stretches in "City" where it feels like the author is more interested in making an argument than relating a story: telling instead of showing, in other words. But "City" is still full of interesting ideas, and once in a while, especially in the book's latter stories, the author manages to communicate them in a way that might leave the reader feeling spooked and perhaps saddened. "City" is a good example of how science fiction can help answer both literature's most important question -- what does it mean to be human? -- and one of science's central imponderables -- will the human race survive?

"City was written in the shadow of the Second World War, and it shows: Simak's view of human nature is exceedingly bleak. He sees humanity as fundamentally self-destructive, the bearer of an ineradicable tragic flaw. The book spends much of its time wondering what sort of civilization might have better chances of survival in the long term. A race of mutant humans? Dogs? Robots, perhaps? The idea that humans might be replaced by some other civilization seems not to trouble the author at all, which suggests a commendably clear-eyed view of things, considering the fact that the book was written in the late nineteen forties, and shows an excellent understanding of what often calls deep time. What's a thousand years to a robot, after all? The author's literary executor notes in the introduction, "City" was perhaps one of the first works of science fiction to shift its focus from humanity to a more inclusive view of life in all of its forms. Simak deserves credit for putting real effort into imagining into a society run by these other beings might be like and what its values might be. In other words, he writes these non-human races from the inside out, which takes real imagination.

The author's not afraid to blur his categories, either, which sometimes makes the book truly fascinating. Throughout the book, and even as millennia pass, some traces of values and practices that their human creators imparted to the races they created -- super-intelligent dogs and robots -- remain. Like Brian Aldiss's "Galaxies Like Grains of Sand," "City" imposes a eons-long plot structure on what was originally a collection of stories, and it's a much better book for it, and not just because a text written hyper-intelligent canines arguing about whether the human race ever existed is slyly humorous in its own right. In "City," dogs and robots pass down myths and stories whose origins are unknown to them. They keep traditions and protect places and things whose original purpose has been forgotten. Simak seems to be asking how history turns into myth and how the values that myth creates can help hold a society together. Robots take on human attributes, while dogs, try as they might, struggle to eradicate their past roles as pets and helpmates to humans. Simak shows how cultural tendencies might echo down the centuries. The prose may be workmanlike, but there's a lot of food for thought in these stories. Recommended to readers who, like myself, are trying to escape the carefully delineated preserve of literary fiction to see what's out there in other genres. ( )
2 vote TheAmpersand | Mar 26, 2017 |
For me there is always a rich taste in classic Sci Fi which I can’t find in recent stories. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy modern sci-fi books as much but there is always a nostalgic feeling in reading classic Sci Fis. City is no exception. Eight different but related stories told in a future time which there is no sign of man on earth. As stories proceed we see how earth become what it is then.
Dogs has inherited the earth and they have these stories as historical documents and there theories to believe them or not….

"So long ago, thought Jenkins. So many things have happened, Bruce Webster was just starting to experiment with dogs, had no more than dreamed his dream of talking, thinking dogs that would go down the path of destiny paw in hand with Man… not knowing then that Man within a few short centuries would scatter to the four winds of eternity and leave the Earth to robot and to dog. Not knowing then that even the name of Man would be forgotten in the dust of years, that the race would come to be known by the name of a single family." ( )
1 vote ardvisoor | Oct 4, 2016 |
The storyline deserves 4 stars, but it was dragging a little slowly and just not written in a very engaging manner, so I'm afraid it will be only 3. But I liked nearly all the ideas.

This book, however, gives me a certain existential horror. I've always found comfort in the thought of death, in the sense that, sometime or other - it all ends. Eternity is scary because eventually you'll run out of goals, of ambitions. Yet here, some of the characters are extremely long-lived - thousands of years. And goals are presented as goals of entire races, not so much of only certain individuals. Then there's the despair.. All the despair about how all of them eventually run out of potential and dwindle, but things STILL GO ON. I find this chilling to the bone.. Perhaps of the underlying notion that eventually every race will fail, and then it all just feels like a pointless thing, and yet it still goes on and there's no end to it.. ( )
1 vote avalinah | Sep 11, 2016 |
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» Add other authors (71 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Clifford D. Simakprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bing, JonAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bringsværd, Tor ÅgeAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Daisy SchelderupTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gabbert, JasonCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ganim, PeterNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Giancola, DonatoCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jones, GwynethIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Resnick, MikeIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Valigursky, EdCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 188296828X, Hardcover)

The cities of the world are deserted and automation has invaded every aspect of human life. The robots make spaceships, the ants create huge buildings on the remains of old towns and the dogs take over the earth. The award-winning author's many other novels include "Catface" and "Off Planet".

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:46 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

"On a far future Earth, mankind's achievements are immense: artificially intelligent robots, genetically uplifted animals, interplanetary travel, genetic modification of the human form itself. But nothing comes without a cost. Humanity is tired, its vigour all but gone. Society is breaking down into smaller communities, dispersing into the countryside and abandoning the great cities of the world. As the human race dwindles and declines, which of its great creations will inherit the Earth? And which will claim the stars ...?"--Back cover.… (more)

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