on 1 May 2006
Simak has been called a pastoral writer, a stronghold of old USA communal values. In contrast with other more pessimistic SF writers, he should be a good all american farming boy. Many SF tales of those years (40-60 of the 20th century)are optimistic and show a great confidence on the capabilities of humans and technical progress.
Nevertheless, this novel is far from that: he portraits a world in which technology has made Earth useless, the struggle for life is over, and so society falls apart. Through succesive generations of a family (all of them fail their high mission) he describes Earth's decay: first society as such, then the planet itself is abandoned for Mars or Jupiter where men become Jovians, a more gifted race, then the last humans go back to the stone ages. Only robots and gentically modified and speaking dogs stay behind to prepare a better future to those men, a task which seems nearly doomed to failure due to our intrinsic violence. On the other side, some of those misfits left behind turn into mutants with extraordinary mental powers (telepathy, superior intelligence, extravagant whims) and create a new breed of ants which in their turn take the same menacing trait as men.
Dogs and the last of the robots are left to wonder what could be, what will be...
Not all together an optimistic tale. There are robots, there are stars, but Simak is not Asimov and there's not a happy ending but a melancholic one.
City is great science fiction, a social commentary of sorts told in a unique and highly effective manner. The tales collected in this book are the myths that have been told by generation after generation of Dogs. Dog scholars debate their origin, and only Tige is so bold as to argue that Man ever truly existed. The majority argument makes sense--man was a highly illogical creature, too selfish and materialistic to ever survive long enough to form a lasting, advanced culture. These stories themselves basically tell the story of the Webster family, a remarkable family whose genealogical line was gifted with genius yet cursed with failures. As the story goes, humans abandoned the cities and sought a bucolic lifestyle, shedding the old tendencies to huddle together in cities for protection. They explored the solar system, and in time the majority of the population sought an alien bliss in the form of Jupiter's native life forms. One Webster had a vision of two civilizations, man and dog, working together to plot a new future--he utilized deft surgical means to enable dogs to speak, he designed special lenses to allow dogs to see as men do, and he designed robots to aid dogs by serving as their hands. Over the years, man's society continued to break down, and eventually a Webster manages to shut off man from the world at large, determined to let the dogs create a new earth free of man's dangerous ideas and influences. Jenkins, the faithful robot servant of the Websters, oversees the dogs' evolution. Unfortunately, the Dog world was not isolated from a handful of human beings after all, and eventually a man builds a bow and arrow and kills a fellow creature, thus upsetting the balance of life all over again. There are many more facets of the story than I have just mentioned, but one central point that seems to emerge from the stories is that man is inherently "bad." Jenkins had tried very hard to erase the memories of the straggling number of humans living in the era of the Dogs, and the fact that a man eventually killed a fellow creature means that man's troubles did not arise from our remote ancestors' taking a wrong path on the road to civilization but that in fact the fault lies in fact finds an inherent flaw in man's social makeup. Reading this rich, multi-layered tale, one can certainly understand why modern Dogs simply cannot believe that such a creature as Man ever existed.
I enjoyed this book tremendously. The ending did not provide a sense of closure, but such a work of fiction as this would be hard to wrap up tightly with no loose ends. Simak presents a valuable viewpoint on society and mankind in general, and the unique viewpoint offered through the eyes of the Dogs serves to highlight the points Simak makes. My favorite part of the book is the section of notes before each tale, wherein we learn about the debate among Dog scholars as to whether or not these stories have any basis in fact, with the stubborn Tige dissenting from the majority opinion of Bouncer, Rover, and others that these are just myths and legends with no basis in fact, that Man is effectively the anti-Dog and was created by ancient storytellers for satirical or educational purposes. From now on, when I hear someone say the world is going to the dogs, I will think to myself that such a happenstance would not really be that bad, all things considered.
For me Clifford Simak is one of the greatest SF authors, but unfortunately he hasn't really achieved the acclaim due to him. Some of his novels, such as 'Way Station', 'Time and Again', and 'Time is the Simplest Thing' are among the finest of the SF genre. Whilst 'City' is an interesting, thought provoking and well-written book, it doesn't seem the most obvious choice from the Simak stable for the SF Masterworks series. However, it is good to see he has finally been recognised by inclusion in the series.
City is a novel broken down into eight 'stories' which span about ten thousand years. Each story tells a chapter about Mankind's future, with a preface to each chapter written from the perspective of a cannine race that takes over Man's dominant place and looks back upon the 'fable' of Man debating whether he is fact or fiction. The result is a fascinating, if bleak prediction of the future. Some of the psychological and metaphysical themes that characterise Simak's work are apparent. I'd certainly recommend reading 'City' and other novels from Simak, some of which may hopefully achieve a deserved revival.
on 19 July 2011
City has been, and continues to be, my favorite short story. As a child, it introduced core science fiction and fantasy concepts concerning what is still current world events. Still, with childhood long in my past, I find that I read this book at least once a year.
on 9 February 2016
I bought this book due to many recommendations from golden age sci-fi readers as well as friends interested in human ethics and human nature (and a bit of politics). This is truly a one of a kind sci-fi that spans thousands of years. And the end was unexpected and can be debated (no spoilers!). Once again I couldn't find this in stores where I live, so I was glad to find it on amazon
on 9 September 2004
City is a fix-up novel culled from the pages of Astounding and comprising of eight related stories and additional linking text.
`City', is a tale of men, a tale which is being analysed in the linking text by a group of sentient dogs who believe the tales told by Dogs of the race of Men to be merely fables and Man himself to be a myth.
Simak's naïve and somewhat surreal view of the future is based very much on his love for small-town America and its communities and values, and is often tinged with nostalgia for a way of life which has passed.
The City of the title story is represented by one of its residential areas, a place of suburban houses and lawns which, like the rest of the City, is almost abandoned. Centralised automated farming technology has made vast tracts of land free for habitation and this, combined with the bizarre concept of an atomic plane for every home has lured people away to private estates in the country.
The worthy officials of the City Council however, refuse to accept that their City is dead and are in the process of evicting the last remaining residents who are squatting in the empty houses, unwilling to abandon the community where they spent their lives.
It's a strange and unreal tale reminiscent of Ray Bradbury, and is full of poetry and atmosphere.
`Huddling Place' take us further into the future, to where descendant of one of the City's characters has become an agoraphobic recluse in his country house, where he lives with his robot butler Jenkins. Having abandoned the cities, humanity is now abandoning the Earth, either for Mars or the interiors of the their homes from where they can travel `virtually' via a holographic projection network. His agoraphobia prevents him from flying to Mars to save Juwain, the ancient Martian philosopher who was on the verge of producing a practical philosophy for humanity which would occasion the transformation of the race.
`Census' takes us forward in time again to the same house where the Webster grandson has surgically (rather than genetically) altered dogs enabling them to speak. Mankind is now heading for the stars while isolated groups of mutated humans live quietly in the wilderness.
Simak is again enjoining a return to a mere pastoral existence in which technology is only employed as a means to that end.
Technological developments here have allowed those with pioneering spirit to leave, those who were restricted (physically and spiritually) by existence within the city have been freed, allowing others the space to breathe within and alongside Nature.
And so it goes on... Humanity, partly as a result of the Juwain philosophy being released across the earth, is transformed, and is converted into a near-immortal form of life of high intelligence which can live on or in the planet Jupiter, abandoning the Earth to a handful of humans, the Dogs, the mutants and the robots.
Simak was never a writer for technical details. Jupiter is described as having a surface, and the Jovian `conversion process' is hastily drawn with little explanation as to the nature of the process, something which no doubt would be explained as `genetic engineering' today.
`City' is a novel which is ultimately flawed by internal confusion of identity. The linking text implies that the stories are fables from ancient Dog History, and their content supports this, but the style seems at odds with the somewhat fairytale nature of the later stories in which talking bears, wolves, racoons and squirrels bring a rather schmaltzy Disney-esque sentimentality to the narrative.
Having said that, Simak attempts to explore the issue of what it means to be human. The humans, en-masse, chose the path of enlightenment offered by the conversion to Jovian forms, a path rejected by the Webster family (whose genealogy links all these stories) and a handful of others.
The legacy of humanity lies with the robots who are dedicated to developing the race of Dogs, unpolluted by human values and failings. Man is seen to be a creature willing to kill for what he wants, as when one of the Websters considers killing the Jovian `prototype' Fowler in order to prevent the human race's mass exodus to Jupiter, or John Webster's solution to the problem of Joe the mutant's experimental ants (who eventually threaten the entire planet) which is to poison them.
This may be reading far too much into what is at the end of the day a rather patchwork construction which, though poetic and inventive, fails to provide a satisfactory denouement.
on 22 March 2016
Wonderfully imaginative, emotional and thought provoking story of the decline of man on Earth and the ascendency of a new race to succeed it. One of Simak's finest works and a must for any serious Science Fiction fan. I cannot tell you how many times I have read this collection of stories and they delight every time.
on 13 December 2011
NOTE on this Masterworks edition: This edition only has eight out of the nine City stories so I'd hardly call this a 'Masterwork' edition of any sort. It's very poor that they haven't taken their own series title seriously :(
I have mixed feelings about this book. Its clearly chocked full of interesting ideas but only one or two are fleshed out in any real detail. This is the books strength in what is actually a collection of short stories joined together with what is supposed to read like critical academic commentary of some far future breed of dogs that have inherited the earth and view these stories as myth. Some of the stories work and really captured my imagination but most were a little unconvincing. Simak is clearly a gifted writer which is obvious from his strong invocation of place but at the same time there is no real attempt to create characters of any depth as he is much more interested in the 'ideas'. This leaves the work 'interesting' but probably the sort of book that people could sneer at when they accuse SciFi of "not being about people". Really it's not trying to be about people but that ages the work. (These same people probably have never read SciFi anyway and happily ignore the fact that these stories were written in the mid to late 1940's and early 50's). This collection is worth reading as reminder on where SciFi came from but it's clearly not a modern work. All that said, I'd happily read more Simak based on this work.
My 2/5 is a reflection on the fact that a non SF reader would find it so dry and characterless.
on 30 September 2013
I read this story, oh, so many years ago. I bought it to read again and I have left it with my brother so he can enjoy it again too. Simak is one of the great si-fi writers. If you have never read "City" then I recommend it. I can't tell you of the story as it would spoil it for you! A thumping good read. However, if you like lots of guns, fighting, or sex you will be disappointed, as this story does not rely on such cheap tricks - it is a series of connecting short stories which tell the possible outcome for society and the human race on planet Earth. Read and enjoy.
on 23 August 2011
Simak is one of the grandmasters of SF, but unfortunately to appreciate him at his best in novel form then read Way Station. City is not a novel but is a "fix up". A themed series of stories have been taken and linked material has been used to create a "novel". Sometimes this works, see van Vogt and "The voyage of the Space Beagle", and sometimes it doesnt work,as in this case. Some of the stories are good such as "City", "Desertion" and "Huddling Place", but some are just merely average. The other problem with the stories is that they become increasingly more unbelievable. Now I know that SF is about the fantastic, but it should also be credible and possible,and Simak, instead of working out what the impact of intelligent dogs can have on society goes off at different tangents and makes the stories more like fantasy.So we have stories where men create dogs that can think and talk, which is great as an idea, but then he introduces mutants (Joe), intelligent ants and other dimensions (Cobbies). Gollancz have also fallen short of what they have produced here. You would think that after such a long period of time after these stories were written that this would be the definitive version of City, but it isnt. Simak wrote 9 City tales, of which there are only 8 in this book. The ninth tale is "Epilog" and was written in 1973. Gwyneth Jones,who writes the introduction to this book even comments that there are 9 tales, but the ninth tale does not appear. Why not? Does the cover tell us that Gwyneth Jones has written a new introduction. No, why not?
Gollancz have merely repackaged the book with a new introduction and have overlooked the opportunity to produce a definitive version of City. I believe that a complete version was produced by another publisher in 1980, but this is now out of print.