City is set sometime in the future at a time when mankind's acheivements are immense with intelligent robots, genetic modifications, commonplace space travel and genetically uplifted animals.
This technical progress comes at a cost, humanity itself has become tired and society has broken down into small pockets of communities spread over large distances, countryside living is the ideal and the City has become all but abandoned. As the Human race itself goes into decline who will inherit the earth and lay claim to the stars?
Written in 1952, City is a science fiction "fix-up" novel by Clifford D. Simak. The term "fix-up" means a collection of short stories that are linked within a common theme and usually feature re-occurring elements or an overall story arc. The original version of City featured 8 such short stories along with brief notes on each, a ninth story was added in 1990 (originally published in 1973). Reviewed here is the Gollancz version which has been published as part of their SF Masterworks collection.
City is a great piece of science fiction from one of the true greats, as Heinlein once said: "To read science fiction is to read Simak" and this is as true today as it was 60 years ago when City was first released. The book is essentially a social commentary on humanities ever increasing drive for technological progress without the same effort to overcome our serious social flaws. Simak's style is relaxed and full of character, he effortlessly portays the use of future technology without getting bogged down into the mechanics and most of his tales have a real positive air, even when dealing with society falling apart, as it does here. There is a poetic, almost nostalgic feel and one that makes the reader feel very comforted and relaxed.
The use of connected short stories, each featuring descendants of the same family, linked via a common theme and re-enforced via the re-occurring character of the Robot Butler Jenkins is very effective, with each story introduced by the inheritors of Earth almost as fables. These scholars have been trying to work out just who the race of "men" were and they debate the origin of man. Only one of these scholars actually believes that the human race ever truly existed, the others citing that the selfish and materialistic nature of man would be unrealistic to survive long enough to form an advanced culture.
It's an incredibly rich story and works on many different levels, way the book distances itself from the human race helps the reader to appreciate some of the books many messages - the central theme is that our race is inherently flawed, and it does make you wonder how we haven't managed to destroy ourselves already. Our intrinsic propensity for violence would seem from an outside observer to doom us to extinction while we seem to rely on technological progress to overcome many of our social problems.
In my opinion just about any work by Simak deserves to be considered a classic and City is no exception, it's a unique perspective on the race of man and a fantastic read.
Written on Wednesday 22nd June 2011 by Antony.
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