Thursday, September 6, 2018

City, by Clifford D. Simak

Today I'm looking at an anthology of short-stories written by Clifford Simak that tell a story through short vignettes over a period of thousands of years. The stories of City follow mankind as technology allows them to abandon cities, then flee to the stars, then disappear, leaving behind sentient dogs and robots as the inheritors of the Earth, who end up taking their own paths. The stories, like so much of forties and fifties science-fiction, was first written for short story magazines before being collected in an anthology. This anthology uses a framing device of dogs in the distant future analyzing eight stories that have been passed down through the generations. Many dogs think that the stories are little more than myth, an origin story crafted by dogs to explain where they came from. Man is dismissed by most dog thinkers as a primitive tribal deity with no basis in fact and probably never existed.

The concept is an interesting one, much in the same vein as stories like Canticle for Leibowitz where we, the readers have knowledge about things in the distant past that other characters only vaguely know about. The dogs, for example, think that it's impossible to travel to another planet such as Jupiter, while we currently send probes to different planets on a regular basis and to forties and fifties readers travel to Jupiter seemed a real possibility. The result is an interesting conflict between the reader and the characters within the book and for whatever reason this is something that I enjoy in books.

There is a fairly melancholy tone throughout the novels and I'm not sure how I feel about it. The moral of the stories all seems to be that no matter how much we, or dogs or robots, advance, there will always be something to hold us back or something to distract us. There is an interesting contrast between the hope for the future and the obstacles that ultimately stumble us. The result is rather bittersweet and leaves the hope for the future in doubt. Which is a lot like real life in a way because our future is always in doubt.

Overall I thought this book was an interesting and short read. Even as a forties and fifties science-fiction anthology I feel like it hasn't aged as badly as some other sci-fi has. I think it's definitely worth taking a look for its unique nature.

- Kalpar

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