Book Review: City by Clifford D. Simak (Four Stars)

Book Review: City by Clifford D. Simak

Fours Stars

“Until it can be proved that Man did, in fact, exist, argument that the discovered fragments originated with Man can have but little point.”

The first short stories which became City were written in 1943. The collection was first published in 1952. Simak’s future history positing a world populated by dogs and robots was cutting edge social commentary as well as science fiction. (The transistor hadn’t been invented, and atomic power was till magic: albeit black magic)

“Since we are machines, we must be scientific. We can’t dream. Facts are all we have.”

Unlike much science fiction of that time, Simak’s stories aged well. Despite the advances in technology, his robots and communications devices aren’t jarringly wrong. His posited domed bases on the surface of Jupiter were pure fantasy, even then.

“The mark of a good story idea — a twisting of value for a certain dramatic effect.”

For the book Simak wrote introductions to each short story, which Robert Silverberg noted read like a parody of biblical analysis. They read like the drivel that passes for scholarly criticism on most any topic.

“You get along by tolerance rather than understanding.” (Warning: definition shift)

Simak, true to his era, is hopelessly optimistic and wrong. He was sure the education, “the World Committee,” and plenty would solve all the world’s problems. No one would steal. No one would kill. No one would fight with his neighbor. Lawyers, politicians and celebrities assure that’s wrong, even ignoring the occasional Hitler, Stalin, Mao or Kim.

“Entirely typical … the [mankind] should purchase godhood by self-immolation.”

City provides a window into a worldview that animated much positive thought and a lot of silliness in the latter half of the twentieth century. I was born in the 1940s and did high school and college in the 60s. I believed every bit of it then. I’m not happier knowing that man is essentially self-centered and stupid, but it is what it is.

“We never know ourselves.”

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2 thoughts on “Book Review: City by Clifford D. Simak (Four Stars)

  1. I don’t think all people are self-centered and stupid, But I do see the humor in the author’s overly optimistic, unrealistic viewpoint of the world. Thanks.

  2. “Essentially” was the key word. Stupid and self-centered is our natural state. Thankfully, not all of us stay there.

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