City

By Clifford D. Simak

15,621 ratings - 4.1* vote

Simak's "City" is a series of connected stories, a series of legends, myths, and campfire stories told by Dogs about the end of human civilization, centering on the Webster family, who, among their other accomplishments, designed the ships that took Men to the stars and gave Dogs the gift of speech and robots to be their hands.Contents:· City · nv Astounding May 1944 · Hud Simak's "City" is a series of connected stories, a series of legends, myths, and campfire stories told

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Book details

Hardcover, 251 pages
March 11th 2008 by Old Earth Books

(first published 1952)

Original Title
City
ISBN
188296828X (ISBN13: 9781882968282)
Edition Language
English

Community Reviews

Bill Kerwin


Remember when you—the naïve philosopher—struck by the similarities of molecule and solar system, imagined your body to be composed of billions of nano-planets and stars? I do. I was twelve years old at the time, working at my parent's grocery, and I was suddenly forced to lean upon my push-broom to keep from falling headlong in a dizzy marvel of surprise.

Reading City (1952) is like that. Although now it may look naïve, simplistic, perhaps even shallow, but at the time it seemed so imaginatively brave, so wide in scope, that it made you dizzy to contemplate it.

Simak's book is certainly ambitious. Originally a series of eight short stories published from '44 tp '51, it stretches more than ten thousand years in the future, from the days when men abandoned the large industrial cities in fear of the atomic bomb, through the growing isolation and disappearance the human species, unable to come to grips with its own violence or feel comfortable in its own skin, to the new order established on earth by the talking dogs and their robot helpers, who now face the threat of a rising insect civilization.

Unfortunately, City, though broad in scope, lacks depth. The writing style is merely serviceable, and the characters are often thin, their motivations uncomplicated. Worse, the world itself lacks credibility, evolving according to a child-like version of lamarckian inheritance: for example, some genius sets a glass dome over an anthill so the little dudes won't have to hibernate, and soon they are building little factories and pushing things around in tiny carts).

Such deficiences, however, are almost counterbalanced by the ingenious, self-referential framework of the novel. Simak connects his eight stories with a series of introductory scholarly notes that summarize the opinions of Doggish critics through the centuries (with names like Rover, Tighe, and Towser), who analyze the significance of these fabulous ancient folktales and conjecture that humankind itself may be nothing but a canine myth.

Which is “wild,” man, it could “blow your top,” make you “flip your lid”—as my twelve year old self might say. And if the twelve-year-old philosopher lives in you—as he still lives in me—you may find something to enjoy in Simak's City.

Kevin Kuhn

This is a challenging review as I'm surprised I didn’t enjoy the book as much as I thought I would. Oh, I still enjoyed it, and certainly appreciated it. But it didn’t capture me as tightly as Way Station. I haven’t forgotten that it was written in the 1940’s and I think readers must consider that fact. I’m still excited to read more Simak, and this book works on many levels, but I failed to completely lose myself in it, as I do with my favorite reads.

However, Simak as an author continues to grow on me. He’s genuinely midwestern and writes calm, thoughtful science fiction. He has a strong connection to nature, and it shows in his prose. He’s a storyteller and I’d love to be able to share a whisky with him on his front porch while he spins a yarn. I’ve heard him referred to as naïve and even preachy and I think that’s at least partly true. But if an author asks more questions than provides answers, I’m ok with some overt themes. If you’re not trying to express yourself in your writing, what’s it for?

Anyway, on one level this is an expansive story that covers dramatic social change, robots, human mutants, animal uplift, planetary expansion, and even parallel dimensions. It’s a great deal to cover in a roughly 200-page book. Which incidentally is really a series of eight short stories and novellas with overarching notes that provide some context and tie the stories together. If your looking for hard sci-fi, look elsewhere. Much of the technology is never explained, and many parts of the story are disjointed and incomplete. This is, I believe, intentional, as the books is represented as fragmented historical archives that might, in fact, be fables or allegories told by generations of sentient dogs.

A second layer is the examination of family and human’s focus on home. He questions the necessity of cities and what would be both lost and gained if they were abandoned. Simak envisions warm fires in the hearth, a glass of fine whiskey, in a place that you can call home, a place with deep roots and a strong connection to a family linage. Much of the book is melancholy and subdued. Characters (including robots) often look back to the past with nostalgia.

Part of the issue with this book, is that to cover vast spans of time (thousands and thousands of years), much of the story rides above the characters and the action. We do get pulled into specific characters and events, but rarely long enough to become invested.

On another level, the framework of the story exists to allow Simak to explore his ideas around human nature and human destiny. While most sci-fi authors explore population explosions or overcrowding, Simak examines the opposite, a continuous decline of mankind’s numbers on the Earth. Along with the dwindling population, robots and other advancement eliminate the need for labor. This allows Simak to question humanities ability to persist without the struggle of toil and conquest to provide drive and motivation.

I’m sure this was an advanced novel for its time. I’m not claiming Simak established concepts such as robotics or mutants or animal uplift or radical social change over thousands of years, but certainly those areas were still relatively unexplored ground in the 1940’s.

A creative series of campfire stories told over generations by sentient dogs, about the decline of humanity. Four stars for this sprawling in scope, yet strangely brief sequence of fables that serve to examine human nature and our potential destiny.

Apatt

“Thus far Man has come alone. One thinking, intelligent race all by itself. Think of how much farther, how much faster it might have gone had there been two races, two thinking, intelligent races, working together. For, you see, they would not think alike. They'd check their thoughts against one another. What one couldn't think of, the other could. The old story of two heads.”

Ah, that Clifford D. Simak, what a gent. He is one of the most optimistic, compassionate, and humanistic sci-fi authors ever. His lesser-known book All Flesh is Grass is the first science fiction novel I ever read, I took to the genre like a duck to water and never looked back since. So, I feel like I owe him—more than any other SF authors—a debt of gratitude. His works are sometimes described as “pastoral science fiction”, they usually have a rural setting and extol the virtues of the countryside life. There is also an avuncular feel to his prose style that is quite comforting and relaxing to read.

City is one of his best-known books, the winner of the International Fantasy Award for 1952*, and a part of the SF Masterworks series. In spite of the title, the book is not about a particular city or of cities in general. It is a fix-up novel comprising nine stories with an interstitial introduction by a dog (stop laughing back there!) for each of the first eight, the ninth story was published more than twenty years after the others, and is introduced by the author.

City, in spite of its modest page count of around 224 pages, is epic in scope. The first half of the book depicts the slow decline of human civilization, as atomic powered personal air transport, hydroponics and space colonization do away with poverty, hunger and the need for people to live in cities. Later on, most of humanity migrate to live in Jupiter where they can live in paradise, at the cost of losing their humanity through extreme physical modification. The few humans remaining on Earth are catered for by robots and live a meaningless life of plenty. A scientist named Bruce Webster surgically modifies dogs to give them sapient intelligence, speech, and literacy and gives rise to humanity’s successor (not usurper). From then on the book shifts its focus to the rise of the dog’s civilization, with help and guidance from a robot called Jenkins, and robots in general that function as the dogs’ hands for tasks which require building. Towards the end of the book, humans become mythical creatures most dogs no longer believe in (don’t worry, this is not a spoiler, the introduction to the very first story—written by a dog—already mentions this).

In spite of the decline and fall of humanity City is not a dystopian sci-fi, mankind fades away somewhat happily, in a post-scarcity civilization, eventually most of them finding a happier state of being and leaving their humanity behind. Simak has a rare ability to make his stories compelling without including action scenes as such. The pacing and tone of his narrative tend to be contemplative but the philosophical questions he raises are often fascinating and more than make up for the absence of edge of the seat thrills. Considering it is a fix-up novel—where the first eight stories were originally published between 1944 and 1951, and the ninth in 1973—it is surprising cohesive as a novel. The robot Jenkins, practically a protagonist, appears in most of the stories and the shadow of the Webster family looms over all of them, even after the family members are long gone. The interconnected stories are all very good individually, but together they form a wonderful narrative with an epic story arc that spans thousands of years.

Simak was never a hard science fiction writer, quite the opposite even. The science behind his fiction is mostly rather vague and of the “handwavium” variety. For examples, some robots begin to develop psychic abilities, how? The surgical modifications Webster made to the dogs breed through to successive generations of dogs. How? Ah! nevermind! Perhaps this is why he is not as revered as the likes of Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein from the same era. The robots in this book are practically indistinguishable from humans in term of personality and behavior, except they are all very nice and kind. While there is no actual tragedy in this book the narrative does develop an air of melancholic wistfulness towards the end, where the themes of abandonment and loneliness become dominant. The dogs and the robots are utterly charming, and the Webster family members are sympathetic and believable. There are no villains as such, except some unsympathetic mutants and the inscrutable ants. I had a great—if slightly wistful—time reading City, and I thoroughly recommend it.

__________________________
* Yes, it is very old, but it’s like fine wine.

Notes:
• There are many variants of City book covers. This one best represents the book, I think:


This one also comes close:


This is the edition I actually bought decades ago:


• If I can’t convince you to read City, perhaps this great article at Tor.com can.

• Simak’s Way Station is also an unmissable classic.

Quotes:
“Aside from the concept of the city, another concept which the reader will find entirely at odds with his way of life and which may violate his very thinking, is the idea of war and of killing. Killing is a process, usually involving violence, by which one living thing ends the life of another living thing. War, it would appear, was mass killing carried out on a scale which is inconceivable.”

"The city is an anachronism. It has outlived its usefulness. Hydroponics and the helicopter spelled its downfall.”

“If Man had taken a different path, might he not, in time to come, have been as great as Dog?”

Ivan

So far the strongest candidate for the best book I read this year.

Althea Ann

'City' is a novel which is actually made up of nine stories, originally published separately, but later strung together with a series of 'notes' explaining that these stories are part of the mythological heritage of the civilisation of Dogs, who believe that the existence of Man is most probably only a legend.

· City · May 1944
Occasionally, you read an old science fiction story and are just blown away by the remarkable prescience of the author and his or her ability to predict future events.
Well, in this case... Simak sure got it wrong!
According to the United Nations, "Today, 54 per cent of the world’s population lives in urban areas, a proportion that is expected to increase to 66 per cent by 2050. Projections show that urbanization combined with the overall growth of the world’s population could add another 2.5 billion people to urban populations by 2050." [http://www.un.org/en/development/desa...]
However, in Simak's 1980's, the opposite has happened. With the energy crisis utterly solved by atomics, personal planes becoming ubiquitous, and hydroponic advances eliminating the need for farmland, the concept of the city has died. Most people have gotten the hell out of Dodge, and commute to their jobs from distant, expansive estates. Without cities to serve as targets for bombs, world peace has finally arrived.
However, as with any radical social shift, there are a few kinks to be worked out, and some dissatisfaction to be dealt with... perhaps in an uncomfortably totalitarian way.

· Huddling Place · Jul 1944
Two hundred years after the events of the previous story, the descendants of the characters in 'City' are still living on their country estate - similarly to most of humanity. Martian civilization has been discovered, and friendly relations are in effect.
However, an unfortunate side effect of humanity's new lifestyle is just emerging: served by robots and with access to what seems just like the Internet, people don't need to physically 'go' anywhere - and have developed extreme agoraphobic tendencies.

· Census · Sep 1944
This third segment definitely works better in the context of the whole than as a standalone. A census-taker comes out to the old estate. Another couple of generations have passed. The government is interested in any anomalous events - and the census taker indeed finds them here. A scientific tinkerer has created talking dogs; and a mysterious mountain man who doesn't seem to age is reputed to show up, fix things, and disappear 'without waiting for thanks.'

· Desertion · Nov 1944
I believe I read this one before, years ago. It's by far my favorite Simak short that I've read so far.
On Jupiter, an experimental program is in place to transpose men into the bodies of Jovian native fauna in order to allow people to go out into the hostile environment. The procedure seems to work perfectly - but something is going wrong. So far, the first four test subjects have gone out into the wilds of Jupiter - and have not returned.
The head of the program may have no moral option but to change tack.

· Paradise · Jun 1946
We're now a thousand years from the time of the first story.
This one ties in elements of the previous stories: mutants without a social instinct, the promise of an unfinished Martian philosophy (which may actually have been completed by said mutants), robots and intelligent dogs. But the main focus is on the possibility of a Paradise on Jupiter - the attainment of which might involve giving up something intrinsic to the human identity.

· Hobbies · Nov 1946
The dogs have begun to rise, forming their own society. The vast majority of human have opted for what, today we'd call the singularity - joining the transcended on Jupiter. Only a few thousand humans remain on Earth, and of those, many have opted for a virtual reality of dreams, not planning to come out of their hibernations for hundreds of years. The few left awake while away their time pursuing non-essential hobbies.
I thought this segment was a bit over-long - it dragged in parts. But many of the ideas it contains feel very ahead of their time.

· Aesop · Dec 1947
Again, this piece works in the context of the novel, but wouldn't be that strong on its own. The dogs, now ascendant on Earth, have established a society of peace and non-violence, 'raising up' all the other animals to intelligence is a world where the lion does indeed lie down with the lamb. However, there are cracks in this perfect facade, and undercurrents of the animal nature of these creatures.
Meanwhile, with the elimination of the predator/prey relationships, overpopulation is becoming a serious issue. The answer may lie in the recent discovery of parallel worlds.

· The Simple Way [The Trouble with Ants] · Jan 1951
The subtitle says it all. Harking back to a by-the-by bit mentioned in one of the early stories, the dogs, still the dominant species on Earth, have noticed a disturbing phenomenon: the ant civilization, long ago 'uplifted' (to steal David Brin's term) casually by a tinkering mutant, is now expanding rapidly. Are the ants, whose thought processes are opaque, planning on taking over the planet?
The fate of the Earth may come down to a moral choice.
[Interesting, that choice is, once again, in the hands of a robot. It's a recurring but unexamined trope in this cycle that a lot of the 'hinge-points' rest on robots - one robot, to be precise.]

· Epilog · 1973
Written over 20 years later, this story was not originally included in 'City.' It also lacks the entertaining fictional 'notes' that precede the other stories, instead having a serious 'note.'
Here, yet another civilization has fallen, and it's time for Jenkins, the robot, who's been the constant throughout all these stories, to decide whether it's time to close up shop.
It's very similar in fee to Simak's 'All the Traps of Earth,' I thought.

Many thanks to NetGalley and Open Road Media for the opportunity to read this book. As always, my opinions are solely my own.

Sarah

This slim white hardcover from the Science Fiction Book Club has caught my eye numerous times over the years, nestled between its bigger shelfmates in my family's science fiction collection. I had a vague knowledge that it was narrated by dogs, and a vague knowledge that this was a "fix-up novel" - a group of short stories tied together with an overarching structure for publication purposes. I'm glad I didn't go into it with any further preconceptions. Simak did an excellent job of linking the stories; I thought the conceit of the story notes added great depth to the ideas put forth in the stories.
The book consists of eight stories and a framework of notes that precede each story. I'd like to call them anthropological field notes, but I think the more accurate term might be caninological, since they are written by an advanced race of dogs. "These are the stories the Dogs tell, when the fires burn high and the wind is from the north," says one of the early notes. The stories the dogs examine span twelve thousand years, starting in a near future with dates now past. Some of the stories are put forth as apocryphal, some as fables, some as containing a germ of truth. They discusses the nature of time, and the nature of the bond between dogs and people, and the nature of dogs, and the instincts that govern both. A human family by the name of Webster is present in almost all of the tales. The Webster family robot, Jenkins, serves as the human proxy when no human is available, and as a common thread woven through the lengthy timeline. Jenkins is a surprisingly rich character, with fascinating motives.
I had never read Simak before, and didn't expect the beauty of the language or the depth of the ideas he explores. Though this is a story of dog, it is also a story of mutants and robots and ants and men and websters and Websters and cities and aliens and cobblies, all of which cycle in and out of the stories. I loved the way various members of that cast of characters appeared and reappeared. New situations were sketched with a deft hand, bringing the reader up to date quickly despite jumps of thousands of years.
If I have any complaint, it is the absolute lack of female characters. I don't think a single female dog is named in the entire book, and there are only a couple of human women, dismissed quickly. I can justify it somewhat by making a connection to fables and fireside stories, and suggesting that each Wolf and Bear and Squirrel is meant to stand for something larger. Still, it speaks to the quality of the stories and the concepts and the prose that I was mostly able to ignore the rather glaring omission of half of the population. I would probably name this as my new favorite novel-in-stories.

Bradley

I've heard about this novel (series of short stories that are related closely) for years, always referred to in terms of deep respect and honor, and now that I've finished reading it, I can add my own.

It was very clever to throw the viewpoint in from robots and dogs and see the lost civilization of man from their viewpoints, but I found it more interesting to see the complete eradication of so much of Earth's life, seen from Jenkin's point of view. Perhaps I'm just a cynical bastard and I love to see a great downfall, but the reasoning behind the downfall was doggone great. I found myself feeling ok, all around, with the eventuality of everything that happened. I might even say this was a feel-good book, and full of optimism. Seriously, it was a novel full of contradictions, and I was delighted to no end.

Hákon Gunnarsson

City by Clifford D. Simak is a fix up, or in other words a group of short stories that are connected to form a novel. City was originally made up of eight short stories, but Simak wrote one more story years after the original publication, a story called Epilogue, and this story has often been included in later editions. It's the story of how men lost the Earth, how dogs and robots took over from man, and how that turned out.

After reading the first short story in City I almost gave up on it. That story has not aged well in my view, but I had heard good things about it so I stuck it out through the next story, and that one was better. Every story after the first one are pretty good. The fourth one is in fact one of the more beautiful science fiction short story I have read. I like it so well that I might actually read this book again just for that story.

Fix ups don't always make good novels, it City works as a novel. Simak has connected the stories by mini essay about how dog scholars have interpreted each story. With that use Simak has managed to connected them well enough for this to feel like a novel. This story spans thousand of years, but it does work well.

City is an apocalyptic story in a way, but it's a very unusual entry into that genre. It's not just that we watch Earth go through more than one such event, but it is also the reasons for the apocalypse that is unusual. The apocalypse that mankind goes through seems to have a certain relevance today which I thought interesting. It's a sad story, and one that in parts hasn't aged terribly well. Stuff like the almost complete absence of women is one of the aspects that makes it more dated than it could have been. Despite that, and despite that beginning, I like it. It is an interesting science fiction novel.

Stephen

4.0 to 4.5 stars. I have not read all of Clifford Simak's novels (my bad) but I have enjoyed every one that I have read so far and this book is no exception. The novel is actually a "fix up" series of connected short stories that range from the superb (i.e., 5.0 to 6.0 stars) (the Huddling Place and Desertion) to the very good (Aesops) (i.e., 3.0 to 4.0 stars). All of the stories deal with the decline of the human "cities" and the results on mankind over a vast period of time. The version I read (listened to actually as it was the audiobook from audible.com) also included the "ninth" story in the City series called "Epilog" which was written over 20 years after the others. I did not like this story as much as the others, but it was still an okay coda. Overall: Highly recommended.

Winner: International Fantasy Award 91952)

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