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.Read more ›
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I read City back in the late 60's. I was captivated by the tale, or several tales actually, that make up the story. I realized that trying to explain it to someone unfamiliar with it just made it sound silly (talking dogs, lopers on Jupiter, robot butlers, etc.) so I would just recommend it to friends and let them discover the magic. Most did. Simak himself said he wrote the story to reassure himself, in the darkest days of the cold war, that there was a better world coming. And, in some ways the book is dated to that period. But in more important ways it's timeless. There is a poignancy to the stories that's difficult to describe, but which moves the reader more than at first realized. This is what keeps me coming back, these many years later, to re-read them. They seem to stimulate feelings associated with similar settings and activities in the reader's life, almost like prosaic haiku poetry. There is no hard science fiction here, and no high fantasy. There are wonderfully written, fanciful tales that will enchant and entertain readers of many different ages. I highly recommend City, now a fantasy sci-fi classic, and to this reader, Simak's best.
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69 of 70 people found the following review helpful
It's a dog's worldNov. 3 2004
D. Cloyce Smith
- Published on Amazon.com
Thousands of years in the future, the canine population of planet Earth, along with their robot helpers, sit around campfires and tell each other controversial fables about how they owe their ascendance to an extinct and perhaps mythical species of benevolent, if misguided, humans. This bleak, melancholy portrayal of humanity's prospects for survival is unusual, then, not only for its dystopian vision but also for its often pastoral storytelling.
Originally published during the 1940s as a series in Astounding Science Fiction, these eight stories were gathered into a novel in 1952. For the book, Simak made a few revisions and added a framework of "textual commentaries," featuring remarks from canine critics who debate both the meaning of the tales and the likelihood that humankind ever even existed. The stories themselves focus on the role of the (human) Webster family, whose descendants during the course of thousands of years influence the future of humans, dogs, robots, and even ants. The only character common to all the tales is a robot named Jenkins, who serves first human, then canine masters as various threats present themselves over the course of numerous millennia.
The first three tales describe a deteriorating human society that retreats from urban blight and escapes to remote family outposts, relying almost entirely on robots for supplying the labor and on the wired world for communication and supplies. (Simak's prescient vision of the Internet is one of the most hauntingly accurate prophecies in this book.) As a result, many of the earth's inhabitants suffer from agoraphobia--a combination of simple lethargy and a fear of leaving their homes--and this isolation is amplified in the form of nearly immortal human mutants that live entirely on their own, "disdaining all the artificiality of society."
The most memorable (and most original) pair of tales portrays a few humans who venture outside their homes to other worlds and who inadvertently discover a form of nirvana by assuming the genetic makeup of a mysterious, gas-based life-form on Jupiter. Humanity is thus confronted by a choice: either perpetuation of their own species or the allure of paradise under a different guise.
Simak's initially relaxed pace soon surrenders to a more riveting style, especially because the later stories are more interrelated (both by common characters and by plot devices) than the first three almost-standalone tales. The book's underlying hopelessness, which often flirts with a subtle misanthropy, is hard to explain, however; there's no real apocalypse. Instead of doom or destruction, the future of humanity according to Simak is a world of isolation and loneliness, and perhaps that's the most depressing vision of all.
42 of 44 people found the following review helpful
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.
26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
A VERY THOUGHT-PROVOKING EXAMPLE OF CLASSICAL SFMarch 16 2001
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Mass Market Paperback
"City" is a magical book, a true modern fable, and I highly recommend it. But if you do read it, I hope it doesn't take you as long as it took me to get started. As the old saying goes, you can't judge a book by its cover. Or its first tale, for that matter. Not that it is a bad story. On the contrary, it has a certain nostalgic flavor, a dated atmosphere that has to be appreciated under the correct light, Like the light of the fireplace in the Webster House, the rural property that serves as the common scenery that connects the tales, and leads the story into its climax. But I guess I wasn't prepared for that when this book first got into my hands. I was attending a seminar for English teachers in Southern Brazil and the school where the event was taking place was giving away some old books, the kind nobody wants anymore. City was among the ones I picked. The graphic layout of the cover showed how old the book was, and so was the fact that it was literally falling apart. Anyway, I read the first story, and all these elements together left me the strong feeling that it was just another curiosity, an example of how far from reality SF writers of the past were, of how wrong they were when predicting the decades still to come, and what the end of the twentieth century would be like. Family planes powered by atomics? Yeah, right. Those guys in the fifties thought nuclear energy either would be the ultimate curse or the ultimate solution. References to World War II as "the war"? Of course there wouldn't be any other wars after that one. Hydroponics replacing "dirt farming"? People fleeing the cities to live in large estates in the interior? Yeah, like there would be room for everyone in the country. Th result, I thought, was almost laughable. I thought City was a tribute to the author's lack of sight, his complete inability understand the major social and economical trends. As many SF/fantasy writers have done, he picked one specific phenomenon, the bucolic lifestyle in American suburbs, (and from there to the country) and extrapolated that to the entire human race. All of this in the distant year of 1990... So I put the book aside and didn't touch it for another eleven years. But now, when I'm older and wiser, I did a little restoration work on those old yellow pages, and read it all the way though. As the story advanced, and hundreds, even thousands of years passed, I realize I was before a deep and thought-provoking tale of incredible literary and philosophical value. And the more the story progressed, the more my impression of the author's universe changed. The fact is that the book has many surprises, and is a real gift for the reader. When it finally ended, I was hoping for more, but of course, there won't be more, as it was written a long time ago, and the author is already dead. Like a message in a time vault from a distant past. Sometimes a book leaves me feeling this way. Another was the also classic "More than Human," by Theodore Sturgeon. It's really gratifying when an author has the sensibility to look into the human nature in such an insightful and equally entertaining way. And, who knows, now that we have the Internet, who says people might not prefer to live away from the cities? And perhaps in a not so distant future, the author's predictions might get to be much closer to reality than we thought possible.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Simak's magnum opusJan. 19 2006
- Published on Amazon.com
I first read City when it was published in 1952.
Then, we young people were used to "duck and cover" drills in school and the imminence of the nuclear destruction of the world. It was a normal thing to go to sleep thinking that there would be no tomorrow.
This was the climate in which I first read City.
My initial response was that the idea of dispersing humans to lightly populated rural realms was a surefire way to make the nuclear threat impotent. No cities, no mass destruction. Of course at the time the effects of radiation/nuclear winter were not that well known, and therefore I was not aware of the fact that something close to a nearly total exchange between the USSR and the USA would have affected everyone, not just those in the cities.
However, Simak's idea of eliminating targets was a first step toward the realization that life would go on. Its military consequences are one of the "breakthrough" parts of the book, where humanity at last realizes the folly of killing itself due to an economic/political disagreement.
Then, ah then, the real story begins. Alien philosophies, humans transformed into Jovian beings, Nietzschean evolution, interdimensional interfaces (often unpleasant), electronic memory, the passing of thousands of years, facts transforming into fables. Thank goodness for the story tellers!
Humans are humans, after all. And dogs are dogs. And the twain is that the humans leave, the dogs remain, and we are privileged to experience the ultimate destiny of life on Earth. Or almost. There are always those pesky ants.
City is a wonderful, epic, sobering, nostalgic, enthralling, non-anthropocentric, imaginative discourse on what might be the future of life on Earth.
Simak's magnum opus.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
An ironic but compassionate sci-fi sagaAug. 14 2002
Michael J. Mazza
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Clifford D. Simak's novel "City" sketches out the future history of the planet Earth: a future of genetically altered talking dogs, mutated humans, omnipresent robots, and other wonders. Simak uses a richly ironic structure to tell this vast saga. The novel is broken up into eight "tales," each of which is prefaced by a short note. Each of these eight notes is actually part of Simak's fiction. The commentary on the first tale, for example, refers to humankind as a "mythical race" which may have never actually existed. Within this bold but witty structure, Simak deals with such themes as philosophy, phobia, history, legend, violence, culture, and evolution. The book is filled with memorable moments; one of my favorites is a poignant encounter between a genetically advanced talking dog and a primitive wolf. Simak's portrait of the ultimate fate of humanity is comparable to the work of Arthur C. Clarke in "Childhood's End." Throughout the book, Simak has a charming, enjoyable writing style. "City" is a book that, in my opinion, belongs in the canon of science fiction classics.