Thursday, January 23, 2020

7. City by Clifford D. Simak

I see now that this is a real sci-fi classic, though interestingly it was a colleague at work who first brought it to my attention.  It took me quite a while to find and this paperback cost $7, putting it into high-class status indeed!

I had a progression of feelings about this book as I read it, from "meh" to quite moved.  It is my own personal taste and not a critique or universal judgement, but I find a lot of the silver age sci-fi (if that is what this is) kind of naive today and often overly obsessed with a single concept.  City has a really cool conceit, it is a mythical set of stories that dogs (now the sentient dominant being) puzzle over.  They cannot understand or even believe in many of the concepts presented in these stories, but we the readers understand it as the explanation of what really happened to the human race.  The first story takes place in the 80s and the big problem is that the cities are basically empty.  The municipal government remains and they are trying to figure out how to deal with the abandoned rows of houses.  Because of the personal plane and advanced building technology, everybody has moved out to the country, building their own personal estate.

It is very facile for me to criticize a writer from over fifty years ago for how wrong their speculation was, but this just felt so locked into the post WWII suburban fantasy.  How could Simak have not taken population growth into consideration?  That was an issue in the fifties for sure, though perhaps not as big as it would become later.  And people like to get be together, even if they also may want their space.  This just felt really badly thought out as the trigger to the end of humanity and it left me feeling very critical.

As it turns out, this move to the countryside was only the first step (and kind of felt a bit unecessary).  Each subsequent story moves forward in the narrative of how humanity would lose hold on earth. The ideas start to get wilder and wilder.  And as they do, City becomes interesting.  It really did make me think about existence, what it means to be alive and human and got me kind of melancholy at times.  It is really a big picture concept book. We get martians in one story whose impact comes and then goes.  We get body-shifting, existence on Jupiter, wild robots, mutant advanced humans, global empathy, sentient dogs then all sentient animals and even quantum realities.  It goes to some wild places and while I am not sure I can say the narrative had a unity to it, it definitely made me think and feel.

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