The City and the Stars

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The City and the Stars by Arthur C. Clarke.

Clarke The City and the Stars

In his preface, Arthur C. Clarke identifies this 1950s work as a second pass at his first novel (i.e. Against the Fall of Night). I haven’t read the earlier book, but the two share about 25% of their content, and the author presents The City and the Stars as a very complete revision.

The City and the Stars is plot-intensive, and the ratio of major, world-tilting events to page count is quite high. The characters are fairly flat, but the high concepts tend to compensate for that. As is typical for him, Clarke’s futurological intuition is very solid, and in the long lifetime since this book was written there have been no technological developments to trammel up and obsolesce the details of the far future that he offers here. He has virtual reality, distributed computing, matter synthesis, artificial intelligence, non-viviparity, and gravity control as features of a post-imperial no-longer-star-voyaging technocracy.

Although this book has aged reasonably well, it didn’t really blow my mind–especially given how many of its concepts have been taken up and rehearsed in later science fiction works. It is tangent to, if not firmly within, the “dying earth” subgenre, as it features terrestrial posthumanity in a stagnant, insular society. It could have supplied some inspiration for Michael Moorcock’s excellent Dancers at the End of Time books. Another work that may exhibit traces of its influence is John Boorman’s Zardoz. Even Logan’s Run bears some similarities to it in general shape. Clarke’s protagonist Alvin, a “unique” who is in his person a calculated disruption of his engineered, sealed society, seems also to be echoed in the Neo of the Wachowskis’ Matrix movies.

The book as a whole isn’t terribly long, and the short chapters and intense plotting keep it moving at a fast clip.