Friday, June 25, 2010


The City and the Stars, Arthur C Clarke, Harcourt Brace and Company, 1956, 310 pp

 Being somewhat new to Arthur C Clarke, this being only the second of his books I've read, I find him unique to the point of odd amongst science fiction authors. He comes across as a philosopher as much as he does a sci fi writer. 

  The city is Diaspar, set in a desert on Earth, completely closed off from the outside world which is now all desert, no oceans. It was designed a billion years ago, after mankind had already been to the stars, created an empire and then been defeated by invaders. The place is run by a central computer, the inhabitants programmed to be content there while they harbor an automatic terror of going outside the city.

 Except for Alvin, who we learn is a Unique, and yearns for nothing more than to get out of the city and explore the world and the stars. He does accomplish his desires and learns the history of mankind back to the era when man first went to space. The story is interesting though not that exciting and often improbable.

 I have not been able to decide what point Clarke was trying to make. He introduces an entity named Vanamonde, created by human scientists over a billion years earlier, who is described as pure intelligence. There is also another city on Earth whose inhabitants are telepathic where Alvin goes to learn about life outside Diaspar. 

 After all his adventures, which include a journey to the stars, Alvin decides to stay on Earth and help bring it back to life, making it worthy for his ancestors who went off to another Galaxy, in case they should return. Yet one of the characters foresees a possible end of the Universe and of time itself. Well, yes, I suppose that is the way it could go, that there is an end to eternity as we know it, but what does that have to do with anything?

 I was left with the idea that the decade of the 1950s, with its deadly boring bestsellers and its somewhat out there ideas in authors like Clarke, Iris Murdoch, William Golding and others, was a big pivot point in history. The old ways of Western civilization were beginning to fade and some new era beginning to arrive. Is it the legacy of the nuclear bomb or an advance in human consciousness? If reincarnation and multiple lifetimes are real, I'd like to be around to find out.

(The City and the Stars is another older science fiction novel that is tricky to find. Libraries, used booksellers are your best bet.)

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