The City and The Stars: Restless in a perfect future city

The City and The Stars by Arthur C. Clarke science fiction book reviewsThe City and The Stars by Arthur C. Clarke

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsThe City and The Stars is a 1954 rewrite of Arthur C. Clarke’s first book Against the Fall of Night (1948). There are plenty of adherents of the original version, but the revised version is excellent too.

As one of his earlier classic tales, this one features many familiar genre tropes: A far-future city called Diaspar, where technology is so sophisticated it seems like magic, a young (well not exactly, but close enough) protagonist who curiosity is so strong it overcomes the fear of the outside that all the other inhabitants share, and a gradually expanding series of discoveries by our hero Alvin (actually, would anyone really have a name that is shared by an animated chipmunk, one BILLION years in the future?) as he strives to discover the reality of his world, and the larger universe around him.

Arthur C. Clarke’s specialty is “sense of wonder,” and he does a great job here, gradually giving us the bigger picture, and expanding his scope to the larger universe, as Alvin is continuously driven by the desire to know more and refusing to settle for a comfortable existence.

The writing isn’t particularly eloquent and the characters are fairly flat, but this is not China Miéville or Gene Wolfe we’re talking about. So if you’re willing to accept that, you can certainly enjoy the story.

There are so many great ideas in The City and The Stars, particularly its depiction of the post-scarcity future city of Diaspar, where all citizens are stored electronically and recalled to life on a regulated schedule that spans millions of years. Despite being able to pursue any line of study, art or leisure, Alvin just can’t seem to be content with his assigned role, and doggedly searches for clues as to what lies outside Diaspar and what caused humanity to turn back from its former star-faring days and retreat into it’s antiseptic and stale existence in Diaspar.

As I’ve said before, Arthur C. Clarke owes an enormous debt to another British pioneer of science fiction, Olaf Stapledon, who wrote on as grand a scale as any SF writer ever has. His classic Last and First Men (1930) depicts the next several billion years’ worth of human evolution, while Star Maker (1937) is even more ambitious, tackling the beginnings and ultimate purpose of galaxies, nebulae, group consciousness, and the Star Maker itself). Nonetheless, Clarke’s body of work is probably the most consistent and impressive of the early hard SF writers.The City and the Stars Audible Logo Audible Audiobook – Unabridged Arthur C. Clarke (Author), Geoffrey T. Williams (Narrator, Publisher)

~Stuart Starosta

The City and The Stars by Arthur C. Clarke science fiction book reviewsI didn’t love this as much as Stuart did but might have felt differently if I’d read it in my teens. There were some ideas that I really liked, though, such as the fear (and how they conditioned it) that kept Diaspar’s citizens at home, and Clarke’s vision of a possible future evolution of the human race.

I can’t recommend the audio version I listened to. The narrator and publisher, Geoffrey T. Williams, does a nice job with his performance, but he decided to add weird sound effects that are present throughout the entire novel. They are unpleasant and distracting.

~Kat Hooper

Published in 1954. This grand space adventure explores the fate of humanity a billion years in the future — A visionary classic by one of science fiction’s greatest minds. Far in the future, Earth’s oceans have evaporated and humanity has all but vanished. The inhabitants of Diaspar believe their domed city is all that remains of an empire that had once conquered the stars. Inside the dome, the citizens live in technological splendor, free from the distractions of aging and disease. Everything is controlled precisely, just as the city’s designers had intended. But a boy named Alvin, unlike his fellow humans, shows an insatiable — and dangerous — curiosity about the world outside the dome. His questions will send him on a quest to discover the truth about the city and humanity’s history — as well as its future. A masterful and awe-inspiring work of imagination, The City and the Stars is considered one of Arthur C. Clarke’s finest novels.

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STUART STAROSTA, on our staff from March 2015 to November 2018, is a lifelong SFF reader who makes his living reviewing English translations of Japanese equity research. Despite growing up in beautiful Hawaii, he spent most of his time reading as many SFF books as possible. After getting an MA in Japanese-English translation in Monterey, CA, he lived in Tokyo, Japan for about 15 years before moving to London in 2017 with his wife, daughter, and dog named Lani. Stuart's reading goal is to read as many classic SF novels and Hugo/Nebula winners as possible, David Pringle's 100 Best SF and 100 Best Fantasy Novels, along with newer books & series that are too highly-praised to be ignored. His favorite authors include Philip K Dick, China Mieville, Iain M. Banks, N.K. Jemisin, J.G. Ballard, Lucius Shepard, Neal Stephenson, Kurt Vonnegut, George R.R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, Robert Silverberg, Roger Zelazny, Ursula K. LeGuin, Guy Gavriel Kay, Arthur C. Clarke, H.G. Wells, Olaf Stapledon, J.R.R. Tolkien, Mervyn Peake, etc.

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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  1. Never read this one. I snorted when I saw the name of the city. It’s nothing at all like “diaspora.”

  2. I don’t know how many times I read this story (not sure which version–perhaps both) as a kid. I so, so loved it. Glad to hear it holds up, at least in that “sense of wonder”, which is what I most fondly recall of it.

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