Clarke’s billion-year-old city shows his talents and his weaknesses

They had lived in the same city, had walked the same miraculously unchanging streets, while more than a billion years had worn away.

Title: The City and the Stars
Author: Arthur C. Clarke
Year: 1953
Rating: 3/5 stars

citystarsA city that has stood for a billion years, protecting its population on a future Earth long since abandoned and turned barren. Matter-manipulating technology capable of sustaining that city in perfect condition, and providing anything the inhabitants need or desire. Memory banks that hold each person’s pattern, allowing them to reincarnate over and over again, providing them with a new body each time. A humanity that has long ago lost much of its heritage and knowledge of its past, and now lives a safe but limited existence, frightened of the outside world and their innate human curiosity. And one unique individual who embraces his curiosity, setting forth on a quest for answers that will change his world. Such are the concepts that make up The City and the Stars, one of Arthur C. Clarke’s earliest novels (actually a rewrite of his first novel, Against the Fall of Night, with which he was dissatisfied).

The late Mr. Clarke was often capable of coming up with bold, exciting ideas, but alas, his writing style often couldn’t match them. That’s certainly the case here. The book is full of grand ideas designed to give one’s sense of wonder a vigorous workout. I probably would have adored this book if I’d read it back in the 50’s when it was fresh and new, or perhaps if I’d read it at a much younger age. Unfortunately, the storytelling here has a really amateur, pulp-era feel to it, which I can’t quite get over. Some of the situations are pretty silly, and the plot wildly zings along without much in the way of smooth transition. This is much more apparent in the second half of the book, in which Alvin can be seen firmly on Earth on one page, and hurtling through space on a suddenly discovered starship by the next page (as one example).

So the book is long on substance, but rather short on form. I suppose those two traits average out to a somewhat mediocre story overall. Other than that, I’m just not inspired to say much more about this book. It was worth reading, but I’ll take Childhood’s End over this one any day.

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2 responses to “Clarke’s billion-year-old city shows his talents and his weaknesses

  1. Thank you for the review of the City and the Stars. It’s nice to know that I’m not the only person who likes Childhood’s End more.

  2. Happy memories came back when I read your review — But yes, I prefer Childhood’s End….

    ahhh the 1950s ;)

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