Christy's Reviews > City

City by Clifford D. Simak
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's review
Sep 29, 2007

it was amazing
bookshelves: readinglist2-sf, science-fiction-and-fantasy, 20th-century-american-lit, favorites, want-to-reread
Read 2 times. Last read March 20, 2018 to March 23, 2018.

I'd read one of the stories in this book before, "Desertion," and loved it. I still think I love that story best, but the whole book is definitely worth reading. In fact, this is one book that I would love to teach, for several reasons.

1. It's a fun read, with some interesting conceits (a future Doggish society [made up of a race of intelligent speaking dogs], space travel, a society of ants, etc.)
2. It demands close reading skills, not just in the stories themselves but in the Doggish commentary on those stories, which reveal a great deal about the future Doggish culture as well as providing some incisive critiques of humanity.
3. It raises several really fascinating questions: What counts as intelligence? What is the ultimate value and worth of humanity? How is humanity defined? Is progress worth more than happiness, or is progress necessary for happiness? Is violence inherent within humanity? How intelligent are animals? What would happen if animals had humanly recognizable intelligence and society? What are the possibilities of a "Brotherhood of Beasts," a recognition of connection and commonality across species lines? And is a truly nonviolent world possible? Is it really "better that one should lose a world than go back to killing" (252)?

Simak himself says that this book was "written out of disillusion" (1) after World War II. He says, "City was written not as a protest (for what good would protest do?) but as a seeking after a fantasy world that would serve as a counterbalance to the brutality through which the world was passing" (2). He goes on to recognize that he "peopled the fantasy world with dogs and robots because [he] could see little hope of mankind arriving at such a world" (2). I'm not sure I agree with the cynicism of this statement or with City's insistence that violence is an unavoidable part of human nature, but I do agree that the humankind of the 20th century deserves to be indicted for its behavior. Simak argues in his introduction to the book (from which I have been quoting) that humanity is beyond saving and, further developing this argument, creates in this book a world in which humankind disappears, leaving a more peaceful, kind, and empathic world of Dogs and Robots; I would argue, on the other hand, that Simak's creation of this world shows the possibilities of nonviolence, even for humans, because it shows through this contrast what changes would need to be made to have this kind of world. The Doggish commentator on the stories asks, "If Man had taken a different path, might he not, in time to come, have been as great as Dog?" (146). Despite the violence of the 20th century (and the opening of the 21st) and despite Simak's loss of faith in humanity, I believe there is still a chance for us to take a different path. And the kind of criticism of humanity levied by Simak is an important part of the process involved in finding that path.
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Reading Progress

September 29, 2007 – Shelved
September 29, 2007 – Shelved as: readinglist2-sf
September 29, 2007 – Shelved as: science-fiction-and-fantasy
Started Reading
June 25, 2008 – Finished Reading
August 17, 2010 – Shelved as: 20th-century-american-lit
February 2, 2011 – Shelved as: favorites
January 22, 2012 – Shelved as: want-to-reread
March 20, 2018 – Started Reading
March 23, 2018 – Finished Reading

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