The City and the Stars: Arthur C. Clarke

This is the story of a mankind that has given up. A human race dominated by a tyranny of immutability, of diversion, and of fear. Set in the future like most science fiction, The City and the Stars deals with the hollowness of modernity in the far reaches of time. Simply put, in the last remaining city, not only on earth but everywhere in the universe, (known as Diaspar) every human being is a re-fabrication of an existing person. The book presumes ‘eternity circuits’ in which the whole life and memories of each person who existed at the city’s founding is stored. The seemingly omniscient computer that runs the city, and all the people, ‘randomly’ remakes them at different times and in different combinations so that in theory society does not stagnate. These people are controlled and contained within the city by the two prongs of endless and stimulating diversions, and fear of the very idea outside put in their minds by the computer and vicariously, the cities designers eons in the past. The main character, Alvin, is the anomaly. Alvin is completely new, he longs for the outside, and the outside he finds.

He finds another human city on the planet called Lys wherein people are still born, live, and die. In a very real sense, Lys is a city run by philosophers, they work because it is good the human soul, they tame animals, the age (something that the people in Diaspar do not) and when they die, they are gone. Initially, it begins to feel like an over romantic vision of pastoral life. However, it soon becomes apparent, both to Alvin and the reader that here in the twin cities of Diaspar and Lys, are two pieces of Man. Diaspar, full of engineering and technological prowess, and Lys full of philosophy and mental ability, but even if they were combined they would lack for something; and the reader knows it, and Alvin knows it. I will not discuss the adventures of Alvin any further. I will say this, the story evokes such a strong longing, a weltschmerz, a wistfulness for earth, that defies the very smell of the grass and rain that came in my window while I read this book.

The story of the great receding of mankind from the furthest reaches of the universe all the way back to two cities on earth tells the tale of mankind without one thing: hope. And lacking hope, they lack youth (A similar theme is found in the Asimov book of the same name.), and vigor, and the desire to do better and be freer and create. This book shows the dead-end of society that has replaced its Raison d’être with diversions and pleasures. The book ends with hope for mankind, through man himself. Unfortunately, the putting mankind’s hope in man (or the super-man) is what has lead, in our own times, to the collective death of cultures Raison d’être.

This book sings the song of a man-made savior; it shows us not his doom, which is to fail. This adds another layer to the melancholy felt from reading the book. Because of all this, the book is certainly recommended to read, and discuss with any friends who have inclination for discussing ideas and their effects (philosophy).

Short stories with a similar theme: Youth, Isaac Asimov; A Discovery in the Woods, Graham Greene


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