Book Review: The City and the Stars by Arthur C. Clarke

One of the fathers of modern science fiction – and a definite must-read!

When I started this I was worried I would find it much the same way I found Dune – boring and overlong – but this was the complete opposite. Every part of this novel made me want to keep on reading, keep on discovering, and see Alvin’s quest till the end.

The City and the Stars is Clarke’s first novel – but the version that ended up being published with that name as the title, in 1956, is actually the third rewrite. It is set in the city of Diaspar, currently the last city on planet Earth, a completely seal-off and self-sufficient environment. Everything is controlled by the Central Computer, even the people. Except for our protagonist, Alvin. He realizes that he’s different than everyone else, and finds himself with an urge to explore beyond Diaspar’s borders. So when he finds a way out of the city, he doesn’t hesitate to take it.

I didn’t know much about Clarke before I read this, only that he’s considered one of the greats in early science fiction. Turns out he also wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey and Childhood’s End, among a vast array of other things, and popularized the idea of geostationary satellites for telecommunication purposes. In other words, he accomplished a lot.

What I loved about this story was that it was an exploration. You weren’t inundated with characters, place names, facts, and historical events you needed to keep track of. There weren’t long-drawn conversations of political instability or cultural evolution that I had no way of keep straight in my head. We follow Alvin, and as he figures out what’s what in Diaspar, so do we.

I think it’s the gamer in me that loved this part the most – in many ways it reads like an old-school RPG. We start out in Diaspar, making ourselves familiar with our immediate surroundings, but then we’re off into the world to explore. Then, as Alvin moves through the world and everything he sees and does, we learn, and evolve. We understand more things about the world around us, and adapt to it. Just like an RPG.

And there’s something incredible about reading a book like this when you know how old it is. The initial draft for this was written in 1948, and to think Clarke had these ideas, could manifest such worlds and stories… There’s no wonder he was one of the Big Three, along Asimov and Heinlein.

If you’re looking to read some early science fiction and you’ve finished your H.G. Wells catalogue – and you’re looking for something exciting that has stood the test of time, I highly recommend Arthur C. Clarke’s work. The City and the Stars is great. I’m not always great with following up with more books when I find an author I like – because I have so many things I want to read that I often move on to the next author on my list – but I’m going to make a note that Arthur C. Clarke is excellent.

Have you read this? Or anything else by Clarke, for that matter? Let me know in the comments! Oh, and if you’re into reading, please do check out my books. Thank you!

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