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Beth Meacham, David Brin

The City and the Stars

The City and the Stars - Arthur C. Clarke I have neglected Sir Arthur C. Clarke for far too long. Way back when I started reading science fiction I tended to read more of other two authors from the group commonly known as "Big Three of science fiction", these other two being Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov. I felt their works were somehow more flamboyant and entertaining. As for Sir Arthur I read may be three of his books as I found his writing a little too dry and his science was beyond my ken. Now decades later other sf readers are still going on about him and popular contemporary sf authors still cite him as an influence, clearly I must have made a mistake and shortchanged him (or myself) terribly.

While reading The City and the Stars I had a sort of epiphany, I realized that great science fiction does not need to have great character development if other aspects of the book is good enough to compensate for this shortage. This is probably not a universal truth but it works for me. Nobody on their right minds would say Clarke is a writer of beautiful lyrical prose but his writing has a clarity that much better suited for the hard SF stories he wanted to tell. The immensity of his imagination and the grandness of his vision compensate the reader aplenty for any shortcoming in the artistic department. Unless I am very much mistaken this book is highly influential for more recent titles which have also become classics in their own right. I am thinking of Iain M. Bank's Culture novels where the A.I. characters seem to have been inspired by this book, Richard K. Morgan's [b:Altered Carbon|40445|Altered Carbon (Takeshi Kovacs, #1)|Richard K. Morgan|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1387128955s/40445.jpg|2095852] which uses the concept of immortality through digitization of people , Neal Stephenson's [b:The Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady's Illustrated Primer|827|The Diamond Age or, A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer|Neal Stephenson|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1388180931s/827.jpg|2181158] where machines can create furniture and object out of thin air (well, molecules), not to mention the epic scale of [a:Alastair Reynolds|51204|Alastair Reynolds|https://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1369753656p2/51204.jpg]'s works which seem to be a direct descendant of Clarke's epic galaxy spanning concept.

The story of The City and the Stars is almost a [b:A Tale of Two Cities|1953|A Tale of Two Cities|Charles Dickens|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1344922523s/1953.jpg|2956372] or even [b:The City and the City|4703581|The City & the City|China Miéville|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1320475957s/4703581.jpg|4767909] if not for the fact that it has nothing in common with these two books except that the main part of this novel is focused on two cities, Diaspar and Lys. The former is a post-scarcity super high-tech society where the citizens are immortal while the other is less reliant on technology and the citizens are all telepaths. The scale of the story expand very far beyond these two cities later in the book, but I am not in a synopsizing mood today so I will skip this part and get on with the review. Clarke's world-building talent and attention to details is seriously awe-inspiring, the only possible complaint is that the characters tend to be a little flat. There is a character called Khedron who is the official jester of Diaspar, his job is to cause little mischiefs to unstabilize the city just a little bit so it does not stagnate. Great idea except this Khedron does not seem to have a sense of humor and is even described as having an "astringent personality"! I can only recall one little humorous passage from the entire book, here is Sir Arthur describing a futuristic penis:

"It was merely that his equipment was now more neatly packaged when not required; internal stowage had vastly improved upon Nature’s original inelegant and indeed downright hazardous arrangements."

This is not to say that book is all doom and gloom, there is a feeling of lightheartedness and optimism to the proceeding in spite of the lack of actual jokes. The protagonist Alvin is also a little less flat than the other characters and is almost sympathetic and likable by the end of the book. The twist at the end is ingenious and I closed the book with satisfaction.

I feel like I am just scratching the surface here of Arthur C. Clarke's works, perhaps it is just as well I have neglected his books until now, give me a lot more to look forward to.