City is a 1952 science fiction novel by Clifford D. Simak. The book is episodic with eight or nine (depending on which version you read) short stories that have “bridges” between episodes. Version of the book after 1980 includes the ninth tale, “Epilogue.”
The novel contains eight stories which are the mythology of the Dogs. Each tale is preceded by doggish notes and learned discussion. An editor’s “preface” notes after each telling of these legends, suggest that puppies will ask many questions, for example:
“What is Man?” they’ll ask.
Or perhaps: “What is a city?”
Or maybe:”What is a war?
There is no positive answer to any of these questions.”
In the world where these stories are legends, there are no humans, no cities, and no war.
Generally, I find old science fiction awkward and occasionally dull. In City, the technology and science is dated, but the concepts are as innovative and unique as they were when I first read the book in the 1960s.
This “remembered human world” questions whether or not humankind will continue as a species, but not for the usual reason. Quite the opposite.
In these stories, earth was repaired in every way you can imagine. There is enough of everything — food, money, housing. Roads are useless because everyone flies. Cities are empty. Everyone lives in the country. Crime disappears and mutants have strange powers, especially telepathy.
The stories focus around one wealthy family named Webster and their robot Jenkins, . Over time, the name Webster becomes the noun “webster,” meaning “human.” Each story builds on a previous one. All discuss the breakdown of the urban world. The breakdown isn’t a bad thing because human life is enormously better.
And then, there’s Jupiter.
Doug Webster hates the new world. He’s an agoraphobic. Although the word “agoraphobic” is never used, Webster (all his family members share the same issue) becomes ill if he is has to go out into the bigger world. At some point, Webster provides dogs with speech and improved vision. Meanwhile, the breakdown of civilization allows roaming mutant geniuses to make their own odd changes to earth. Joe, a wandering mutant, decides to see what would happen to ants if they remained active and free of hunger year round.
The ants form an industrial society and eventually take over “our” earth while humans go somewhere else — as do the dogs. A lot of stuff happens and there isn’t a lot of specific information provided. You will need your imagination.
Dogs see other worlds. They always have. Their worlds are “cobbly worlds.” In case you were wondering, cobbly worlds are why your dog barks at seemingly nothing. Dogs bark to warn the cobblies to stay away. Other worlds familiar to us, are invisible to Dogs.
Ultimately, humans abandon earth and dogs have nothing but mythical memories of humans. They are not even sure we ever existed. The stories in this book are their myths and legends. A few dogs believe humans existed, but most do not. I really enjoyed the book. I also enjoyed the audiobook. If science fiction is your thing, this book is worth your time. And if you happen to also love dogs, this is a book for YOU.
Don’t forget about those cobbly worlds.