The City and the Stars

April 20th, 2003 Comments Off on The City and the Stars

The City and the Stars, by Arthur Clarke, is, undoubtedly, one of the best science fiction books of all times. This is seen in the fact that the book is constantly featured in lists of classics of the genre. And, indeed, the futuristic vision presented in the book is one of the most poetic in literature, crafted in a story that begs repeated readings.

As many of Clarke’s books, the way the story begins in The City and the Stars indicates but in no way reveals the real direction the events will take in the course of the narrative. So, the reader is initially shown to Diaspar, the last human city. Diaspar has existed for a billion years in a aged Earth, and is the highest fruit of human science. Completely automatized and self-sufficient, the city is as close to a earthly paradise as any place can be. Its inhabitants are the pinnacle of human perfection, and spend their long lives in a productive and contented existence. After a thousand years of life, they are returned as electronic information to a Central Computer to be born again after tens of thousands years for another life, retaining all the memories they want to keep across their lives. Everybody is blissfully happy… except for Alvin, one of the youngest members of Diaspar’s society. Born a little less then twenty years ago, Alvin knowns he is different from his companions. Unlike them, he desires to know what is outside Diaspar, in the desert, and dreams of the long forgotten days when man still crossed the void between the stars. His unrest will take him in a quest to find the truth about himself, which will ultimately reveal the real truth of human history.

Written in the fifties, the plot is still consistent in technological terms, and doesn’t lose credibility in face of the most recent scientific advances. The narrative follows Clarke’s usual clear and fluid style with well built characters that allow the reader to fully immerse himself in the story. The ending in entirely satisfactory and interesting.

This must have been the fourth or fifth time I read the book again since I found it many years ago. To me, it remains as evocative as ever; in fact, every time I think about it, the word artistic comes to my mind. The last chapter posses an atemporal beauty touching mankind’s dreams. The City and the Stars is a book that will forever remain between those that exalt our desire to attain the stars.

In short: obligatory reading to any fan of the genre, and recommended reading to any avid reader.

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