The story revolves a city called Diaspar that has been around for a billion years. Which is a bugger of a long time. Diaspar has hardly changed at all in that period and its populace, who all live for 1000 year chunks before going back into storage for a bit, all frolic and play games, create art, and shag each other. Sounds pretty awesome right?
Enter Alvin. Alvin’s a young lad just out of his teens and like all of his ilk throughout history, he feels a little out of place. Diaspar has no outward facing windows and everyone in the city seems to suffer from massive agoraphobia. It turns out Alvin really is a bit different from others and once he finds out a little about himself and Diaspora he realizes he wants more. He wants to explore the desert wastelands that seem to cover the Earth. Is Diaspar really all there is?
Spoiler: No. There’s a ton of exciting stuff.
Arthur C. Clarke wrote The City and the Stars in 1956. At the start of the book the young types are all playing a game that is uncannily like Virtual Reality Dungeons and Dragons. When they finish playing they are all just in their room and they start texting and chatting to each other all over the city. That’s pretty damn prescient.
The whole city is run and managed by a computer that has no moving parts. It’s walls are adorned with screens that show artwork that people vote on to decide if it is liked enough. This was written before Sputnik went up and computers were the size of Iceland. It’s like Clarke is just showing off. Quite frankly the book could have been written last week, it has aged that well.
Many have described it as Clarke’s greatest book. I would definitely have to disagree with that. It’s a great read and would feature in my top 10 of his work but not the best, or even top 3. (Check Childhood’s End, 2001, Rendezvous with Rama, and more.)
The story and ideas within are superb, but for some reason the pace seemed a bit off to me. The characters aren’t fully developed either, but this is a novel of exploration and ideas and so those aspects are a bit more peripheral. These are just minor niggles that I feel obliged to make in a review.
The City and the Stars is a great book, with great ideas, and is great fun. Arthur C. Clarke is brilliant. Recommended.