City - Clifford D. Simak Of all the great science fiction writers of the 50s, my favorite is Clifford D. Simak. He is also one of the authors that has fared poorly as we begin the 21th century. His novels are not that easy to find in reprints. While Simak could write of space travel and androids as well as the Heinleins and the Asimovs, he was most comfortable in the setting of rural Wisconsin and generously laced his stories with a sense of American pastoralism. In fact he was often called the pastoralist of science fiction. City is arguably his best novel but in actuality it is not a novel but a series of short stories on the fall of man and the rise of his intelligence ascendant, the dog. The tales are connected with comments by a canine historian as he discuss whether they are myth or history. The "novel" starts with this intriguing passage.

These are the stories that dogs tell when the fires burn and the wind is from the north. Then each family gathers at the heartstone and the pups sit silently and listen and when the story's done they ask many questions."What is Man? " they'll ask.
Or perhaps: "What is a city?"
Or"What is a war?"
There is no positive answer to any of these questions.


Simak is dealing with the extinction of the human race but as is typical for his novels, man does not go out with a bang but a whimper and the universe continues in odd but steady ways. Simak is the most thoughtful of the Golden Age writers. The first two stories are not that impressive but they set the stage for the the book's later and most brilliant tales. When Simak's cast of humans, dogs, mutants, robots and insects start rolling the book becomes mesmerizing and thought provoking. I have not read a Simak novel in years yet this re-reading of City was as good as the first and I believe I'll be revisiting this Sci-Fi master again soon.