Julie Marks

Los Angeles, United States

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I am an avid science fiction fan and have an extensive library of science fiction and science fantasy books. I have so many favorites that my bibliography would be too long to list. City written by Clifford Simak, a brilliant science fiction writer published in 1952 is one of my favorites and has certainly stood the test of time and has been enjoyed by generations of readers. It is interesting to compare his intention in writing this great book in light of today’s world in the 21st century. Unfortunately some things have not changed over more than half a century. Simak stated that he wrote City in a state of disillusionment. The world was going through a war that not only cost millions of lives, but spawned a new weapon that held the capability of destroying not only armies, but nations as well.. We have lived so long with the treat of nuclear capability that many people have accommodated to as a fact of life that always remains in the background of our lives. When people do think of it, many see it only as an instrument of international policy, glossing over the actuality of it. Even in those days when the first atomic explosion blossomed over Japan, there were many uncomprehending people who viewed no more than the means to a bigger picture. Science fiction writers never minimized the full implications and wrote stories about doom, and global war and stories of mass destruction that I believe were instrumental in educating the public to what nuclear warfare could hold in store for the future. Simak focused on his belief that mankind, in his madness for power would stop at nothing. There was even then, no limit to the horror that men would inflict on one another. The author held some hope, frightful as World War II had been, that in the centuries ahead men and women would be able to arrive at some accommodation that would make peace possible. With the realization that the brutality continued Simak lost what little hope he had. The many tales in City are not in chronological order, some of them written before the atomic age, others in its first year. The original disillusion for Simak and those that were aware of the devastation of nuclear war was the brutal attack on Hiroshima and Nagasaki that served only to confirm and deepen his fears and feelings of hopelessness for our survival in the future. Like many of the stories of the great Science Fiction writers, City was written to create a fantasy world that would serve as a counterbalance to the destruction and horror through which the world was passing. Deep inside, he like others writers of his time were trying to create a world in which disillusioned people could, for a moment, take refuge from the world in which we lived. It was said that the tales were an indictment of mankind and Simak responded that although that was not his intent, beneath the surface of his tales he understood that there was reason for such an indictment. The theme of City’s plot revolves around the lives of loving animals, especially dogs. As a passionate lover of canines, the tales or “tails” were very appealing to me and I admired his stories of a fantasy world where dogs and robots became the leaders viewing mankind as inferior based on the author’s belief that
without profound change, he had little hope that mankind would stop their
destruction of our Planet. Since then we have fought many wars including
the massive destruction of today’s war where again lives of soldiers and civilians have died before they had the opportunity to live and care for their orphaned children. The background for the tales is set (in the first of them) with the decay and disappearance of a city. Simak believed that the city is an anachronism we would probably be better off without. Cities are no longer defensive structures;in fact, in most cases, it is safer outside the city
than in as demonstrated by attacks of terrorists and the unbearable tragedy of 911 and the devastation caused by the war in Iraq. After 30 years, Simak never changed his views before and after he wrote City. He did not intend to write a book about his views and the philosophical background against which the tales were written .Although he wanted to communicate his message, he also hoped that his stories had entertainment value as a masterful storyteller. City gained a wider and more enduring acceptance than anything he had written and was included among the masterpieces of science fiction literature. The impact of his tales matched the spirit of the time when the author caught the tide of the dawning of nuclear war.
After more than half a century, this brilliant book has remained true to new generations of readers who were as impacted by City as I was when I first read it in the early 70’s. The dedication of the collection reads “In Memory of
Scootie, who was Nathaniel.” Scottie was a Scottish terrier who lived with the author and his wife for fifteen years. Never for a moment did he consider that he lived with his owners. Rather, they lived with him. Simak shares my sentiments about dogs when he described his beloved companion as a staunch companion and devoted friend. Simak wanted to think that Scootie lived in some canine Valhalla where he still chases rabbits (which he never caught) , works furiously to dig out woodchucks who chattered safely out of his reach and worn out after all his labor sleeps on a rug before a blazing fire. Another well know science fiction writer of the time Robert Silverberg
wrote the introduction to City and stated that this series of books “was written in repulsion against mass killing and as a protest against war.” Silverberg, a close friend believed that Simak like many of us today was a gentle and kind man and City was his nostalgic dream for the old world that was lost and the new world that would never be the same again. The dogs were the kind of people he wanted to live with reminding me of a quote by Andy Rooney who said “The average dog is nicer than the average person.” This literary masterpiece was a cry for misanthropy-the quiet cry of a man that had lost patience with his own species. The planet due to mankind’s compulsion to destroy even his own species. His story relates the loss of connection people felt to Earth itself. Sentient dogs, wise old robots and mutant superman became the leaders. What an interesting
concept!! City makes powerful points about the nature of humanity, of perception, and the man/dog relationship. I have reread City many times and always find it to be a rich, powerful and disturbing novel written by a man
with remarkable visionary power whose beliefs have sadly stood the test of time and are as relevant today as it was when the book was written. Clearly Simak yearned for a time when children lived in a safer world with the hope that our species would reverse the tide of destruction before it is too late. Look forward to my commentary by the political symbol of the democratic
party, a donkey name Political Peter that will embellish on the global crisis we face today after he meet this week with one of the candidates, Hillary
Clinton. Although he has been called an “ass” in this competitive primary,
animals, in this case a donkey, not an Elephant, a symbol for the Political party may have some important commentary. Political Peter is eloquent
as an advocate of the Democratic party and his views are thoughtful and well informed about the future of our country and the candidate he supports. This photograph is my fantasy of the world Clifford Simak wrote about with
images of canines as leaders of Planet Earth. Can you see how populated Earth as you find the heroic canines in this abstract taken from the bark of a tree?

Artwork Comments

  • Elaine Manley
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