Review: City by Clifford D. Simak

“Once there had been joy, but now there was only sadness, and it was not, he knew, alone the sadness of an empty house; it was the sadness of all else, the sadness of the Earth, the sadness of the failures and the empty triumphs.”
~Clifford D. Simak, City

Plot summary

“Simak’s City is a series of connected stories, a series of legends, myths, and campfire stories told by Dogs about the end of human civilization, centering on the Webster family, who, among their other accomplishments, designed the ships that took Men to the stars and gave Dogs the gift of speech and robots to be their hands.” More on Goodreads

On Clifford D. Simak
Cover for Simak's City. Photo: CHRIS DRUMM (CC BY 2.0)
Cover for Simak’s City. Photo: CHRIS DRUMM (CC BY 2.0)

“He was honored by fans with three Hugo awards and by colleagues with one Nebula award and was named the third Grand Master by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) in 1977.”

“I can’t go back,” said Towser.
“Nor I,” said Fowler.
“They would turn me back into a dog,” said Towser.
“And me,” said Fowler, “back into a man.”
~Clifford D. Simak, City

“Jenkins tried to say goodbye, but he could not say goodbye. If he could only weep, he thought, but robots could not weep.” ~Clifford D. Simak, City

Key concepts
  • Ode to our canine friends
  • Sympathetic end of civilization
  • Change of history
Cover for Simak's City. Photo: Bill Smith (CC BY 2.0)
Cover for Simak’s City. Photo: Bill Smith (CC BY 2.0)

First of all, dog persons out there – this review is dedicated to you. All the cat persons, do not be afraid, you will get a review of your own, just hold your horses (or cats) until further notice.

Once upon a time there were humans and then there were only robots and dogs. And eventually the dogs learned to talk. And only the robots could remember the humans that once inhabited Earth.

Clifford D. Simak‘s fix-up novel City is one of the most sympathetic and humane science fiction novels I have read. The short stories offer dreamlike visions of human decisions and their accompanying characters – robots and dogs. The underlying tension and atmosphere in the novel is almost melancholic and sad in a misty and hazy way, it is as if everything is only a dream. Who would have known, talking dogs!

When one considers the species “dogs”, their special or actually species-typical purpose has become very distant from the original outset. Present dogs are not able to take care of themselves, only their distant relatives – the wolves – manage that. The refinement of dogs and other animals has gone very far – and I do not mean this all too positively, since a lot of the dog breeds suffer from various physical illnesses and problems.

At the core of the stories is the robot called Jenkins. He remembers the humans and acts as a guardian over the dogs. He is the moral and institutional memory of the human race but he is saddened by the fact that humans cannot coexist with other species.

Another underlying factor is the eminent background of World War II. The destructive nature of humans comes to the fore in Simak‘s novel. However, his solution to the human apocalypse is simple. Humans go extinct due to isolation. This is probably the most tender and in a way humane way to make an apocalypse happen.

With this in mind, I wish you a most dog-like day. Treat our fellow animals with care and love.

Also, check out the fun story on Finland’s first dog Lennu and his famous “smile” 🙂 #Lennu

Dog related quotes on Goodreads

It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.” ~Mark Twain

A door is what a dog is perpetually on the wrong side of.” ~Ogden Nash, Private Dining-room and Other New Verses

If you need help bark like a dog.– Gendry.
“That’s stupid. If I need help I’ll shout help.” – Arya
~George R.R. Martin, A Clash of Kings

Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?’
‘To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.’
‘The dog did nothing in the night-time.’
‘That was the curious incident,’ remarked Sherlock Holmes.” ~Arthur Conan Doyle, Silver Blaze

A dog has one aim in life… to bestow his heart.” ~J.R. Ackerley

Other blog reviews on City

More information

– John DeNardo: RETRO-REVIEW: City by Clifford D. Simak, published in the SF Signal on 20 March 2005, link retrieved on 19 February 2017
– Sam Jordison: Clifford D Simak: sci-fi in the countryside, published in the Guardian on 3 March 2009, link retrieved on 19 February 2017
– Tangent: An Interview with Clifford D. Simak, published in Tangent Nr. 2 on 2 May 1975, link retrieved on 19 February 2017

Terra. Photo: fictivestina
Terra. Photo: fictivestina

“These are the stories that the Dogs tell when the fires burn high and the wind is from the north. Then each family circle gathers at the hearthstone 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?”
~Clifford D. Simak, City


Author: fictivestina

Hey, I'm a native Helsinkian but a cosmopolitan at heart :) Outdoors, reading, writing and cultural attractions are my passion. Hiking in Lapland cannot be competed with!

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