Clifford D. Simak
City Cover

Hopelessly dated


I'm usually pretty good at reading classic SF in its proper context, but I nevertheless gave up on City halfway through. The SF just feels hopelessly outdated, the science is ridiculous, and none of the characters offered me any chance to empathize with them.

Dated SF doesn't have to be a deal-breaker. I recently read Ray Bradbury's classic, The Martian Chronicles, and although a 2012 read offers no verisimilitude whatsoever, the SF was whimsical enough that I found myself sharing Mr. Bradbury's wish that this future could be true. I read it as fantasy, and was able to focus on the human themes.

Not so with City, which dictates its SF elements with more of a futurist tone. It does feel as if Mr. Simak tried hard to ground his predictions in scientific truths, but unfortunately the results are hilariously off the mark. For instance, in the opening chapter, we're told that the rise of hydroponics would render cities obsolete, and send humans to rural areas in their personal helicopters. Uh huh. Sure.

If the human story was gripping, the science would be a minor hurdle. I don't demand of SF that it predicts the future with accuracy, after all. But the human stories failed to reach me in any way. I found myself turning page after page with the emotional detachment I would feel if I read a grammar textbook.

And so, alas, I must chalk up City as one of these SF classics that just doesn't hold up to the test of time. There are too many cobwebs here, too many excited ideas that failed at any hint of prescience.