By: Clifford D. Simak

Told in a series of nine Ray Bradbury-esque tales, City is about the end of human civilization and the rise of the dogs. Centered on one family, each story depicts the next generations of young Webster men responsible for the greatest advancements of their time. Most notably, however, they are responsible for Jenkins.

Jenkins is a robot. He was built to serve the Webster family but ultimately became somewhat of a Webster himself. His dedication to the Webster legacy forced him to make hard decisions about which creatures are worthy of inheriting the Earth, and which should be relegated to myths and legends.

Here, readers are taken on a journey through space and twelve thousand years of history to see where it all began but how does it end?

City has such a wonderful and unique premise! I don’t always like the way novels from the 1950s are structured, but Simak knew what he was doing. Part of what makes this collection so intriguing is that it was originally published as a serial in a magazine as many older science fiction stories were. Each story has a forward from a dog philosopher in which the reader discovers that, much like humans debating the existence of aliens, dogs debate the existence of humans. Some say that the vivid stories of humanity’s exploits are irrefutable proof that we must have existed while others say that they are nothing but fables created to express morals to young pups. Each story is regarded with varying levels of skepticism by the narrator, and I love the idea of creatures one day telling stories about us with no clue as to what is fact or fiction.

The Webster family are an interesting bunch because the stories show the unique challenges of each generation and how they are trying to contribute to the cause of human advancement. However, the only character who can really be considered a “hero” in this narrative is Jenkins because he is the only consistent thread throughout. All the other characters eventually die from old age, so we spend limited time with them in a brief snapshot from their lives. Jenkins, on the other hand, is eternal. He doesn’t sleep, doesn’t eat, and cannot die. He exists only to serve and eventually to guide.

My only gripe is that remembering the names of the different Webster men grows increasingly more difficult as the story progresses. Discerning who did what and when by the end felt nearly impossible, but I also recognize it wasn’t important. In a way, it’s almost poetic to forget their names because the story is about forgetting humanity’s role in shaping the world. Even if what those men accomplished was a triumph by human standards, it means little if no one is around to remember or believe it. They’re just stories told around a campfire.

Unfortunately, there are no women who play important roles in any of the tales either, but I recognize that this is 1950s sci-fi. That was a staple of the genre. Thank you, 20th century.

I would recommend this collection of tales to anyone who thinks a narrative about dogs inheriting the Earth sounds fun. It’s an emotional story and sometimes hard hitting, but I would count it among top science fiction classics. I look forward to reading my copy of another Simak story, Waystation, when I get around to it.

Overall rating: 4

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