City (fix-up)

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Simak, Clifford D. (as by Clifford Simak). City. New York City: Gnome Press, 1952. "The original version consists of eight linked short stories, all originally published in Astounding Science Fiction [...] between 1944 and 1951, along with brief 'notes' on each of the stories." See Internet Speculative Fiction Database for variant titles, translations, awards, and bibliographic complexities.[1][2] See also Wikipedia entry, source of the preceding quotation.[3]

Discussed by Bruce Shaw in "Clifford Simak's ''City'' (1952): The Dogs' Critique (and Others')," Extrapolation 46.4 (Winter 2005): 488-99, possibly available at link here.[4]

"City" (first tale): Very near near-future (our past) of declining cities due to, in large part, hydroponic farming and family aircraft: a highly mechanized world with a robot lawnmower as an «objective correlative» (our term here, modifying one used by T. S. Eliot), or metonym/synecdoche.

"Huddling Place": See for decline of cities on Earth even during expansion into the solar system; rise of a kind of manorialism, which we'll note is somewhat like the decline of cities and moves to aristocratic rural villas in Late Antiquity in the historical Roman Empire, and akin to the large estates in Asimov's The Naked Sun. Of specific interest: the first robot in the stories, and instantaneous communications between Earth and Mars in a room that becomes what we can see as a VR space, putting one in a virtual reality to "take a meeting" at a distance, without leaving home: important for the theme in City of agoraphobia, for which theme, again, see Asimov's robot stories, and to some extent A. C. Clarke's The City and the Stars; note also isolation and what might be called "mechanical" communication in E. M. Forster's "The Machine Stops."

"Census" (Astounding Sept. 1944):[5] See for a quick look at an industrialized anthill, the product of a very elegant intervention by a mutant human. Cf. and contrast Frederik Pohl's 1949 time-travel SF/Horror story, "Let the Ants Try," as of 26 March 2022, available at link here, listed "By JAMES MacCREIGH".[6]

"Desertion": Much anthologized and translated, for which see Internet Speculative Fiction Database at link here.[7] Relevant for the theme of this wiki for (1) the contrast of human life in human form confined to a few high-tech research stations on Jupiter vs. life on the surface of the planet in altered form through what would later be called "pantropy"[8] — as "Lopers," modeled on the most intelligent species (as humans understand intelligence) native to Jupiter; and (2) the existence of a "converter" device that changes the physical form of people to, in this case, Lopers, while retaining (and augmenting) their minds and personalities. In the climax of the story, such conversion is of a man and his companion dog. They are the last we see of a series of men converted and sent out, resolving the mystery of their disappearance: desertion. Life as healthy young Lopers on the surface of Jupiter is a hell of a lot better than life confined in the station and in human bodies, and that of an old dog. Significantly — in an indirect, ironic, and probably prudent way — the highly improbably technological process of conversion isn't shown, nor is the device described at all. (A well-financed short film based on the story could show the device and hint at a technology advanced enough to be close to such almost-magical metamorphosis.) In Loper form, the human is able to communicate telepathically with the dog, who was unsuccessful communicating in any depth with the human when the human was anatomically and physiologically human. (Note for Bruce Sterling's much later Mechanist/Shaper Narratives.

"Paradise": Shaw, cited above, notes that the Dog critic Rover sees the story as "a sociological fable" making the point that "Humans are unstable, preoccupied with mechanisation [sic]," as opposed to healthier Dog culture (Shaw p. 491). The "Paradise" of the title is Jupiter after conversion to Loper — and option most human accept, leaving Earth and their human form.

"Hobbies": See for Dogs and robots, with the robots supplied hands for the Dogs (and training pups). Also: references to "wild robots," still not seen and, among the few humans remaining in Geneva, Sleep. Sleep is suspended animation in which there may be dreams: VR life if (but only if) one chooses to dream. The Sleepers are watched over by robots; they must be in high-tech pods, but, significantly, Simak — and here it would be the author — shows no more interest in the technological details of Sleep than he showed with the converter that makes humans into Lopers.

"Aesop": Relevant here for a minor part of the story, Jenkins's new body and how that fits into the quiet on-going debate on embodiment and "When am I still me?" (see, e.g., "Masks," and "No Woman Born"). Jenkins in his new body is still Jenkins, so that much reinforces the idea of a human or humanoid(robot) essence that can be uploaded and downloaded and transferred and remain essentially the same.[9] On the other hand, Jenkins now has a sense of smell and the strength and agility of a young robot (and some telepathic powers) and these changes may condition his actions in the story, more than just increasing his abilities.

"The Simple Way." Bruce Shaw notes that this 8th and last story

picks up the main themes of the previous story [and stories] by reintroducing us to Dan, Dogs, and other animals, Mutants, Robots, cobblies [approximately: other dimensions and entities therein], and ants [see story "Census" and passim]. [...] John Webster lies in Geneva in the Sleep. It is 10,000 years since he closed the city. Jenkins the robot, once the Dogs' mentor, lives in a parallel world. The ants have learned how to manufacture minute robots (an early science fiction hint of nanotechnology). [...] Jenkins communicates telepathically with Jon Webster, asking what Men did about ants [taking over big robots with their nano-'bots, and using them to build a city that may fairly soon cover the world]. The solution, that men used to poison them, calls for chemistry, which the Dogs do not have, and for killing, which goes against the grain. Jenkins deCides that it is better to lose the earth than to return to those old practices. (Shaw pp. 493-94)

For the ants, note what Thomas Dunn and Richard Erlich have called "The Ovion/Cylon Alliance": the motif in SF of associating and in some stories even merging machines and insects, especially bees and ants.

"Epilog": Later addition. The world of the ants collapses (in at least two senses, one mostly literal), and Jenkins is left on Earth with mice: humans may still sleep in Geneva; there may be life, including intelligent life, in the sea; but all Jenkins and we see for most of the story are Jenkins and mice. Notably, Jenkins comes upon a robot that has been enslaved (our term) by the ants to build there world: now a dead robot, which is something new. Robots can and do run down, but until now, they haven't died. Jenkins has seen himself as a Webster and now comes to admit he's become a webster in the sense of a Man, human. And he experiences himself and we imaginatively see him for the first time laugh and, later, cry. The wild Robot Andrew arrives in a spaceship (with other robots offstage), and it looks like Jenkins will join the robots, going into space.

RDE, finishing, 29.Mar22