Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Gone To The Dogs

My second book for Vintage Science Fiction Month was Clifford D. Simak's City. The novel is what John Clute's Encyclopedia of Science Fiction calls a fixup: a set of linked stories assembled into novel form (1). City was first published in 1952, but some of the stories collected in the novel go back as far as 1944.

The novel tells the future history of humans, dogs, robots, and mutants over thousands of years. Lots of people talk transhumanism. Let's face it: transhumanism is mostly just talky-talk. I mean monkey-talk.

But unlike the work of Cordwainer Smith, where for the most part in spite of transhumanist trappings people mostly don't change, in Simak's City, people really do change.

In fact, humans mostly just go away - most of them in a profoundly transhumanist way. Just read the short story "Desertion". It was very meaningful to rediscover this story of a man and his dog on Jupiter, and the union they achieve. I read this short story in an English class short story anthology, and along with Ray Bradbury's "All Summer in a Day", it has haunted me until now. The former is joyful but bittersweet. The latter is just so sad.

We see the rise of the mutants, and man's uplift of dogs - and the "handy" robot companions that man devises for dogs. We see robots: dutiful, wild, self-directed, lonely. We see several kinds of diaspora, including interstellar and multiplanar.

Has the book aged well? In terms of its vision of the future, I'd say it is a transhumanism unsurpassed; ironically, it's also a transhumanism that is rather embodied, and that keeps its feet on the ground. The novel does not pass the Bechdel Test, although Simak's characterization of women gets better in later novels.

(1) Closer to home here in Minnesota, Eleanor Arnason is also very good at writing collections of linked stories. See her Big Mama Stories and Hidden Folk: Icelandic Fantasies for examples (2).
(2) Huldufolk is worth looking up.

No comments:

Post a Comment