The City and the Stars Essay - Critical Essays

Arthur C. Clarke


Arthur C. Clarke’s The City and the Stars is a revision of his first novel, Against the Fall of Night (1953; serial form, Startling Stories, November, 1948). The settings and main characters are the same, along with the basic plot of recovering the lost glory of the human race. Clarke estimated that three quarters of The City and the Stars is new material.

One of Clarke’s most enduring themes is the future of humankind. He preserves that theme in The City and the Stars. Additionally, in novels such as Childhood’s End (1953) and 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), he muses on the transformations that evolution may bring about in the future of human existence. Such changes are particularly evident in the bodies of the citizens of Diaspar, who have lost nails, teeth, all hair except that on the head, and navels, and have gained convenient, safe internal storage for male genitals. In a parallel manner, the minds of the citizens of Lys have evolved to allow telepathy. These evolutionary transformations are not crucial plot elements; however, Clarke lavishes attention on these details and thereby succeeds in representing something that has never existed.

Another important theme for Clarke is the importance of resisting the temptation to stagnate. In a perfect world, change would be unnecessary, but in Diaspar perfection has led to atrophy and the loss of both courage and curiosity. Clarke’s plot valorizes exploration and discovery over the complacency of perfection. To be fully human, he implies, is to ask questions and to take whatever risks are required in order to answer them.

Clarke is a scientist as well as a writer, and The City and the Stars realistically incorporates science rather than being simply an adventure story with handy gadgets. The future Clarke creates is believably remote while remaining recognizably connected to present science.