The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Winner of the 1953 International Fantasy Award for best fiction, City is assembled primarily from eight stories published between 1944 and 1951. Framed by an “Editor’s Preface” and “Notes,” these tales are presented as a future ethnographer’s collection of “the stories that the Dogs tell.” After the death of John W. Campbell, Jr., in 1971, Clifford D. Simak wrote a ninth story for editor Harry Harrison’s Astounding: John W. Campbell Memorial Anthology (1973); in 1980 this last story was added to a revised version of City, along with an “Author’s Note.”

The first three tales in City chronicle humankind’s abandonment of its cities for a pastoral existence made possible by advanced technology. In the first story, “City,” set in the 1990’s, John W. Webster flees to the country and builds a house. Much of the rest of City focuses on that house and Webster’s descendants.

“Huddling Place,” the second story, is set in 2117. Jerome A. Webster has written the first reference work on Martian physiology. He is needed to save the life of the Martian philosopher Juwain. Jerome’s robot, Jenkins, fails to notify Jerome that a spaceship has arrived to take Jerome to Mars; the robot believes that its agoraphobic owner would not leave the house. Juwain therefore dies before he can reveal a secret mental concept that supposedly would solve many of humankind’s problems. More than sixty years later, in “Census,” Jerome’s son Thomas perfects the...

(The entire section is 630 words.)