The Years of the City Essay - Critical Essays

Frederik Pohl


Pohl’s book is a rare example of a utopia that chooses a city as its focal point. At a time when utopias tended to present a more nature-oriented approach and reject technology as a mode for positive progress, this novel offered the reader a refreshing alternative. Pohl argues for the city as the vehicle of human civilization, writing that “The cost is steep, in every coin, but the city is an indispensable expense.”

Pohl explains his motivation for writing on this topic in the introduction to the book. He recognizes the problems of modern cities but states that if their decline is allowed, there will be tremendous costs. He then shows in a series of stories what it would take to revive a decaying city. In this work, the city comes alive to remind the reader of the fact that the city is a constant, while people are not. People do have the ability to create the proper mechanisms to sustain the city, which in turn sustains them.

Pohl received the John W. Campbell Memorial Award in 1985 for The Years of the City. That year also saw publication of Spider Robinson’s Night of Power and Kit Reed’s Fort Privilege, which depicted New York as a dystopia.

The overall impact of The Years of the City was hindered by the fact that the novel’s reach never went beyond the genre of science fiction. It can be characterized as among the most serious of the science-fiction novels Pohl has written. His other novels tend to be cynical. This work is an earnest exploration of human development and need.