Book Review – The City and the Stars

The City and the Stars gets 4 stars for its ideas and for that alone. Arthur Clarke’s novel tackles some of the biggest motifs imaginable; in this story, the author uses speculative fiction as his tool to probe cosmic themes including individuality vs social conformity, stasis vs progress, fear vs curiosity, and that’s just some of what Clarke investigates as he explores the collision of two quasi-utopian cultures both almost infinitely old. The plot follows a rebellious protagonist who serves as the catalyst for the meeting of the two cultures and then reignites humanity’s engagement with the rest of the galaxy after an epoch of isolation.

Re-reading The City and the Stars many years after first picking it up, one finds it both more and less than remembered with Clarke’s characters coming off as flat and unmemorable, the dialogue sounding a bit wooden, and the omniscient narrator sometimes telling us too much. Nonetheless, Clarke has a literary flair with descriptions and there aren’t many writers with his vaulting ambition to blend technology with story.

Being an author of speculative fiction myself, reading Clarke certainly encourages one to think big about the expanse of your narrative and scale of your themes.

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