Written by: Cliford D. Simak
Originally by Gnome Books 1952
Reviewed by: R. Gene Turchin
Somehow I missed this masterpiece in my years of reading science fiction. My excuse, “too many books—too little time.”
Simak wrote the original story as a short story and John W. Campbell published “City”in Astounding Science Fiction in 1944. “Huddling Place” was published a few months later and so began the long genesis of the novel. Ultimately the book is a collection of eight interwoven short stories about the evolution of man. A last story, “Epilog” was added 20 years later just before the book was published as a novel in 1952.
The scope and breadth of the stories span tens of thousands of years beginning when man (or Man) abandons life in the city for a more pastoral existence in the countryside. The key concept is that the stories are being related to the reader by dogs in the distant future. Man is no longer around.
Each story is preceded by “notes” from the teller of the tales, who are the intelligent dogs of the future. In the notes, the dogs explain that the origins of the stories are buried in the fog of myths, that they are not even sure that a creature called ‘man’ existed.
The first story, titled, “City” has the dogs relating the journey of men from the city to the countryside. As presentiment science fiction, it alludes to a universal income. People no longer have a need to work, the concept of a city as a community is no longer valid.
The human race is centered around a family, the Websters, who gave dogs the ability to speak. Though Campbell published most of these stories they do not qualify as ‘hard science fiction,’ though there are elements. A robot lawnmower is a source of irritation for Gramps, a Webster. Personal helicopters are the norm and people no longer have a need for identity defining work. Society and Gramp are adjusting reluctantly to the new norm.
“Huddling Place” the second story introduces the family robot, Jenkins who plays a role throughout the book, (he lives a very, very long time).
Is the story dated by time? In some ways, yes. Atomics is used as a magical sobriquet answer to all energy needs. As a post war philosophical response to the horror of war and an eye squinting toward the future, maybe not.