Best Adventures of 1956 (9)
August 5, 2016
One in a series of 10 posts identifying Josh Glenn’s favorite 1956 adventure novels. Happy 60th anniversary!
Arthur C. Clarke’s sci-fi adventure The City and the Stars.
A Stapledonian epic, which illustrated two points important to the author: our curiosity about the world/universe is what makes us human; and organized religion retards humankind’s progress. In Diaspar, a billion-year-old, self-sufficient domed city located on Earth, Alvin is a “Unique.” Despite living in a utopian, perfectly regulated social order (run by a super-computer), in which human consciousnesses can be downloaded into new bodies, and are therefore immortal; and despite having been raised in a culture that encourages incuriosity and terror about the outside world, he dreams of exploration. Once he finally escapes Diaspar, Alvin’s curiosity is richly rewarded. Elsewhere on Earth, he finds another city-state — Lys — that is less reliant on technology, and whose citizens are telepaths. He discovers that Earthlings once traveled the stars, only to be forced back to their planet by aliens; and once offworld, Alvin discovers civilizations and entities that beggar belief. Will he keep going? Or return to Diaspar, as a prophet?
Fun fact: We’ve seen sci-fi dramatizations of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave before, for example in Gabriel De Tarde’s 1884 novella Underground Man; and the meme appears frequently in YA sci-fi novels of the Sixties and Seventies. Clarke’s imagination regarding future technologies, however — which we’d now recognize as, for example, 3D printing, wireless communication and energy transfer, and genetic engineering — is truly original and far-out.
Let me know if I’ve missed any 1956 adventures that you particularly admire.