City is an apocalyptic novel, in which the world ends “not with a bang, but with a whisper.” Reminiscent of Asimov’s I, robot, City is a collection of short stories loosely interrelated written after World War II. It portrays a decadent peaceful almost pastoral world, in which Mankind evolutionates towards its own extinction, replaced first by Dogs and then Ants.
The novel, or rather the first story City, begins with Simak’s version of the aftermath of WWII. After the atomic bomb scare, Mankind has abandoned the cities and secluded themselves in hydroponic farms leading a pastoral self-sufficient life. Without the existence of cities, families have become isolated, each in their farm, where everything is available at the touch of a button (internet).
The second story, Huddling Place follows by expounding on the idea of Mankind’s isolation as portrayed by the Webster family and its robot serf Jenkins. As in Asimov’s I, robot, Jenkins has two main purposes: he serves as the servant of the Webster family, as well as, a machine or computer that keeps all the family’s historical records, somewhat like Star War’s R2D2. Agoraphobia, the fear of the outdoors and unfamiliar places has taken hold of Mankind; as a result, of his escape from the cities and his own destructive impulses.
In Census, Jerome Webster’s grandson operates on Dogs and gives them the power of speech and better eyesight. In an effort to push Mankind further into evolution, Jerome gives these physical talents to Dogs because “2 brains are better than one”. This propels Mankind further into its own extinction, as it is replaced by the civilization of the Dogs. Reminiscent of Asimov’s Foundation series, a mutant robot named Joe helps Mankind in his conquest of the stars by providing the technology of the rocket ship.
In Desertion, Man succeeds in the conquest of Jupiter. Each man of the group and his dog, go out to gather data (in an transformed physical nature in order to adapt to Jupiter’s atmosphere) and never come back.
In Paradise, 5 years after Desertion, Fowler returns to his human form to tell Mankind about Jupiter’s paradise. Tyler Webster interprets this news as a threat to Mankind’s existence as humans. Joe gives humans telepathy, and this propels them to their domination of the Universe.
In Hobbies, Jon Webster is one of the few remaining humans on Earth, after the majority has left to Jupiter. In desesperation to occupy his time, he takes on useless and meaningless hobbies. Jon pulls a switch that encapsulates Geneva, the last city in a protective shield that furthers Mankind’s extinction.
In Aesop, the robot serf, Jenkins is 7,000 years old, and is the overseer of the Dogs, and the few ‘violent’ humans whom he later takes to a parallel world in an attempt to preserve ‘peace on Earth.’ Unlike Asimov’s Daniel-Oliwav, Jenkins is not an entirely loyal serf to the humans, and instead strives to preserve the civilization of the Dogs by facilitating the human conquest of the stars.
In the Simple Way, Earth is now inhabited by the Beasts, watcher robots and ever more intelligent Ants, who are now able to reprogram robots to build their city. Jenkins revives Jon Webster from suspended animation, to learn the ‘simple way’ to kill the Ants, a poison sweetener. Of course, the Dogs would never agree to such ‘mass killing’, so Jenkins lets Nature take its course.
In Epilog, all Beasts are now dead including Dogs and the Ant city has taken over the world. When the Ant city begins to crumble, Jenkins regresses to his original purpose and leaves to Jupiter to help in the survival of the few ‘transformed’ humans. All that remains on Earth of the ‘glorious’ human civilization is Jon Webster in suspended animation.
City was Simak’s masterpiece and he received the National Fantasy award in 1953.