The City and the Stars
Arthur C. Clarke
The City and the Stars. 'Probably his most perfect work' reads the blurb on the front cover, quoting from the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (whatever that is... I think it might be an encyclopedia of some description). Don't believe everything you see on the cover of a book; don't judge a book by its cover. Once upon a time Arthur C. Clarke was directly responsible for the dark ages of my science fiction fandom, when after reading 2001: A Space Odyssey I was so disappointed I left off s-f for years. It was something about the vast memory banks on the space ship being a really, really big room full of magnetic tape. The lack of creative ambition in that picture utterly sickened me. Sickened me, I tell you.
Sometimes, however, what you read on the cover of a book turns out to be true. Hyperbolic, and subjective, and unverifiable perhaps; but true in all the important ways. It might be his most perfect work, I have no idea, but the point I'm circumventing is that it is brilliant. So far, in my tentative daliances into the world of science fiction literature I have discovered a budding preference for stories set in the far, far, far, far, far, far, far, far, far, far, far, far, far, far, far far,af,ar,far future over those in the near future. Even more so I seem to be enjoying stories about the gradual discovery of the history leading up to the fictional future. Isaac Asimov gives us lots of that in the Foundation series – I particularly enjoy the morsels he gives us about the fall of the Spacer worlds.
Stop the press. Having just mentioned the Spacer worlds thought suddenly strikes me about the eventually discovered state of Solaria, the last of the fifty Spacer worlds to be colonised, and seemingly the first to fall. In Foundation and Earth we discover that in fact it did not fall, was not abandoned, but the Solarians actually retreated underground, cutting themselves off from the rest of humanity. They maintained a small planet-wide population of about 10,000 (give or take a factor of ten, I can't remember), each individual living a solitary life served by an army of robots. They genetically engineered themselves into hermaphrodites who reproduce by cloning, and who manipulate their environment using 'transducer lobes' growing on their necks. Very weird stuff. They survive in their perfect self-imposed isolation for many tens of thousands of years.
There may be many parallels between Asimov's Solarians, and Clarke's Diasparians. The far-future humans living in the Earth city of Diaspar have perfect self-imposed isolation. They live strange endless lives, never really dying or being born; merely living for thousands of years, then disappearing into the great memory banks of the cities all-powerful controlling computer. After tens of thousands of years interval they are recreated as flesh. The city is constantly repopulating itself with different variations of the same individuals. Individuals who cannot and will not leave their city. They are not hermaphrodites, but have no sexual reproduction and no external genitalia. They have no knowledge of the outside world or any desire to contact it.
There are probably lots of comparisons to be drawn and I will no doubt be thinking about Foundation and The City and the Stars for many billions of years. In the meantime I must sleep.