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Publisher's Summary

A journey of discovery that will shake the foundations of everything the people of Earth have ever believed...

Diaspar is Earth's last city - surrounded by deserts, on a world where the oceans have long since dried up. It is a domed, isolated, technological marvel run by the Central Computer. Diaspar has conquered death. People are called forth from the Hall of Creation; they live for 1,000 years and then are recalled, stored in the Central Computer's memory, to be born thousands of years later, over and over again, with memories of earlier lives intact.

No one has entered or left Diaspar since anyone can remember. Its people have an unreasoning dread of the unknown, of the world outside the city. And no child has been born for at least 10 million years.

Until Alvin. He is unique. He has no past lives, no past memories. He also has no fear of the outside world. In fact he has an overwhelming curiosity, a drive to explore, to see what lies beyond the sterile boundaries of the city.

When he finally escapes, he discovers a place he could hardly have imagined: a country called Lys. Its people are telepathic. They know life and death. In Lys, Alvin finds friendship and love. And he begins his fateful journey to the stars and back. On his return he brings with him something so strange, so alien and powerful, that it will change the world forever. But for better or worse, not even Alvin can guess.

©1956 Arthur C. Clarke/Scovil Chichak Galen; (P)2009 Geoffrey T.Williams

What members say

Average Customer Ratings


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  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

Not one of Clark's greatest, but interesting

Is there anything you would change about this book?

The story is very much a morality tale on what happens when Man ceases to look out into the universe, ceases to grow & ceases to advance; stagnation, mechanisation and a slide into decadence. It's a theme of many of Clark's books but this one doesn't quite hit the mark. The inhabitants of the city (of the title) have immortality, freedom from all phyiscal needs and the elimination of crime, disease & all social ills. This lack of strife eliminates all desires for expansion but also eliminates everything you can hang a story off!

What other book might you compare The City and the Stars to and why?

The obvious comparision is "Childhood's End" which deals with the end of Man in a much better and more interesting way.

How could the performance have been better?

It could have been a performance. There's no emotional content and the variation between characters was attempted by varying the squeekiness of the reader's voice in subtle shades.

Do you think The City and the Stars needs a follow-up book? Why or why not?

The book describes one man's struggle to break Man out of the decandent Nirvana he has trapped himself in. To prevent spoiling the plot, any follow up book could only be his continuing struggle to break Man out or Man's attempt to break back in! The book is a message not a story & having delivered the message, it's done where it is.

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Excellent story; unprofessional reading

This book wasn’t for you, but who do you think might enjoy it more?

The story is a classic of science fiction, but the unprofessional narrators are not worthy of Arthur C. Clarke's vision. Children might still enjoy it, as they might not be so bothered by the amateur sounding performers.

What other book might you compare The City and the Stars to and why?

This book is the progenitor of any number of science fiction stories involving escape from a highly controlled city in the far future. Logan's Run and Alastair Reynold's Terminal World are just a couple of examples of its influence.

Who would you have cast as narrator instead of Geoffrey T. Williams?

A better choice for narrator would have been John Lee, who narrates the Alastair Reynold's science fiction novels so well.

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The book is worth enduring the performance

Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?

Yes -- actually, when I offered it to my teenaged son to listen while cleaning his room, I told him the same thing: The book is good enough to overcome the annoyingness of the acting. When he was finished, he agreed.

Who would you have cast as narrator instead of Geoffrey T. Williams?

Just Williams, please! Ditch the rest of 'em!

  • Overall
  • CT
  • 07-03-10

Meh, it was okay, at least engaging

It was an interesting story, but sort of morose. I found it mostly depressing and the actions of many of the characters unbelievable. Still, it had certain appeal in that it explored thoroughly the extremes to which the diverging attitudes of humanity might lead us. And it is an excellent warning against isolationism.

2 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • David
  • NEW ROMNEY, United Kingdom
  • 02-04-12

Audible done this well written story proud

The book is full of twists and unexpected momentum obsorbed in each part so much that i was sad to leave each relavation behind, but the next giant step gripped me again and i was amazed how vast the story was in doing so great leaps where made that in them selfs would take volumes to have known. Overall a brillant book written by a Brit saddly no longer with us, I am a Brit who spent more time reading Jack Vance than Clarke my treat in finding more , This is the best audio book i have herd several different voices subtel sound effects i think compared to other books from audibe i have herd the boat was pushed out in other words Awesome as my cousins would say.

1 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Ok story, really bad production

This book wasn’t for you, but who do you think might enjoy it more?

If you're into classic science-fi, obviously you need to get some version of this book. I don't know how it stacks up against Clarke's other books, but it is thought-provoking and interesting.

What didn’t you like about Geoffrey T. Williams’s performance?

It isn't Williams that is the problem; if it had just been him reading, it would have been fine. The problem was everyone one else and the irritatingly terrible and distracting effects that were applied. Some characters have such a heavy reverberation effect that you almost can't understand what they are saying. I nearly gave up listening, but the worst of these unintelligible scenes is mercifully short. Most of the book, however, is interspersed with a number of small annoying sounds or quiet eery music, all of which is useless and unnecessary.

What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?

I don't regret listening to it, as the story is unique and well-realized. But it is all plot and no really interesting characters, and, of course, it tediously follows all the usual tropes. Don't expect greatness here, except perhaps by comparison to other science-fi books. I just wish that it hadn't been so damaged by the post-production.

0 of 1 people found this review helpful

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My favorite book by Clarke

This is the revised version of "Against the Fall of Night." Both are excellent with the huge scale he is so good at executing.

0 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • marc
  • CLINTON, CT, United States
  • 03-29-14

i enjoyed it.

Any additional comments?

i liked the book, it's just the audio quality was awful. some of the narration was done in a professional studio and some was done in, what would appear, an office. some of the narrators were professional and others not.

0 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Adam
  • Minneapolis, MN, United States
  • 06-12-14

Ill-Suited Production Clashes w/ Stultifying Story

What disappointed you about The City and the Stars?

Both the story and this production have all the wit and energy of an awkward, stagey bible drama. (Read: BORING, and plagued with an aura of inauthenticity.)

To begin with, this audio production is "dramatically" ill conceived (pun intended).

The production company clearly spent a pretty penny hiring a large cast, and incorporating a certain amount of music and sound effects. On paper this sounds like a virtue -- yet each of the readers sounds like they're in a hollow, empty room, all alone.

It's both impossible to ignore and weird to hear that each reader recorded his or her narrative separately, in a soundproof studio, at different times, and then an editor stitched it all together.

Thus the smallish amount of dialogue never sounds like real people actually conversing. Instead, strange voices unexpectedly intrude upon the narrator from nowhere, deliver a brief monologue to no one, and then fade back into the ether. The soundtracking and foley effects are the same -- they fade into and out of nothingness, with a flat, muted quality.

The overall impression is that none of these sounds and voices are in one common "space" -- they're all isolated and alone, and just by happenstance, they're occurring in some organized sequence.

By contrast, true radio dramas generally do a much better job of integrating all the voices and sounds into the same "soundstage" or auditory space, specifically to avoid this sort of unnerving and unwanted feeling of disparateness.

The lack of audio integration is heightened by the fact that this production has much less dialogue and fewer foley effects than a standard radio drama -- so just as you start to get used to the solo narrator, your attention is disrupted by some otherworldly intrusion that never feels natural or appropriate.

It's not creepy or evocative -- it's merely perpetually awkward.

To make matters worse, each of these actors is listless and stilted.

The emotions they do evince feel arbitrary, contrived, half-hearted; never for a moment does it sound like the actors believe what they're saying, nor do they have any faith that the listener will believe. Furthermore, there's zero sense of anyone reacting to anyone else.

All of this is likely indicative of an inexperienced audio cast.

What truly makes this audio production painful and ill conceived is that it's just about the worst possible format for this particular story. It enervates this story, transforming it from "merely boring" to "suffocating drudgery."

Generally, radio dramas, like staged dramas, contain a great deal of dialogue, as well as a moderate amount of activity -- otherwise, there's no purpose in hiring multiple actors. By contrast, Clarke's story is constructed in a the form of a parable or fable, almost entirely related by a remote, disinterested narrator.

It's possibly the worst narrative format for a multi-cast production -- both the story and the production underscore the worst in each other, rather than highlighting their strengths.

This suggests that the production choice was perhaps a pet project of a longtime fan; it's not a script that would normally get greenlighted for this type of production.

The narrative format that Clarke has chosen (the parable or fable) is rare in modern fiction for a reason -- readers find it abjectly tedious.

In fairness, the parable or fable format was somewhat more common among sci-fi writers of the early to mid century. Usually related as a sort of "misty, half-recalled legend in soft focus," which is precisely the model Clarke has adopted here, this was part of the institutional learning curve as early sci-fi writers worked out how to incorporate their ideas into a viable narrative format.

Yet even in the era when such a format was still tolerated, it was generally the hallmark of clever concepts that lack a fully realized narrative arc or protagonist. The end result is less a dynamic "story" that goes somewhere, and more a guided tour of a thought-museum, filled with fetching notions, but ultimately static and dead.

In the best cases from mid-century, such nascent proto-stories were later re-imagined into whole stories. These days, editors immediately send such drafts back to the drawing board because they have virtually no audience.

To be specific about Clarke's book in terms of fictional craft, the story is almost entirely composed in summary, with very little direct scene or action. The narrative distance is extremely remote, disinterestedly omniscient, giving the audience very little direct experience of any character's thoughts, feelings, or perspective.

In short, we are "told" about Alvin's thoughts / opinions / actions, but we never "inhabit" his view or his world -- the story never rises beyond an anecdote related by someone who doesn't care very much.

Thus there is essentially no tension, extremely little conflict, and what conflict we do get is utterly flat, devoid of urgency or immediateness.

In fact, Clarke seems to go out of his way to dispel conflict and tension before it can get going -- he regularly calls out interactions or events that might create tension and explains with stultifying precision why all is, in fact, still harmonious and inert.

Such vigilance in preserving a harmonious status quo is lauded in an exterminator killing pests, but in an author, it simply kills the story.

Put another way: Conflict is the engine that drives fiction, and tension is its fuel. A vivid experience of a character's personality, portrayed through actions in scene, is the road that story travels, arriving at a destination very different from where it began.

These are, roughly, the key traits that distinguish modern fiction from older, prosaic formats such as fables, folktales, anecdotes at the bar. And this is true whether you're talking about cheap pulp stories or the very best of literature such as Faulkner, Hemingway, or Heinlein.

The upshot is that most listeners will find this story crushingly boring. The utterly ill-suited production quality only makes this worse.

Possible exceptions will be devoted, "completionist" fans of Arthur C. Clarke, and those who nurse nostalgia for this particular story from a youthful encounter of it.

However, if you're new to this book, take heed -- sometimes "classic" simply means old and overhyped. This story and this audiobook are full of interesting, inert ideas squandered in a dreadful series of non-events.

Has The City and the Stars turned you off from other books in this genre?

Definitely not; I know sci-fi forwards and backwards, from the dawn of the genre to the latest, the trashy, the literary, the obscure (and even the non-existent such as Kilgore Trout's "Venus on the Half-Shell").

And I like Arthur C. Clarke, too -- he's one of the great masters. This story is simply double-plus un-good.

How could the performance have been better?

One reader would have been vastly preferable to eliminate the eery flatness, cuts, gaps, and pauses. Barring that, somebody should have given these people some coffee, and allowed them to record their scenes together in the same studio.

What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?

Disgust, frustration, how the hell am I going to get through all 8.5 hours, WHY WHY WHYY, terry GROSS, what a waste of a credit, god, no, stop, why.

Any additional comments?

A writer as brilliant and deservedly famous as Arthur C. Clarke will always have devoted followers who can enjoy all of their works, from the meager to the masterful.

There's nothing wrong with that -- I have my own favorites who can do no wrong. But this is NOT Clarke's best and it would be a ghastly place to start.

If you don't already know for sure that you love this book, save your credit.

You've been warned.

0 of 2 people found this review helpful