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by Clifford D. Simak
Category: Science Fiction/Technology/Science
Description: A GREAT SCIENCE-FICTION CLASSIC Here is an utterly enthralling science-fiction novel that spans 10,000 years of future adventures, human hopes, and super-human achievements. The story of one family, the Websters--and also of the Webster dogs and robots--it is narrated in the form of eight long sequences, each showing a further and more wonderful development. Humanity moves from the culture of the super-city of the near future to the sprawling spaces of a robot-run society, and finally finds its Golden Age on the mighty planet Jupiter--leaving the Earth as the heritage of man's best friends. City weaves a story that encompasses eight tales told about a family named Webster. Through the centuries and millennia the tales tell you about Man, the Dogs, robots and a new enemy that takes over and threatens them all. Truly a classic of science-fiction writing that keeps you wanting to find out what happens.
eBook Publisher: Gate Way Publishers,
eBookwise Release Date: November 2011
3 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [341 KB]
Reading time: 220-308 min.
These are the stories that the Dogs tell when the fires burn high and the wind is from the north. Then each family circle gathers at the hearthstone and the pups sit silently and listen and when the story's done they ask many questions:
"What is Man?" they'll ask.
Or perhaps: "What is a city?"
Or: "What is a war?"
There is no positive answer to any of these questions. There are suppositions and there are theories and there are many educated guesses, but there are no answers.
In a family circle, many a storyteller has been forced to fall back on the ancient explanation that it is nothing but a story, there is no such thing as a Man or city, that one does not search for truth in a simple tale, but takes it for its pleasure and lets it go at that.
Explanations such as these, while they may do to answer pups, are no explanations. One does search for truth in such simple tales as these.
The legend, consisting of eight tales, has been told for countless centuries. So far as can be determined, it has no historic starting point; the most minute study of it fails entirely to illustrate the stages of its development. There is no doubt that through many years of telling it has become stylized, but there is no way to trace the direction of its stylization.
That it is ancient and, as some writers claim, that it may be of non-Doggish origin in part, is borne out by the abundance of jabberwocky which studs the tales--words and phrases (and worst of all, ideas) which have no meaning now and may have never had a meaning. Through telling and retelling, these words and phrases have become accepted, have been assigned, through context, a certain arbitrary value. But there is no way of knowing whether or not these arbitrary values even approximate the original meaning of the words.
This edition of the tales will not attempt to enter into the many technical arguments concerning the existence or nonexistence of Man, of the puzzle of the city, of the several theories relating to war, or of the many other questions which arise to plague the student who would seek in the legend some evidence of its having roots in some basic or historic truth.
The purpose of this edition is only to give the full, unexpurgated text of the tales as they finally stand. Chapter notes are utilized to point out the major points of speculation, but with no attempt at all to achieve conclusions. For those who wish some further understanding of the tales or of the many points of consideration which have arisen over them there are ample texts, written by Dogs of far greater competence than the present editor.
Recent discovery of fragments of what originally must have been an extensive body of literature has been advanced as the latest argument which would attribute at least part of the legend to mythological (and controversial) Man rather than to the Dogs. But until it can be proved that Man did, in fact, exist, argument that the discovered fragments originated with Man can have but little point.
Particularly significant or disturbing, depending upon the viewpoint that one takes, is the fact the apparent title of the literary fragment is the same as the title of one of the tales in the legend here presented. The word itself, of course, is entirely meaningless.
The first question, of course, is whether there ever was such a creature as Man. At the moment, in the absence of positive evidence, the sober consensus must be that there was not, that Man, as presented in the legend, is a figment of folklore invention. Man may have risen in the early days of Doggish culture as an imaginary being, a sort of racial god, on which the Dogs might call for help, to which they might retire for comfort.
Despite these sober conclusions, however, there are those who see in Man an actual elder god, a visitor from some mystic land or dimension, who came and stayed awhile and helped and then passed on to the place from which he came.
There still are others who believe that Man and Dog may have risen together as two co-operating animals, may have been complementary in the development of a culture, but that at some distant point in time they reached the parting of the ways.
Of all the disturbing factors in the tales (and they are many) the most disturbing is the suggestion of reverence which is accorded Man. It is hard for the average reader to accept this reverence as mere story-telling. It goes far beyond the perfunctory worship of a tribal god; one almost instinctively feels that it must be deep-rooted in some now forgotten belief or rite involving the pre-history of our race.
There is little hope now, of course, that any of the many areas of controversy which revolve about the legend ever will be settled.
Here, then, are the tales, to be read as you see fit--for pleasure only, for some sign of historical significance, for some hint of hidden meaning. Our best advice to the average reader: Don't take them too much to heart, for complete confusion, if not madness, lurks along the road.
* * * *
NOTES ON THE FIRST TALE
There is no doubt that, of all the tales, the first is the most difficult for the casual reader. Not only is its nomenclature trying, but its logic and its ideas seem, at first reading, to be entirely alien. This may be because in this story and the next a Dog plays no part, is not even mentioned. From the opening paragraph in this first tale the reader is pitchforked into an utterly strange situation, with equally strange characters to act out its solution. This much may be said for the tale, however--by the time one has labored his way through it the rest of the tales, by comparison, seem almost homey.
Overriding the entire tale is the concept of the city. While there is no complete understanding of what a city might be, or why it should be, it is generally agreed that it must have been a small area accommodating and supporting a large number of residents. Some of the reasons for its existence are superficially explained in the text, but Bounce, who has devoted a lifetime to the study of the tales, is convinced that the explanation is no more than the clever improvisations of an ancient storyteller to support an impossible concept. Most students of the tales agree with Bounce that the reasons as given in the tale do not square with logic and some, Rover among them, have suspected that here we may have an ancient satire, of which the significance has been lost.
Most authorities in economics and sociology regard such an organization as a city an impossible structure, not only from the economic standpoint, but from the sociological and psychological as well. No creature of the highly nervous structure necessary to develop a culture, they point out, would be able to survive within such restricted limits. The result, if it were tried, these authorities say, would lead to mass neuroticism which in a short period of time would destroy the very culture which had built the city.
Rover believes that in the first tale we are dealing with almost pure myth and that as a result no situation or statement can be accepted at face value, that the entire tale must be filled with a symbolism to which the key has long been lost. Puzzling, however, is the fact that if it is a myth-concept, and nothing more, that the form by now should not have rounded itself into the symbolic concepts which are the hallmark of the myth. In the tale there is for the average reader little that can be tagged as myth-content. The tale itself is perhaps the most angular of the lot--raw-boned and slung together, with none of the touches of finer sentiment and lofty ideals which are found in the rest of the legend.
The language of the tale is particularly baffling. Phrases such as the classic "dadburn the kid" have puzzled semanticists for many centuries and there is today no closer approach to what many of the words and phrases mean than there was when students first came to pay some serious attention to the legend.
The terminology for Man has been fairly well worked out, however. The plural for this mythical race is men, the racial designation is human, the females are women or wives (two terms which may at one time have had a finer shade of meaning, but which now must be regarded as synonymous), the pups are children. A male pup is a boy. A female pup a girl.
Aside from the concept of the city, another concept which the reader will find entirely at odds with his way of life and which may violate his very thinking, is the idea of war and of killing. Killing is a process, usually involving violence, by which one living thing ends the life of another living thing. War, it would appear, was mass killing carried out on a scale which is inconceivable.
Rover, in his study of the legend, is convinced that the tales are much more primitive than is generally supposed, since it is his contention that such concepts as war and killing could never come out of our present culture, that they must stem from some era of savagery of which there exists no record.
Tige, who is almost alone in his belief that the tales are based on actual history and that the race of Man did exist in the primordial days of the Dogs' beginning, contends that this first tale is the story of the actual breakdown of Man's culture. He believes that the tale as we know it today may be a mere shadow of some greater tale, a gigantic epic which at one time may have measured fully as large or larger than today's entire body of the legend. It does not seem possible, he writes, that so great an event as the collapse of a mighty mechanical civilization could have been condensed by the tale's contemporaries into so small a compass as the present tale. What we have here, says Tige, is only one of many tales which told the entire story and that the one which does remain to us may be no more than a minor one.
* * * *
Gramp Stevens sat in a lawn chair, watching the mower at work, feeling the warm, soft sunshine seep into his bones. The mower reached the edge of the lawn, clucked to itself like a contented hen, made a neat turn and trundled down another swath. The bag holding the clippings bulged.
Suddenly the mower stopped and clicked excitedly. A panel in its side snapped open and a cranelike arm reached out. Grasping steel fingers fished around in the grass, came up triumphantly with a stone clutched tightly, dropped the stone into a small container, disappeared back into the panel again. The lawn mower gurgled, purred on again, following its swath.
Gramp grumbled at it with suspicion.
"Some day," he told himself, "that dadburned thing is going to miss a lick and have a nervous breakdown."
He lay back in the chair and stared up at the sun-washed sky. A helicopter skimmed far overhead. From somewhere inside the house a radio came to life and a torturing clash of music poured out. Gramp, hearing it, shivered and hunkered lower in the chair.
Young Charlie was settling down for a twitch session. Dadburn the kid.
The lawn mower chuckled past and Gramp squinted at it maliciously.
"Automatic," he told the sky. "Ever' blasted thing is automatic now. Getting so you just take a machine off in a corner and whisper in its ear and it scurries off to do the job."
His daughter's voice came to him out the window, pitched to carry above the music.
Gramp stirred uneasily. "Yes, Betty."
"Now, father, you see you move when that lawn mower gets to you. Don't try to out-stubborn it. After all, it's only a machine. Last time you just sat there and made it cut around you. I never saw the beat of you."
He didn't answer, letting his head nod a bit, hoping she would think he was asleep and let him be.
"Father," she shrilled, "did you hear me?"
He saw it was no good. "Sure, I heard you," he told her. "I was just fixing to move."
He rose slowly to his feet, leaning heavily on his cane. Might make her feel sorry for the way she treated him when she saw how old and feeble he was getting. He'd have to be careful, though. If she knew he didn't need the cane at all, she'd be finding jobs for him to do and, on the other hand, if he laid it on too thick, she'd be having that fool doctor in to pester him again.
Grumbling, he moved the chair out into that portion of the lawn that had been cut. The mower, rolling past, chortled at him fiendishly.
"Some day," Gramp told it, "I'm going to take a swipe at you and bust a gear or two."
The mower hooted at him and went serenely down the lawn.
From somewhere down the grassy street came a jangling of metal, a stuttered coughing.
Gramp, ready to sit down, straightened up and listened.
The sound came more clearly, the rumbling backfire of a balky engine, the clatter of loose metallic parts.
"An automobile!" yelped Gramp. "An automobile, by cracky!"
He started to gallop for the gate, suddenly remembered that he was feeble and subsided to a rapid hobble.
"Must be that crazy Ole Johnson," he told himself. "He's the only one left that's got a car. Just too dadburned stubborn to give it up."
It was Ole.
Gramp reached the gate in time to see the rusty, dilapidated old machine come bumping around the comer, rocking and chugging along the unused street. Steam hissed from the over-heated radiator and a cloud of blue smoke issued from the exhaust, which had lost its muffler five years or more ago.
Ole sat stolidly behind the wheel, squinting his eyes, trying to duck the roughest places, although that was hard to do, for weeds and grass had overrun the streets and it was hard to see what might be underneath them.
Gramp waved his cane.
"Hi, Ole," he shouted.
Ole pulled up, setting the emergency brake. The car gasped, shuddered, coughed, died with a horrible sigh. "What you burning?" asked Gramp.
"Little bit of everything," said Ole. "Kerosene, some old tractor oil I found out in a barrel, some rubbing alcohol."
Gramp regarded the fugitive machine with forthright admiration. "Them was the days," he said. "Had one myself. Used to be able to do a hundred miles an hour."
"Still O.K.," said Ole, "if you could only find the stuff to run them or get the parts to fix them. Up to three, four years ago I used to be able to get enough gasoline, but ain't seen none for a long time now. Quit making it, I guess. No use having gasoline, they tell me, when you have atomic power."
"Sure," said Gramp. "Guess maybe that's right, but you can't smell atomic power. Sweetest thing I know, the smell of burning gasoline. These here helicopters and other gadgets they got took all the romance out of traveling, somehow."
He squinted at the barrels and baskets piled in the back seat.
"Got some vegetables?" he asked.
"Yup," said Ole. "Some sweet corn and early potatoes and a few baskets of tomatoes. Thought maybe I could sell them."
Gramp shook his head. "You won't, Ole. They won't buy them. Folks has got the notion that this new hydroponics stuff is the only garden sass that's fit to eat. Sanitary, they say, and better flavored."
"Wouldn't give a hoot in a tin cup for all they grow in them tanks they got," Ole declared, belligerently. "Don't taste right to me, somehow. Like I tell Martha, food's got to be raised in the soil to have any character."
He reached down to turn over the ignition switch.
"Don't know as it's worth trying to get the stuff to town," he said, "the way they keep the roads. Or the way they don't keep them, rather. Twenty years ago the state highway out there was a strip of good concrete and they kept it patched and plowed it every winter. Did anything, spent any amount of money to keep it open. And now they just forgot about it. The concrete's all broken up and some of it has washed out. Brambles are growing in it. Had to get out and cut away a tree that fell across it one place this morning."
"Ain't it the truth," agreed Gramp.
The car exploded into life, coughing and choking. A cloud of dense blue smoke rolled out from under it. With a jerk it stirred to life and lumbered down the street.