I've always really enjoyed science fiction, but I've always felt like I haven't read deeply enough in the genre to truly count myself a fan. A big part of the problem has always been the fact that I have always been a far bigger fan of fantasy, and I've prioritized that genre when deciding what to read in the past. More recently, however, I've started making a point to educate myself in the classics of science fiction, and damn, has it ever been a rewarding experience. Of course, occasionally I've found that a particular SF classic didn't totally grab me, but most of the time I've found that books that are considered to be classics are called classics for good reason. Such is the case with The City And The Stars.
This is a really interesting book, and because it was my first experience with Arthur C. Clarke, I'm not certain if it's typical of his writing or not. Interestingly, this is a novel about exploring ideas as opposed to chronicling events. There is no real action to speak of, although the book still managed to entertain me, fascinate me and maintain my interest. The plot of the book is really just following Alvin about and relating what he discovers about mankind's past, and how these discoveries affect the remnants of the human population. There is far less of a focus on science than I expected, as Clarke seems more interested in exploring various philosophical themes relating to ideas like utopia, space exploration and colonization, A.I., digitization of personality, and so many more. I felt that Clarke's philosophical approach was a lot more accessible and engaging than a hard SF focus would have been, and I applaud him for weighting ideas over tech.
There's not much going on in the way of character development here, but then again, there really aren't that many characters. I had read reviews criticizing the lack of depth of Clarke's characters, but I thought Alvin showed a surprising amount of development for the type of story this was (idea-driven science fiction from the 1950's). The only other character who featured in a significant portion of the story was Alvin's friend Hilvar, who may not have had much progression over the course of the story, but had a lot more depth than he strictly needed to for a bit character.
Original, intelligent, occasionally subversive, this was my first encounter with Big Idea Science Fiction, and I loved it.