A fixup novel, consisting of 8 (with 'Epilog' 9) short stories
Fixup novel, first published: Gnome 1952
Thousands of years in the future, the canine population of planet Earth, along with their robot helpers, sit around campfires and tell each other controversial fables about how they owe their ascendance to an extinct and perhaps mythical species of benevolent, if misguided, humans. This bleak, melancholy portrayal of humanity's prospects for survival is unusual, then, not only for its dystopian vision but also for its often pastoral storytelling.
Originally published during the 1940s as a series in Astounding Science Fiction, these eight stories were gathered into a novel in 1952. For the book, Simak made a few revisions and added a framework of "textual commentaries," featuring remarks from canine critics who debate both the meaning of the tales and the likelihood that humankind ever even existed. The stories themselves focus on the role of the (human) Webster family, whose descendants during the course of thousands of years influence the future of humans, dogs, robots, and even ants. The only character common to all the tales is a robot named Jenkins, who serves first human, then canine masters as various threats present themselves over the course of numerous millennia.
The first three tales describe a deteriorating human society that retreats from urban blight and escapes to remote family outposts, relying almost entirely on robots for supplying the labor and on the wired world for communication and supplies. (Simak's prescient vision of the Internet is one of the most hauntingly accurate prophecies in this book.) As a result, many of the earth's inhabitants suffer from agoraphobia--a combination of simple lethargy and a fear of leaving their homes--and this isolation is amplified in the form of nearly immortal human mutants that live entirely on their own, "disdaining all the artificiality of society."
The most memorable (and most original) pair of tales portrays a few humans who venture outside their homes to other worlds and who inadvertently discover a form of nirvana by assuming the genetic makeup of a mysterious, gas-based life-form on Jupiter. Humanity is thus confronted by a choice: either perpetuation of their own species or the allure of paradise under a different guise.
Simak's initially relaxed pace soon surrenders to a more riveting style, especially because the later stories are more interrelated (both by common characters and by plot devices) than the first three almost-standalone tales. The book's underlying hopelessness, which often flirts with a subtle misanthropy, is hard to explain, however; there's no real apocalypse. Instead of doom or destruction, the future of humanity according to Simak is a world of isolation and loneliness, and perhaps that's the most depressing vision of all.
Smith, D. Cloyce: Amazon Customer Review
City is a 1952 science fiction fix-up novel by Clifford D. Simak. The original version consists of eight linked short stories, all originally published between 1944 and 1951, along with brief "notes" on each of the stories. These notes were created especially for the book, and serve as a bridging story of their own. ...
Simak published a ninth City tale in 1973 called "Epilog". A 1980 edition of City includes this ninth tale; some (but not all) subsequent editions of the book also include "Epilog".
Wikipedia: City (novel)
The novel City is actually a collection of framed tales, most of which were published in Astounding as separate short stories. The eight tales are "City" (1944), "Huddling Place" (1944), "Census" (1944), "Desertion" (1944), "Paradise" (1946), "Hobbies" (1946), "Aesop" (1947), and "The Trouble with Ants" (1951). The first seven appeared in Astounding, but Simak was forced to sell the final tale to Fantastic Adventures. Campbell did not like the idea of ants inheriting the earth.
Simak tacked these eight tales on the framework of a legend that Dogs tell "when the fires burn high and the wind is from the north." The story begins in a future when the world has literally gone to the dogs and "Man" has become a myth. The Dogs dispute among themselves about the existence of such concepts as cities, wars, and mankind itself. Could there have been such a perverse creature as Man? Was it possible that, in some primeval time, Man and Dogs were actually friends? In the "Editor's Preface," the Dog reader is cautioned against taking "these tales too much to heart, for complete confusion, if not madness, lies along this road."
On this heavily ironic note, Simak begins his future human history. To add to the fun of the story, each of the tales is preceded by a head note providing satirical, scholarly comments by the Dogs. The arguments are delightfully tongue-in-cheek.
Like most of Simak's serious work, City is saved from the label of "doomsday" literature by its lighter touch. All turns out right in the end. The human race does not really destroy itself, nor does Simak permit the loss of intelligent life on Earth. Humanity is merely shuffled off to a new world, a new frontier where perhaps human ambition and the inevitable human cussedness could begin all over again.
Ewald, Robert J.: When the Fires Burn High and the Wind is from the North, p.39-40, 48-49