The City and the Stars

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The City and the Stars
The City and the Stars hardcover.jpg
Cover of the first edition
Author Arthur C. Clarke
Cover artist George Salter
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre Science fiction
Publisher Frederick Muller Ltd[1]
Publication date
June 1956
Media type Print—hardcover and paperback
Pages 256 pp
Preceded by Against the Fall of Night

The City and the Stars is a science fiction novel by British writer Arthur C. Clarke, published in 1956. This novel is a complete rewrite of his earlier Against the Fall of Night, which was Clarke's first novel, and was published in Startling Stories magazine in 1948, after John W. Campbell, Jr. had rejected it, according to Clarke.

Several years later, Clarke revised his novel extensively and renamed it The City and the Stars. The new version was intended to showcase what he had learned about writing, and about information processing. The major differences are in individual scenes and in the details of his contrasting civilizations of Diaspar and Lys. Against the Fall of Night remained popular enough to stay in print after The City and the Stars had been published. In introductions to it Clarke has told the anecdote of a psychiatrist and patient who admitted that they had discussed it one day in therapy, without realizing at the time that one had read one novel and one the other.



The City and the Stars takes place one billion years in the future, in the city of Diaspar. By this time, the Earth is so old that the oceans have gone and humanity has all but left. As far as the people of Diaspar know, theirs is the only city left on the planet. The city of Diaspar is completely enclosed. Nobody has come in or left the city for as long as anybody can remember, and everybody in Diaspar has an instinctive insular conservatism. The story behind this fear of venturing outside the city tells of a race of ruthless invaders which beat humanity back from the stars to Earth, and then made a deal that humanity could live—if they never left the planet.

In Diaspar, the entire city is run by the Central Computer. Not only is the city repaired by machines, but the people themselves are created by the machines as well. The computer creates bodies for the people of Diaspar to live in and stores their minds in its memory at the end of their lives. At any time, only a small number of these people are actually living in Diaspar; the rest are retained in the computer's memory banks.

All the currently existent people of Diaspar have had past "lives" within Diaspar except one person—Alvin, the main character of this story. He is one of only a very small number of "Uniques", different from everybody else in Diaspar, not only because he does not have any past lives to remember, but because instead of fearing the outside, he feels compelled to leave. Alvin has just come to the age where he is considered grown up, and is putting all his energies into trying to find a way out. Eventually, a character called Khedron the Jester helps Alvin use the central computer to find a way out of the city of Diaspar. This involves the discovery that in the remote past, Diaspar was linked to other cities by an underground transport system. This system still exists although its terminal was covered over and sealed with only a secret entrance left.

Alvin's quest[edit]

Once out of Diaspar, Alvin finds that one other human habitation remains on Earth. In contrast to technological Diaspar, Lys is a vast green oasis shielded by mountains from the worldwide desert. Its people are not stored and recreated technologically, but naturally conceive, are born, age, and die. They have rejected the hyper-advanced technology of Diaspar in favor of an almost agrarian existence, with machines used only for labor-saving purposes. The people of Lys have instead worked to perfect the arts of the mind; they are telepaths, capable of communicating with each other over great distances and without words.

Alvin continues his quest until he finds out the truth of why the people of Diaspar are so frightened of the external universe and why Lys is so scared of space travel and mechanical things. In Lys he goes on a trip with a young man named Hilvar who becomes his friend, and they see a signal light, which they decide to investigate. It leads them to Shalmirane, the remains of the fortress where the Invaders were fought off with unimaginable weapons, and there they encounter an extraterrestrial creature with a strange robot. The creature is the last survivor of a religious cult dating back to the days of the Galactic Empire. The robot was the companion of the founder, the "Master", who came with his followers to Earth at the end of his life. Alvin and Hilvar are unable to understand the content of the religion except that it refers to "Great Ones" who have left, but will someday return. Alvin persuades the creature to lend him the robot, arguing that the Master would want it to see how things were developing in the world. The Master had, however, forbidden the robot to give out any information at all, so Alvin does not learn anything.

Alvin instructs the robot to ignore his entreaties to take him back to Lys which he knew the people of Lys would induce in him with their great telepathic powers—the previous 14 Uniques had stayed. Alvin had originally been told he would be free to choose whether to stay or return, but because the people of Lys had their own insular failure, just like Diaspar, this option was no longer available. Back in Diaspar, he seeks the help of the Central Computer, which overcomes the Master's block on the robot by producing an illusion of an apocalyptic return of the Great Ones. (This differs from the solution used in the original novel: create a duplicate of the robot WITHOUT the block.)


Alvin now learns that the Master's ship is still functional, buried outside Diaspar. He manages to retrieve it, fetches Hilvar from Lys, and travels into deep space. They encounter Vanamonde, a being of pure intellect, with whom Hilvar, being telepathic like other Lys people, can communicate and bring him back to Earth. From him the truth of history finally emerges.

The fearsome Invaders, it turns out, were a myth: Shalmirane was actually used to destroy the Moon when this became necessary to prevent it from colliding with the Earth. Instead, the people of Diaspar and Lys are the descendants of those humans who deliberately turned away from the universe in rejection of history's greatest scientific project: the creation of a disembodied intellect. The first attempt had created a powerful but insane being, the Mad Mind. The Mad Mind had devastated the galaxy and its civilizations before being imprisoned in a "strange artificial star" called the Black Sun.

Vanamonde is the second, successful experiment of the ancient empire: a being of pure intellect, immensely old, immensely powerful, able to move instantly to any point in space—but entirely childlike and unsophisticated. Vanamonde's ultimate destiny, Hilvar realizes, is to battle the Mad Mind, when it escapes its prison at the end of Time.

After this, most of the Galactic Empire had left our galaxy, leaving only a scattered few. This departure from the galaxy, leaving it to Vanamonde, was because contact had been made with something "very strange and very great", intelligent species who had evolved strictly on the physical plane, which called them urgently to the other side of the universe.

Alvin's discoveries reunite Diaspar with Lys. He then sends the ship, under the command of the robot, to search for the long-lost people of the Empire. He does not wish to search himself—even if there are human remnants in the Galaxy, they are probably decadent—and he has work to do on Earth. Even the environment, he hopes, can be revived.

Differences with Against the Fall of Night[edit]

Clarke had assumed that the new version would simply supplant the earlier, but in fact a large number of readers preferred the earlier novel, and thus, rather unusually, both versions of the novel are in circulation with approximately equal popularity.

Against the Fall of Night opens with a fragment, apparently originally written in isolation in 1935, in which all Diaspar has fallen silent and Alvin is called out by his father to see something in the sky. Alvin's father says he has only ever seen one other. It is a cloud. This scene dramatises the "desert at the end of time" setting, but is not quite consistent with the detail that we are later told that Rorden had never seen the stars until Alvin shows him the outside.

In Against the Fall of Night, Alvin is the only child to be born in Diaspar for seven thousand years, and the people of Diaspar are described as immortal, but their lives appear to be simply extremely extended—the point is not very clear. In The City and the Stars the people of Diaspar live an endless sequence of limited lives, being reissued bodies from the Hall of Creation and between lives spending long ages frozen in the Memory Banks. In both, Lys's rejection of "the false dream" of immortality is key to its break with Diaspar. In The City and the Stars Alvin is a "Unique", a person who, has apparently never lived before. Only a handful of previous cases are known.

In Against the Fall of Night Alvin is assisted in his search to leave Diaspar by Rorden, the Keeper of the Records. In The City and the Stars Rorden is replaced by Khedron the Jester, whose duty it is in Diaspar to introduce calculated amounts of disorder from time to time and consequently has access to unusual places. But Alvin's success is really made possible by the tacit consent of the Central Computer. This had no real equivalent in Against the Fall of Night, showing the new possibilities created by computers in the post-war years. In the earlier novel, there are master robots, but they are multiple and do not seem to have the active supervisory role of the Central Computer. The Central Computer is not a single machine but the primary sentient Artificial Intelligence that oversees all the computing power in Diaspar. The Central Computer in Against the Fall of Night is merely a functioning computer demonstrating no self-awareness whatsoever. In The City and the Stars it talks and it has a definite personality.

There are a few differences in the plot concerning the robot. In the earlier novel, the Master's follower was human, and he had three robots, of which one was lent to Alvin, whereas in the later novel the follower is an extraterrestrial who has only the one robot. As was noted above, in The City and the Stars the block in the robot is overcome by an illusion of the apocalypse. In Against the Fall of Night a duplicate of the robot is created which is identical except for the block.

In The City and the Stars, there is somewhat more circumstantial detail about the life of Diaspar. For example, there are "sagas", total-immersion virtual reality entertainments where you apparently lose your outside knowledge. Alvin has a female lover, Alystra, whom he abandons (sex and even a degree of romantic love continue in Diaspar although unconnected with reproduction or family life). When citizens re-emerge from the Hall of Creation they are assigned "parents" who look after their social education, and a tutor. Though new citizens emerge as physically formed adults they do not remember their past lives until about the age of twenty, and apparently it is not mentioned to them until they have a sort of "facts of life" talk. At any rate it was not mentioned to Alvin. Little of this appears in Against the Fall of Night.

In Against the Fall of Night, Alvin is apparently a literal child, the first for 7,000 years. There is no explanation of whether this interval is normal or whether children are expected at all.

In The City and the Stars, the city of Diaspar was apparently planned as a closed community, and its true past deliberately obliterated. The Uniques, it seems, were a device added by the original planners, who thought that a safety device should be left, to test periodically for what lay outside the city. This makes the role of Alvin somewhat less independent: whereas in Against the Fall of Night he was an adventurer, albeit "the first to be lucky", in The City and the Stars it seems at the end that he may have been a pawn. The escape route from Diaspar involves the "Tomb of Yarlan Zey" in both books; in The City and the Stars Yarlan Zey was apparently a leading figure in the planners of Diaspar, but he might have been one of those who secretly planted the Uniques.

At the end, when leaders from Diaspar travel to Lys, in Against the Fall of Night they are apparently able simply to master their fears, whereas in The City and the Stars powerful psychology is necessary, and Alvin's tutor Jeserac experiences a "saga" in which Yarlan Zey explains how Diaspar was founded and releases him from his fears. In Diaspar many flee back into the Central Computer (including Khendron the Jester), until the Computer stops accepting people and no more can enter; only then do residents start to fully grapple with their new condition. Sagas are further used to help, and the central park of city, its design also held in memory banks, is reverted to its earliest design where outside travel was possible.

There is a slight difference in the way the two books treat the "Master" and the "Great Ones". In Against the Fall of Night, it is eventually revealed that the Great Ones were the people of the Empire, who had left the Galaxy. The Master is presented as a wise man, a philosopher, whose teaching was misunderstood and made a religion by superstitious followers. In The City and the Stars, however, he is a religious leader who uses trickery to advance his goals. The block on the robot was imposed in order to keep his secrets safe (although he did teach much that was wise and noble). In the later novel, the "Great Ones" are not identified at the end of the novel like they were in the earlier version, leaving open the interpretation that the "Great Ones" are no more than a religious superstition with no basis in reality.


  • Alvin is the first person in ten million years to be born in Diaspar. He also lacks the natural instincts of other Diaspar citizens to remain within the city; in fact, he has something of the opposite, a desire to leave the city.
  • Hilvar is the son of the leader of Airlee, a sub-community within Lys. When Alvin comes to Airlee, Hilvar is appointed to show Alvin around Lys, and eventually becomes his closest friend.
  • Jeserac is Alvin's tutor, and understands him more than anybody else in Diaspar. When Diaspar makes contact with Lys, Jeserac is one of the first people from Diaspar to leave the city for the first time in millions of years.
  • Khedron is the Jester, a force for planned disruption of the city's comfort, thus preventing stagnation. Khedron helps Alvin at first but flees to the future when real disruption occurs.

Print history[edit]

See also[edit]


2. In the 2013 film "Jimi: All Is By My Side", Jimi Hendrix (played by Andre Benjamin of Outkast) is seen in 1966 reading and talking about The City and the Stars in a bookstore. The implication --especial with hus mention if a "star child"-- is that the book influenced some of the lyrics of his forthcoming first record.

External links[edit]