CITY AND THE STARS (was: Re: Movie: Childhood's End)

From: Damien Broderick (
Date: Thu Feb 28 2002 - 18:45:52 MST

At 06:59 PM 2/28/02 -0000, Steve Davies wrote:

>> even as a kid I wondered why the author went
>> on and on about how life was so terrible in the City
>>("Despair" I think was
>> the name of the city or close to it). [...]
>> I didn't like the "happy" ending when
>> people started to die again either.
>> John K Clark

>I must say that's not how I remember it. As I recall life in Diaspar was
>presented as being very good, enormously pleasurable in many ways, but
>futile. The alternative society (Lys) was seen as strong where Diaspar was
>weak but having its own flaws. Apparently Clark was moved to write/rewrite
>the book as a comment on the cultural/psychological split between city and
>country. Steve Davies

Yes. The pun `Diaspar' = `despair' is used by Gregory Benford in his awful
clunking sequel to AGAINST THE FALL OF NIGHT, where he also speculates that
`Lys' = `lies'. This is nonsense. Diaspar, as Steve notes, is an exultant
technophilic vision of futurity (as seen through 1930s' eyes and updated to
the 1950s), although ACC did the usual good sf job of probing at the weak
points of utopia: in this case, a society where everyone was born adult,
lived 1000 years and then returned to substrate memory until the next
random incarnation is indeed likely to be judged futile from anyone outside
the equilibrium. He provided a sort of psychosocial explanation--an
ideology and faked histiry--for this stasis, as well as a sophisticated
permacultural and quasi-parapsychological alternative in Lys. The outcome
of Alvin's quest to breach the walls of Diaspar is not the return of
mortality, necessarily, so much as the recovery of, well, extropy: an
awareness of the immensity of the cosmos, of the true history of humankind
and the other sophonts of the galaxy, of the enormous Gnostic future still
to be played out.

Several very good essays on this very book are contained in my recent fat
anthology of fiction and essays about the deep future, EARTH IS BUT A STAR
(Perth, Australia: University of Western Australia Press), especially Dr
Russell Blackford's piece. Another version of Russell's essay appeared even
more recently in the excellent monthly zine THE NEW YORK REVIEW OF SCIENCE
FICTION, `Technological Meliorism and the Posthuman Future: Arthur C.
Clarke and the Ultimate Future of Intelligence', NYRSF Nov 2001, No. 159.

BTW, I once asked Arthur by email how he pronounced Diaspar: was it
DIRE-spar or Dye-ASS-puh. He said: Yes. :)

Damien Broderick
[you can find a comment in his GREETINGS, CARBON-BASED BIPEDS about how
Greg beat me for the rights to do the sequel... damn it]

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