Review: The City and the Stars
This book was written originally in 1948 and rewritten in 1956, and I describe it as “a probable roadmap of humanity”.
Let’s start with some interesting facts, somehow I ended up liking gay authors; they are just amazing, and Artur C. Clarke is definitely both. He lived most of his life in Sri Lanka, and the influence of Buddhism are evident. He describes a world of 7 suns and did a bit of research and found out this concept is borrowed from Buddhism.
In his “Sermon of the Seven Suns” in the Pali Canon, the Buddha describes the ultimate fate of the world in an apocalypse that will be characterized by the consequent appearance of seven suns in the sky, each causing progressive ruin till the Earth is destroyed:
All things are impermanent, all aspects of existence are unstable and non-eternal. Beings will become so weary and disgusted with the constituent things that they will seek emancipation from them more quickly. There will come a season, O monks when, after hundreds of thousands of years, rains will cease. All seedlings, all vegetation, all plants, grasses and trees will dry up and cease to be…There comes another season after a great lapse of time when a second sun will appear. Now all brooks and ponds will dry up, vanish, cease to be.
— Aňguttara-Nikăya, VII, 6.2 Pali Canon
So his most famous work is, in fact, a popularized Buddism sermon.
Ok, is allowed to copy with pride, everybody does that.
There is nothing unique in this word but modified states of previous work.
The part that got me interested was around the technology that he embeds into this story and there he is rather ultra creative and a pioneer. So let’s list them:
1) Black holes are described as black suns. Maybe he was not the first but was one of the first to describe the gravitational powers, in literature, of a black hole thus popularizing the term to the masses.
2) Death Stars as seen in Star Wars are described in this book, in this case, they were build to get rid of the aging Moon. Star Wars just copied with pride this object later on.
3) He described the Ulam spiral or prime spiral; that is a simple method of visualizing the prime numbers that reveal the apparent tendency of certain quadratic polynomials to generate unusually large amounts of primes. Ok maybe the Greeks knew about it before anybody else, but someone else put his name on it.
“The sheer complexity of human value systems makes it tough to make AI’s motivations human-friendly. Unless moral philosophy provides us with a flawless ethical theory, an AI’s utility function could allow for many potentially harmful scenarios that conform with a given ethical framework but not “common sense”.
5) He envisioned the perfect machine with this statement “No machine may contain any moving parts”. Why is this significant? Because it does not have friction, machines break down because of resistance of the components, the so-called tear and wear.
6) He introduced ethical hacking, on how you can bypass a password-protected area by pretending that the state of the machine didn’t change. That was my favorite scene and was brilliantly written. He used it again as a cure of fears, to hack our brains so we can unlock potential by using neuron sensors inside a Virtual reality helmet. This is something that we see coming up nowadays and has enormous market potential. Remember this book was written three years after the end of word war 2.
The road ahead
As for the future of humanity, will not say much because the story must be read and each one of us can make his conclusions. I’m for curiosity and exploration but if we need to win death to rediscover our immortal human nature then will just confirm that life and history go into circles. And as Archimedes once said, I will repeat the same:
μὴ μου τοὺς κύκλους τάραττε!” (Mē mou tous kuklous taratte!).