The City and the Stars / The Sands of Mars

The City and the Stars

and The Sands of Mars

Arthur C. Clarke


The City and the Stars
, copyright © 1953, 1956 by Arthur C. Clarke Introduction copyright © 2001 by Arthur C. Clarke

The Sands of Mars
, copyright © 1952, 1967 by Arthur C. Clarke Introduction copyright © 2001 by Arthur C. Clarke

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To the memory of Val Cleaver

And Johnnie Maxwell,

Who listened patiently through

Many versions of this tale



t is a matter of great satisfaction to me that
The City and the Stars
has been continuously in print ever since its first publication in 1956. Its precursor,
Against the Fall of Night,
is also still in print. Some years ago, this fact caused much confusion to a psychiatrist friend of mine.

She was examining a patient who also happened to be one of my readers. (This was not, she assured me, part of his problem.) They started discussing the plotline of the last novel they’d read and quickly found themselves in complete disagreement over details. In fact, the patient gave such a lucid and coherent account of the story
remembered that the doctor— who was convinced that everything happened quite differently— began to wonder which of them was in need of treatment.

It turned out, of course, that the psychiatrist had read
The City and the Stars,
the patient
Against the Fall of Night
— and neither knew that the other novel existed. As such a situation could lead to tragic results, I have now been careful to insert cross-references in both books.

Though this story is set more than a billion years in the future, computer technology has already almost caught up with me. Anyone who has played interactive video games will feel right at home in “The Cave of the White Worms.” Not for the first time, I feel that I am involved in a self-fulfilling prophecy.

But there is another “prophecy,” on the very last page of the story, whose truth or falsehood neither I nor any other man will ever know:

One day the energies of the Black Sun would fail and it would release its prisoner. And then, at the end of the Universe, as Time itself was faltering to a stop, Vanamonde and the Mad Mind must meet each other among the corpses of the stars.

I can still remember— half a lifetime later!— feeling that something outside of me was dictating those words, and even now they raise the hairs on the back of my neck.

For I appear to have anticipated, by about twenty years, one of the most unexpected results of modern cosmology. My “Black Sun” is obviously a Black Hole (the term did not come into use until the 1960s), and in 1974 Stephen Hawking made the stunning discovery that Black Holes are not permanent but can “die,” just as I suggested. (To be technical, they “evaporate” by quantum tunneling.) And then they can become informational white noise sources, shooting out (if you wait long enough) anything you care to specify. Including Mad Minds….

I cannot help wondering if I have also anticipated— and even explained— another creature in the cosmic zoo. The Universe of today’s astronomers is a far more violent and exotic place than it was believed to be only a generation ago. Among its most surprising features are tightly focused beams of energy, jetting from the hearts of galaxies and extending out across thousands of light years.

“Star Wars”? Let us hope not. See Chapter 24 for an alternative.

For many years, and for many reasons,
The City and the Stars
was my best-loved book; now it has a new lease on life, both in text, and in music. To my delight and surprise, it is the basis of an oratorio by the British composer David Bedford, which should have had its premiere in London’s Royal Festival Hall by the time this edition is published.

Colombo, Sri Lanka

September 2000


or the benefit of those who have read my first novel,
Against the Fall of Night,
and will recognize some of the material in the present work, a few words of explanation are in order.

Against the Fall of Night
was begun in 1937 and, after four or five drafts, was completed in 1946, though for various reasons beyond the author’s control book publication was delayed until some years later. Although this work was well received, it had most of the defects of a first novel, and my initial dissatisfaction with it increased steadily over the years. Moreover, the progress of science during the two decades since the story was first conceived made many of the original ideas naïve, and opened up vistas and possibilities quite unimagined when the book was originally planned. In particular, certain developments in information theory suggested revolutions in the human way of life even more profound than those which atomic energy is already introducing, and I wished to incorporate these into the book I had attempted, but so far failed, to write.

A sea voyage from England to Australia gave an opportunity of getting to grips with the uncompleted job, which was finished just before I set out to the Great Barrier Reef. The knowledge that I was to spend some months diving among sharks of doubtful docility was an additional spur to action. It may or may not be true, as Doctor Johnson stated, that nothing settles a man’s mind so much as the knowledge that he will be hanged in the morning, but for my part I can testify that the thought of not returning from the Reef was the main reason why the book was completed at that particular time, and the ghost that had haunted me for almost twenty years was finally exorcised.

About a quarter of the present work appeared in
Against the Fall of Night
; it is my belief, however, that even those who read the earlier book will find that this is virtually a new novel. If not, at least I hope they will grant an author the right to have second thoughts. I promise them that this is my last word on the immortal city of Diaspar, in the long twilight of Earth.

Arthur C. Clarke

London, September, 1954
— S.S. Himalaya—

Sydney, March, 1955

ike a glowing jewel, the city lay upon the breast of the desert. Once it had known change and alteration, but now Time passed it by. Night and day fled across the desert’s face, but in the streets of Diaspar it was always afternoon, and darkness never came. The long winter nights might dust the desert with frost, as the last moisture left in the thin air of Earth congealed— but the city knew neither heat nor cold. It had no contact with the outer world; it was a universe itself.

Men had built cities before, but never a city such as this. Some had lasted for centuries, some for millenniums, before Time had swept away even their names. Diaspar alone had challenged Eternity, defending itself and all it sheltered against the slow attrition of the ages, the ravages of decay, and the corruption of rust.

Since the city was built, the oceans of Earth had passed away and the desert had encompassed all the globe. The last mountains had been ground to dust by the winds and the rain, and the world was too weary to bring forth more. The city did not care; Earth itself could crumble and Diaspar would still protect the children of its makers, bearing them and their treasures safely down the stream of time.

They had forgotten much, but they did not know it. They were as perfectly fitted to their environment as it was to them— for both had been designed together. What was beyond the walls of the city was no concern of theirs; it was something that had been shut out of their minds. Diaspar was all that existed, all that they needed, all that they could imagine. It mattered nothing to them that Man had once possessed the stars.

Yet sometimes the ancient myths rose up to haunt them, and they stirred uneasily as they remembered the legends of the Empire, when Diaspar was young and drew its lifeblood from the commerce of many suns. They did not wish to bring back the old days, for they were content in their eternal autumn. The glories of the Empire belonged to the past, and could remain there— for they remembered how the Empire had met its end, and at the thought of the Invaders the chill of space itself came seeping into their bones.

Then they would turn once more to the life and warmth of the city, to the long golden age whose beginning was already lost and whose end was yet more distant. Other men had dreamed of such an age, but they alone had achieved it.

They had lived in the same city, had walked the same miraculously unchanging streets, while more than a billion years had worn away.



t had taken them many hours to fight their way out of the Cave of the White Worms. Even now, they could not be sure that some of the pallid monsters were not pursuing them— and the power of their weapons was almost exhausted. Ahead, the floating arrow of light that had been their mysterious guide through the labyrinths of the Crystal Mountain still beckoned them on. They had no choice but to follow it, though as it had done so many times before it might lead them into yet more frightful dangers.

Alvin glanced back to see if all his companions were still with him. Alystra was close behind, carrying the sphere of cold but ever-burning light that had revealed such horrors and such beauty since their adventure had begun. The pale white radiance flooded the narrow corridor and splashed from the glittering walls; while its power lasted, they could see where they were going and could detect the presence of any visible dangers. But the greatest dangers in these caves, Alvin knew too well, were not the visible ones at all.

Behind Alystra, struggling with the weight of their projectors, came Narillian and Floranus. Alvin wondered briefly why those projectors were so heavy, since it would have been such a simple matter to provide them with gravity neutralizers. He was always thinking of points like this, even in the midst of the most desperate adventures. When such thoughts crossed his mind, it seemed as if the structure of reality trembled for an instant, and that behind the world of the senses he caught a glimpse of another and totally different universe….

The corridor ended in a blank wall. Had the arrow betrayed them again? No— even as they approached, the rock began to crumble into dust. Through the wall pierced a spinning metal spear, which broadened rapidly into a giant screw. Alvin and his friends moved back, waiting for the machine to force its way into the cave. With a deafening screech of metal upon rock— which surely must echo through all the recesses of the Mountain, and waken all its nightmare brood!— the subterrene smashed through the wall and came to rest beside them. A massive door opened, and Callistron appeared, shouting to them to hurry. (“Why Callistron?” wondered Alvin. “What’s
doing here?”) A moment later they were in safety, and the machine lurched forward as it began its journey through the depths of the earth.

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