Book Reviews

Blog Tour: The City Among the Stars by Francis Carsac

thumbnail_City Among Stars Cover

Released: May 2020 (originally published in French in 1962)
Publisher: Flame Tree Press
Pages: 288
Rating: 4/5

The first English translation of the celebrated Golden Age Science Fiction Classic.


From the publisher:

Tankar Holroy, Lieutenant in the Stellar Guard of earth’s Empire, floats in space after his spaceship is sabotaged. Rescued by an enormous unknown ship, he awakes to discover himself saved by the People of the Stars who are born and live in space with minimal contact with planets and their occupants whom they call, with contempt, planetaries.

The chilly welcome he receives from the ship’s leader, the Teknor, is followed by overt hostility from the other inhabitants of the Tilsin. Only a woman named Orena reaches out to him.

Tankar soon realizes that he was rescued for his knowledge of tracers, the technology that allows Empire ships to track others through hyperspace, a technology the People of the Stars lack. Out of spite, he refuses to deliver the one piece of knowledge that can protect the people who saved but now spurn him – and the consequences will be catastrophic.

“This stunning classic stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Arthur C. Clark, Asimov, and Heinlein. No devotee of great SF should miss The City of the Stars.”New York Times and USA Today bestselling authors W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O’Neal Gear


When it comes to reading classic science fiction, it’s best to remember that these aren’t contemporary books. Some of the “future” tech will be outdated as will views about women and minorities. Remembering this is key, otherwise you’ll lose your mind from the misogyny alone.

The sexism wasn’t as bad in City Among the Stars as I’ve encountered in other books published around the same time period, though. Most of the sexism that was there was down to the male-dominated society our main character Tankar came from, where women were essentially breeding stock. Aboard the starships women seemed to be more or less on equal footing, working side by side with men. Also, except for some references to film reels, most of the technology mentioned was up to modern standards.

It’s a relatively short novel and I read it in two sittings partially because of its length, but also because I was just so fascinated by it. The amount of story that was packed within its few pages was seriously impressive. There is a lot of really good space opera crammed in there! I was hooked from the literally explosive start, eager to learn more about this mysterious city in the stars filled with people so different from Tankar- and from myself.

Why it took so long for this to be translated into English is beyond me because it stands up against other novels from that period of science fiction. Heck, it would mostly stand up now. At times the narrative and dialogue did seem a little stilted, but I’m sure that’s a result of the translation. It’s something I’ve noticed in most translated novels, but to be honest it didn’t detract from the story at all.

What was a teensy bit distracting was the insanely short fuses everyone except the Pilgrims seemed to have. Tankar’s was by far the worst, his stubbornness eventually reaching epic and catastrophic proportions. At first it was understandable because upon being brought aboard as a refugee, he faced incredible prejudice from the People of the Stars. It was easily an allegory for what it is like today for refugees. When you’ve been ripped from the only home and culture you’ve ever known, it’s hard to immediately assimilate, especially when the people around you expect you to already be assimilated.

It was a bit like the clash of cultures that can be seen in a 1956 book by Arthur C. Clarke. Boasting a similar title, The City and the Stars is about a post-apocalyptic Earth where the only people left are highly advanced humans living in an underground Utopia (or so they thought).

Thousands of years have gone by and these humans are almost unrecognizable as such and are content with staying within their secluded oasis. That’s all thrown to the wind when one of them decides he has to see what’s left of Earth and he escapes. Out in the wastelands of the planet, he encounters humans that are more like what they are today. Both groups scoff at each other to begin with, shocked by how backward the other seems.

Much like in Clarke’s book, the people aboard the Tilsin treated Tankar like an idiotic pariah. So honestly, his frustration and anger were definitely initially justified. Yet right up until the end, long after he had been accepted by most if not all of the People of the Stars, he still held on to that bitterness. Like dude… let it go. They learned their lesson and are doing the best they can to be more open-minded. When it comes to prejudice, that’s about the best you can hope for.

In the end, though, I decided to not nitpick at most of the little things that might have bothered me in this book otherwise. The characters came from cultures and populations that are completely alien from mine and are within a story that was written over half a century ago and in another language. I’m sure 60 years from now people will be looking back at our literature and think we’re a little backward, too.


The world-building and premise in The City Among the Stars were captivating and I’d love to read more about it all if there is anything out there, especially if it’s about the almost monastic Pilgrims who live in their own city within the city. It’d be interesting to learn more about the various alien cultures they had encountered throughout the galaxy, too.

I’ve seen some reviews mention irritation at how all the women he meets keep instantly falling in love with him. As silly as it seemed, one of the characters made an offhand remark about it that made a lot of sense. It was during a heated exchange, but the gist of it was the only reason a certain woman was in love with Tankar was because he was a novelty.

In a closed society like the one the People of the Stars live in, you see the same people day in and day out unless you change starships. I imagine it gets old fast so I don’t blame people for being intensely attracted to somone new and other. I probably would be, too.

Fans of retro science fiction should enjoy this book as much as I did and as long as expectations are set, readers of modern sci-fi, military sci-fi, and space operas should have a blast, too. James S.A. Corey this is not, but it’s still an absolutely exciting ride through the stars.

About the author:
Francis Carsac

Francis Carsac, a pseudonym for the world-renowned French scientist, geologist, and archaeologist Francois Bordes, wrote and published six novels during the golden age of science fiction.

Never before published in English, these novels resonate with timely issues ranging from climate control to racism and greed and tell the stories of characters whose challenges and triumphs clearly relate to many of the problems we encounter today. He has been translated and published into Russian, Romanian, Bulgarian, Lithuanian, Latvian, Hungarian, Estonian amongst others.

About the publisher:

FLAME TREE PRESS is the new fiction imprint of Flame Tree Publishing. Launched in 2018 the list brings together brilliant new authors and the more established; the award winners, and exciting, original voices.

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