"Cities in Flight" by James Blish

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Posted by Orpheo (12th Oct 2001, 12:08)

Originally published in Wyrmtongue October 2001.

James Blish cut his literary teeth writing star trek spin-off novels, which seemed a strange career start, since he went on to become on of the leading writers of serious "SF" of his time. Now he has fallen somewhat into obscurity in the shadow of the giants of early science fiction such as Pohl and Asimov, and in a sense you can see why, he is very much "Cannonball" Adderley to Asimov's Charlie Parker, but then it is very hard to compete with a natural talent. Further more it is wrong to say that Blish is bad, far from it. In my opinion he is one of the best writers to have graced the science fiction world, it is just that he falls marginally short of the immortals of the genre, which is a shame because he is definitely well worth a look.

Blish's epic saga, Cities in flight, was originally published in four volumes (They shall have stars; A life for the stars; Earthman, come home and The triumph of time.) and charts the fate of a post cold war world from the early 21st century earth right up to the end of the universe. With the advent of two scientific breakthroughs (antigravity and clinical immortality) the cities gain the technology required to leave Earth roam the stars as migratory workers for the multitude of off world colonies that have been set up. The bulk of the novel follows the adventures of Amalfi, the wily mayor of New York and all the cunning twists and turns he makes to outwit the Earth police and New York's many other enemies.

To put it succinctly, it is a good read; if you can stomach the slightly dodgey physics (dare I say "Trekkie" physics?) of which the first book has a lot. And don't expect great characterisation either, sometimes it seems as if the emotion and idiosyncrasies were tacked on as an after thought to avoid two-dimensional characters. The result is a two-dimensional character with ribbons on rather than proper people in print. A bit of patience is required as well as the action does not really kick of in earnest until the second book. Mind you, having said that I think my favourite part of the tetralogy is the first book. Sadly a very promising first two books are let down when the saga violently derails about half way through book three (which was written first) when Almalfi's cunning logic gives way to impossible leaps and the whole plot unravels like a ball of sting. However it all comes back together in the last book, and although some of you out there will not like the slightly unusual ending, you have to give it points for both originality and vision. All in all I enjoyed the book immensely. It is an original look at star travel and a culture of the distant future so unlike our own and on a scale most other authors can only dream about.

Cities in Flight is available on the Masterworks series and can be found in the ICSF library.

About item:

- Cities In Flight: A Life For The Stars
- Cities In Flight: Cities In Flight
- Cities In Flight: Earthman Come Home
- Cities In Flight: They Shall Have Stars

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About author:

- Blish, James

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