Saturday, May 02, 2009

Cities in Flight

by James Blish

This sucker is actually four novels collected into a single volume. The collection starts with They Shall Have Stars. The year is 2013 and humanity is out among the solar system while, back on Earth, a quiet struggle is going on between the West and the Soviets. It's getting harder and harder to tell the difference between the two, however, as the Western governments seek to impose more and more control on their populace. Amidst this all is a scheme of Alaskan senator Bliss Wagoner, which is playing out in a lab on Earth and a gigantic construction project in the atmosphere of Jupiter. They Shall Have Stars was entertaining enough. The 1957 story seemed dated in many ways, but in others it seemed eerily prescient.

A Life for the Stars is the second tale in the collection, set centuries after the first. Humanity has discovered the gravitronpolarity generator, or "spindizzy" and over the years, first factories, then entire cities have used this gravity cancelling device to leave Earth and propel themselves through interstellar space. Chris deFord gets press ganged onto the departing city of Scranton and begins a new life among the stars.

Story #3, Earthman Come Home, is the first (and best) of the tales to have been written. It's the saga of the city of New York, an "okie" city travelling the stars and looking for work. Mayor John Amalfi and City Manager Mark Hazelton guide the city through a series of adventures culminating in a... well, that would be telling, wouldn't it?

The Triumph of Time closes out the volume. Mayor Amalfi comes out of retirement to face a final challenge, one that will have significance for the entire universe. It was the least satisfying of the four stories. Overall, the book is good, classic science fiction. The concept of space faring cities is intriguing, though it failed to truly grab hold of my imagination. But it was enough to carry me through dozens of lunch breaks, so I can't really complain.

It's good waiting room material, if you have a looooong wait.
LibraryThing link


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