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JACK Of EAGLES. by James Blish

JACK Of EAGLES. (original 1952; edition 1973)

by James Blish (Author)

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276559,685 (3.39)6
Authors:James Blish (Author)
Info:Faber & Faber (1973), Edition: 1st UK edition., 256 pages
Collections:Your library

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Jack of eagles by James Blish (1952)



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Canny Caidin finds he has psychic ability and eosure to a group of power-wielding adepts. The approach is a logical, science fiction approach by James Blish which I enjoyed as a kid and have been wanting to reread for years. Excellent story from 1950. ( )
  NickHowes | Oct 26, 2017 |
My reactions to reading this novel in 2002.

I looked at this book several times in my high school library, but I never read it then. First, the cover art and jacket blurb made it sound rather boring, and, second, I was even less of a fan of psychic powers stories then. I read it now because it was mentioned by Damon Knight as bearing the influence of Charles Fort.

Indeed, Charles Fort and his Wild Talents are mentioned explicitly in the novel as is the Fortean Society. However, it’s unclear if Fort is brought in to dress out an idea Blish already had or if Fort inspired him. Protagonist Danny Caiden’s psychic powers are referred to as “wild talents”, and, of Fort, it is said, “He could see why writers loved the man. He wrote in a continuous and highly poetic display of verbal fireworks, superbly controlled, intricately balanced, witty and evocative at once,” so Blish seems to have admired Fort, and it’s quite possible was inspired by him.

As Damon Knight notes in his Charles Fort: Prophet of the Unexplained, the head of the Fortean society in the novel, Cartier Taylor, is a thinly disguised version of Tiffany Thayer. Both are given to iconoclastically encouraging cranks (including a mention of Dianetics) and attacking political and religious institutions. Taylor, however, actually has a small but significant role in the novel when, at novel’s end, he aids Caiden.

What struck me most about the novel was that it seemed to be an attack on the notion of van Vogtian supermen and the sort of plots van Vogt would often feature. First, Carter, like all van Vogtian supermen, discovers a hidden power and quickly discovers secret organizations dedicating to using, suborning, developing, or extinguishing that power. However, there the similarity ends. The novel explicitly rejects the idea of psychic powers being the product of genetic superiority or mutation. The Psychic Research Society dogmatically believes that not all of mankind is genetically suitable to develop psychic powers. Caiden regards this as akin to the master-race philosophy of Hitler, and the psi-men who aid him tell him that all people can develop their psychic talents. Second, Blish goes out of his way to build an elaborate scaffold of science and analogy to suspend disbelief as Caiden develops extreme powers of telekinesis, precognition, clairvoyance, levitation, teleportation, and pyrokinesis. He mentions equations of magnetic moment and gravitation which seem plausible, mentions Dirac’s work and Planck’s constant (redefining the constant helps Caiden jump across alternate timelines”) and Heisenberg and quantum mechanics.

The beginnings of Blish’s scaffold sound plausible as do Dr. Todd’s and the psi-men’s technological manipulation of psi-powers via electronics. Then the theories of J.W. Dunne and his An Experiment with Time are mentioned. Blish does a skillful job of comparing Dunne’s notion of alternate realities to a series of overlapping films. Each time sequence we inhabit is a part of a series of total probabilities, each slightly different than the corresponding frame in the adjacent film. Viewing all the frames at once gives us a feeling of reality but each individual film is real and unreal. Furthermore, the films can get out of sequence just like a hand sliding the top film over the others. It’s unclear to me after reading this book and Piper’s Paratime whether Dunne himself came up with the notion that Piper used (and its not clear if Blish intends the same here) about a part of the unconscious viewing an entire life at once and free will altering a life at decision points which create alternate lives. I find it curious that Blish didn’t decide (perhaps he didn’t think his readers sophisticated enough but then why mention equations and Heisenberg and quantum mechanics) to use the analogy of probability states and collapses of wave function since he mentions clouds of probability. He carefully slips into more implausible territory with Caiden darting between sequences by starting to use the analogies of human behavior (both individually and en masse) being linked with quantum probability states. (He also throws in a neat, brief glimpse of a noble machine civilization as one of the six alternaties Caiden visits.) He also justifies going between sequences by redefining Planck’s constant, but he never exactly explains (as he does with earlier instances of telekinesis) how this might be done psychically. Still, if you were reading the book fast and not paying attention (and it’s entirely possible I’ve misinterpreted or missed some of Blish’s scientific rationale) you wouldn’t notice this at the story’s climax.

I also liked what this novel casually showed about the world of the 1950s. Caiden’s combat experience is casually mentioned. There is a great concern with insider trading and illegal gambling. Dianetics is mentioned as is the fad for Eastern mysticism. I thought the book’s only flaw was the relationship between Marla and Caiden. Caiden’s sexual attraction for her was understandable since he likes the Eastern European type. But the origin of his love and affection, and vice versa, was not at all clear though I liked the last bit where he unconsciously walked through a wall. Blish ends his novel on the optimistic note that humanity can learn to live profitably after developing its innate psychic powers just as Marla and Caiden can learn to live together while being intimately aware of each others thoughts and memories. (This lack of privacy is, of course, a central concern in telepathic stories with authors coming down on both sides of the question as to whether telepathy is a blessing or a curse.)
( )
  RandyStafford | Feb 2, 2014 |
"Oh, look, SFGateway is republishing books I haven't read in years!" It has some issues seen through 21st century eyes, but is still a worthwhile exploration of psi powers. ( )
  JulesJones | Dec 31, 2013 |
Danny Caiden is a newspaper writer who discovers one day that he has psychic powers. These powers emerge painfully and chaotically, getting him in trouble with local mobsters, earning him an accusation of insider trading, and attracting the attention of a particularly attractive girl.

At first he is a victim of the conflict that his newly-emerged powers create, but as the story progresses he learns to understand and then control them, by use of engineering to enhance these powers. As his understanding increases, eventually he is able to turn the tables on his oppressors, and to take control of his own destiny ... and that of people around him.

This book is written in a sort of 1950s noir style, which suits its action pace. As with many James Blish novels, there is some exploration of physical laws here, but I did not find them offputting, even given the age of the book. But the assumption is very much that if psi powers exist, that they should be susceptible to scientific investigation and explanation.

All in all, a good book. ( )
  henryhallan | Jul 4, 2012 |
My edition of James Blish's Jack of Eagles is a 1977 Arrow paperback with cover art by Chris Foss. I suspect it was bought for me some time around then. So I must have been twelve or thirteen when I first read it. I actually have a number of Blish novels from that period - all with Foss cover art - as he was one of my favourite sf authors at the time. Which made rereading Jack of Eagles an interesting exercise.

The novel is about Danny Caiden, a young man who develops psychic powers - precognition, telepathy, teleportation, telekinesis, etc. - and subsequently becomes embroiled in a secret war between two groups of powerful psychics, one of which is bent on taking over the world. With the help of a parapsychology professor at a local university, Caiden learns how to control his new-found powers... but it is only when he comes into conflict with the Brotherhood In Psi that he discovers he is the most powerful psi ever.

For the rest of the review see http://justhastobeplausible.blogspot.com/2009/07/reading-challenge-7-jack-of-eag... ( )
  iansales | Oct 13, 2009 |
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» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
James Blishprimary authorall editionscalculated
Blish, JamesAuthormain authorall editionsconfirmed
Emshwiller, EdCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Foss, ChrisCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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