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Year 2018! by James Blish
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311735,843 (3.33)7
Title:Year 2018!
Authors:James Blish
Info:Avon Books (1957), Edition: T193, Paperback
Collections:Your library
Tags:Science fiction

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They Shall Have Stars by James Blish (Author) (1956)



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I recently got the urge to re-read James Blish's 'Cities in Flight', a sequence that I enjoyed greatly when I was first discovering science fiction in the 1970s and which I re-read fairly regularly up to my twenties. When I first came across the novels, I read them almost in reverse order; this time, I have started with the first novel in the sequence, 'They shall have stars'. (Note: the whole sequence has since been reissued bound together as one book; but I first read it as four separate novels, and my Arrow UK paperbacks, dating from the 1970s, are similarly separated; so it'll be four reviews in due course, and I shall bring all of them together on my separate reviews blog, 'Deep Waters Reading' [http://deepwatersreading.wordpress.com/].)

Anyway, I hope the rest of my re-read of 'Cities in Flight' comes up better than this. It wasn't just that the writing was so very 1950s; it wasn't just that the science - especially in light of what we now know about Jupiter - now comes up so very badly wrong. It wasn't even that the setting of the novel, which in 1954 was the impossibly distant year of 2018, had so very few matches with the reality of the early 21st century, either in technology, society or international politics (although interestingly, the two female characters in the novel are neither ciphers nor do they conform 100% to traditional male stereotypes of women) (more like about 45%, I'd reckon). It was the way in which so much of the novel - about 2/3rds - is characters sat in offices or restaurants doing the "Now tell me, Professor" thing. Most of the novel is just two big expository lumps. And whilst the science sounds plausible - Blish's day job was as a biologist for the Pfizer company, thinly disguised as 'Pfitzner' in the novel - it's only really good for what he knew. His planetary science was pretty shaky, even for the state of knowledge of the day. I can stand science fiction becoming out-of-date - after all, despite what a lot of people think, SF isn't prediction - but when the whole story hinges on a number of different scientific scenarios, all of which turned out to be wrong, it rather impacts the tale.

The political landscape of the book is interesting; the USA and the Soviet Union have become more like each other as the Cold War dragged on, to the extent that the USA is now an almost totalitarian state, in the interests of loyalty. Those with a bent for political commentary will smile a bit at this, because many believe that is rapidly coming true; but Blish's idea of how this might happen and what it could look like is pretty heavy-handed, and so really didn't work for me.

Having said that, the imagery of the Bridge on Jupiter is quite effective, even though even some of the characters recognise that it's one huge McGuffin; and one of the main character's surprise at encountering the first spindizzy-powered ship is effectively conveyed. But this only lasts for the duration of the (now short) voyage from Earth to Ganymede; then we're back to the talking heads. And the final message - abandon Earth to the Soviets and Take Freedom to the Stars - seems pretty clunky. I'd always thought Blish was more sophisticated than that.

And quite why Blish thought he needed to tell the story about how his future technology got invented in the first place is a bit beyond me. This novel, after all, was written second in the sequence, after the work that became (in its UK incarnation) 'Earthman, come home'. It's as if Frank Herbert had written a whole Dune novel about how someone first discovered the qualities of spice, and then told everyone exactly how they'd refined it, tested it in the laboratory, and then done clinical trials. All very interesting for biologists if it was a scientific paper, but it doesn't make for great reading. It's not even as if the story in the next novel, 'A Life for the Stars' then carries on from where this novel leaves off; there is, as far as I recollect, no narrative connection, even a slight one, between this and the next book in the sequence, not even a reference to the characters or events of the first book as history.

So, not a propitious start to my re-read. I'm hoping for better. ( )
1 vote RobertDay | Sep 8, 2015 |
They Shall Have Stars would certainly fall within the category of "hard" science fiction, coming with discussions about theories of gravity and magnetism, complete with mathematical formulae(!). The full complexity of the science went over my head, but I was able to grasp enough of it to be intrigued by the ideas.

The book begins with a couple of mysteries: a pharmaceutical company is consumed with some particularly hush-hush project, while on Jupiter a massive bridge is being built. What new drug is the company pursuing? And why build a bridge on uninhabitable Jupiter, of all places? And what links the two projects?

The novel is short, and these mysteries kept me turning the pages to figure it all out.

Along the way, the author raises other ideas, e.g. the future of Western culture when it is dominated by those obsessed with sniffing out unconventional thinkers on the one hand (a J. Edgar Hoover-type is a particular villain), and fanatical religionists on the other. (This book was originally written in 1957--what would the author think of things today?) Like much science fiction, characterizations were not very deep, but the content remained thoughtful throughout. ( )
  kvrfan | Apr 25, 2015 |
This book has sat on my shelf for about 20 years before I actually got around to reading it. I had known Blish from his adaptations of the original Star Trek shows into short story form that were published in the 70s. I was a fan of reading his Star Trek books in grade school since I was a fan of all things Trek but due to those books I never thought his original stories worthy of reading.

The "Cities in Flight" series of stories is a vision of the future in which gravity has been mastered and almost any object can be transported at speeds greater than light and whole cities are now migrating across the galaxy in search of work. Blish makes many predictions about the future and almost all never came true. Blish makes predictions about the end result of the cold war, future of medicine, physics, and society and is far from correct in almost every respect. The characters and feel of the novels also seem hopelessly trapped in the 70s. (Did Blish honestly think we would still be using slide rules 1000 years in the future?). The only thing that rescues the stories is the rather neat technology of the "spindizzy" and its implications. The storytelling is uneven in places and mundane side stories go on for far too long. The characters also seem 2 dimensional even though they are supposed to be hundreds of years old. I'm not disappointed I finally read the book but it could have remained on my shelf for another 20 years.
  joeteo1 | Mar 12, 2013 |
Reapproaching the Cities in Flight stories, after first reading them in the late 1960's, I wondered if my memory of them would stand the test of time. This first book in the series (chronologically, but it was the second to be written) was a disappointment. It felt like a book the author had to write to fulfil a contractual commitment. Whilst covering the origins of the anti-agathic drugs and 'spindizzy', albeit in very general terms, the plot line was very contrived. There were long dialogue passages used instead of story development, and some of the characters barely sketches. I was disappointed. ( )
  JenIanB | Jul 29, 2011 |
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» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Blish, JamesAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Curl, PeterCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Foss, ChrisCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Holland, BradCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Moser, LidaCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Powers, Richard M.Cover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Reß-Bohusch, BirgitTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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