BOOK REVIEW – JAMES BLISH – A LIFE FOR THE STARS 1970 SF MASTERWORKS #3 ORION BOOKS
The second in the amazing Cities in Flight series, following on from They Shall Have Stars.
Economic hardship and the depletion of the Earth’s precious resources have driven to great cities to take to the stars in search of work. The Spindizzy anti-gravity technology and longevity drugs developed in Book One have made this possible. As the Pennsylvanian town of Scranton is due to take of, a youngster called Chris goes along to watch it go, only to find himself press-ganged into going on board, as it lifts off.
Narrowly avoiding being sent to work in the slag pits, he uses his rudimentary knowledge of astronomy to gain the right to an education, and along with a young friend, he finds a cubbyhole hiding place to take shelter whenever the authorities come looking for him. Only one man sees to have Chris’s welfare at heart, and even he cannot protect Chris when the city sells him off to bigger flying city of New York in exchange for more mining equipment.
New York is a more relaxed city and Chris gets a proper education, through benevolent but strict and headache inducing, near sentient teaching machines, that serve as the city fathers, a luxury unheard of on Scranton.
Space is not easy to conquer, as the city men know. Many cities have starved and a few have made planet fall on inhabited worlds and caused galactic wars that have lasted generations, so a policing system means that there are strict rules about the kind of contracts a city must negotiate when it trades or seeks resources. Some cities still break the rules, going rogue (as tramp planets) and pirate away the resource so their neighbours. Desperate work forces often revolt and overthrow their masters. One such city is Scranton, which pushes itself to the brink of revolution. New York has decided to solve the crisis itself rather tan call in the police, which could prove costly and time consuming, so Chris, as a knowledgeable former citizen, makes us of his position to help save his friends in the city that stole him in the first place. His reward will be a major promotion ready for book three (Spaceman Come Home).
Powerful and unique story telling, making our home cities into the space vehicles and yet retaining the drudgery of every day class struggle and the need for resources.
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