BOOK REVIEW – JAMES BLISH – CITIES IN FLIGHT - THEY SHALL HAVE STARS. 1956 Victor Gollancz – Science Fiction Masterworks #3.

 

A quiet opening volume in the epic and startling Cities In Flight Quartet. The cities won’t take off until volume two,  A Life For The Stars. Volume One deals with the twin scientific breakthroughs that make it possible – medical developments leading to the cure for virtually all diseases makes humanity virtually immortal, and anti-gravity experiments enable us to develop faster rocket propulsion systems and lift extremely heavy weights into the skies. These anti-gravity systems come to be known as Spindizzies.

 

The opening story is largely a cold war thriller. The US Government is rather McCarthyist, and needs a scientific breakthrough to give the US a lead over the Soviet Block. Though man has conquered the inner planets by ‘Year 2018’ (The original pulp magazine title of the first story).  Secretly, they are squandering millions on research into the two breakthroughs that run central to the story, but an inquisitive astronaut, bringing soil samples from the moons of Jupiter, stumbles on evidence that children are being used as guinea pigs in medical research.  His quiet investigations will lead him to the truth, and he, with his girlfriend, are destined to be the first to try out a spaceship launched with spindizzie technology. They find that a flight to the moon can take less than two hours.

 

Some of the strongest writing is that set on Jupiter Five, a vast metal Bridge space station that has been pushed as close as can be dared to the gravity well of the gas giant planet itself, to test its resistance. The project has killed hundreds of astronauts and cost the US tax –payer millions, but it is from here that spindizzie technology emerges. Ominously, the bridge collapses as the story ends, and the US lose interest in it.

 

This is a modest and clever story, critical of science and discovery regardless of cost, and it gives few clues to the breath taking consequences to be explored in the rest of the quartet,

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Blish

 

 

Arthur Chappell

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