A Futuristic book, Cities in Flight by James Blish
James Blish’s Cities in Flight is a series of four novels that documents Earth’s discovery of technology that allows them to achieve long distance space travel and the ramifications of Earthlings traveling the galaxy and beyond.
Book One – They Will Have Stars
Book one starts off on Earth in the not so distant future of 2020(ish). Earthmen have discovered a technology known as the spindizzy which allows them to pick up an entire city and move it off the Earth’s surface. The technology is of little use to them, however, until they can find a way to overcome the issue of space travel–the fact that it takes several human lifetimes to travel a significant distance in space. By the end of the first novel, the secret project of Big Pharmaceutical is revealed–they have discovered anti-aging medications that allow humans the ability to live several lifetimes. This makes space travel a real possibility for the first time in human history. We’re left at the end of this novel with cities lifting off the face of the Earth and going onward, out into the great unknown.
Book Two – A Life for the Stars
The second novel takes readers hundreds of years into the future. We see the cities in flight and how they have made their way across space, living hundreds of years, to discover what lies beyond. This is probably my favorite of the four novels as it’s fascinating to see how the cities and their occupants have adapted to longer lifetimes and space travel. The technology is fascinating and very impressive considering when the novel was written.
Book Three – Earthmen Come Home
It seems that options are running low for our Okies in this installment of the Cities in Flight series. New York is running low on supplies but hasn’t got any decent options for work. Their only recourse is to land on either one of two warring planets despite being warned not to get involved by the authorities. Amalfi decides to take a risk and uses his dashing wits to play the situation to the advantage of the city. This is the longest of the four novels and believe me when I say it FEELS the longest—there was a lot I could have personally done without, but to each their own. The novel does definitely set the stage for the fact that despite all of their technology and extended lifetimes, the Okie Cities are running out of options for space travel—the galactic economy seems to be failing, leaving many cities stranded and destitute.
Book Four – The Triumph of Time
The series comes to a crashing conclusion with this final installment. The city of New York has settled on “New Earth.” Another traveling planet, He, engages with the city to discuss their discovery of a point in space that indicates the collision of two universes—theirs and another that is an antimatter universe. The two are set to collide and destroy both, but it will also trigger another big bang and create a multitude of new universes in the wake of its destruction. Both cities will fight to gain control of the collision point, hoping to have control over the demise of the universe and everyone inside of it.
This installment was definitely my least favorite of the series. It felt like different writing; everything seemed disjointed and rushed in a way that didn’t fit with the time and development of other characters and storylines throughout the arc of the series. The ending is predictable, but really, how else could such a series conclude? I believe the overall sentiment Blish aims for with these books is the hubris of humankind, no matter how far out in the universe we may expand.