Review of 'Cities in Flight'

Cities in Flight by James Blish

This is a compilation of the classic James Blish “Cities in Flight” series consisting of “They Shall Have Stars”, “A Life for the Stars”, “Earthman, Come Home” and “The Triumph of Time” telling the story of cities on Earth deciding to leave their increasingly repressive society by attaching “Spindizzy” drives to their cities and, literally, lifting their entire city out into space where they offer services for hire to any groups that wish to use them as they drift from place to place. The book is arranged chronologically with the first “They Shall Have Stars” story setting the technological and political scene for the books that follow the rise and decline of these floating cities. In particular we follow the floating city formerly known as “New York” with it's mayor/pilot John Amalfi having been in the position for a good number of hundreds of years (the “Oakies” - as those that inhabit the cities are known - having found a chemical secret to immortality). Amalfi leads his flock through various crises with an iron constitution and often brutal, violent hand which is possibly a bit less offensive to the original target audience for this series then it is likely to be to modern readers.

The city of New York floats from one situation into another continually evading the police due to their past (and current) indiscretions as they seek the next bit of work. The encounter a planet floating in space where there are no others and a group of floating city “hobos” which barely have enough electricity to maintain flight but have a big beef with their home planet of Earth. They stretch credibility as the city travels immense distances in space…

I found this a fairly dated but occasionally interesting read. I have to say that this edition from Gollancz was particularly annoying in that 40 pages near to the climax of the final book are substituted with pages from another work by Blish meaning that much of the finale has the reader trying to connect the first and last pieces together to make sense of what is happening. The writing is acceptable if somewhat abrupt and perfunctory with only a moderate interest in the technology. The treatment of foreign cultures in a frequently off-hand way without any attempt at understanding is, I like to think, something of the long past and grates reading it now. Reading I often wanted to yell at the characters to describe the culture or civilization before they went and destroyed it…

At 653 pages with “Earthman, Come Home” being the biggest story at 250+ pages this book not to be undertaken lightly however if you want a bit of nostalgia for a by-gone age of Science Fiction and writing, look no further than this whimsical piece of work.

Rating: “Average, but who wants to be average?”

Review Date: 2014-05-04

Genre: Science Fiction

Publisher: Gollancz

Publication Date: 1970

Other reviewed books by James Blish: