Cities in Flight

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Cities in Flight

A Life For The Stars, Analog Science Fact Science Fiction, September, 1962
Author James Blish
Country  United States
Language English
Genre Science-Fiction, Adventure novel
Publication date
1955 to 1962
Media type Print

Cities in Flight is an omnibus volume of four novels written by James Blish, originally published between 1955 and 1962, which became known over time collectively as the 'Okie' novels. The novels feature entire cities that are able to fly through space using an anti-gravity device, the spindizzy. They cover a span of time of many hundred years, from a very near future to the end of the universe. Earthman, Come Home was a winner of a Retro Hugo Award in 2004 for Best Novelette.[1]

The Cities in Flight Novels[edit]

They Shall Have Stars[edit]

They Shall Have Stars (1956) (also published under the title Year 2018!) describes the political and social conditions in the near future (the book is set in 2013) when several major technologies are developed which change society radically. These are 'anti-agathic' drugs, which defer or prevent aging, and the development of gravity manipulation, which leads to 'faster-than-light' spaceship drives. The Cold War is still ongoing, with the West becoming ever more intolerant and security conscious, eventually resembling the Soviet model very closely. A principal protagonist, Alaska's Senator Bliss Wagoner, head of the Joint Congressional Committee on Space Flight, is eventually executed by an oppressive regime, but not before he has made it possible to develop the technologies which allow mankind to escape their home planet available to all. The book is notable for the detailed way in which it handles technology, providing a mathematical explanation of the principles behind the anti-gravity drive, and illustrations of chemical bonding for reactions in the Ice IV material which is used to build a fixed point 'bridge' on the surface of Jupiter during the drive testing. Politically, the book clearly expresses a strong opposition to McCarthyism, at its peak during the time of writing.

Reviewing a later edition, the Hartford Courant described the novel as "a skillful mixture of human reality and technological fantasy."[2]

A Life for the Stars[edit]

A Life for the Stars (1962) is a bildungsroman describing the adventures of a sixteen-year-old farm boy Chris, co-opted into an Earth city (Scranton, Pennsylvania) which has begun travelling in space. The development of the anti-gravity (spindizzy) drives has now enabled very large objects to be enclosed and moved using gravity manipulation. Thus, for instance, mining factories together with associated towns can be moved to bodies of ore, not only on Earth but also amongst the planets in local space. Many of these 'Okie' cities are rejecting Earth jurisdiction, making interstellar journeys, and operating a trading economy out of reach of the Earth authorities. After many adventures, Chris eventually becomes a resident of New York, now a major 'Okie' city under its charismatic mayor John Amalfi. Chris is elevated to the newly created position of city manager, due to having a unique, problem-solving skill-set identified by the City Fathers, which are supercomputers who regulate the day-to-day life of the flying city.

Earthman, Come Home[edit]

Earthman, Come Home (1955, G. P. Putnam's Sons, New York) is the longest book in the series, describing the many adventures of New York under Amalfi, amongst a galaxy which has planets settled at different periods of history under a loose control by Earth. New York eventually ends up in an 'Okie Jungle' created by an economic collapse. Amalfi realises that the 'Vegan Orbital Fort,' a semi-mythical city-like remnant of the previously dominant alien civilisation, is likely to emerge in such chaos to take its revenge on Earth. His plan includes forcing the Okies to 'march' on Earth, attracting the Vegans to join in the 'march,' and culminates in the installation of a spindizzy drive system on a small planet and using it to defend the Earth against the Vegan attack. Eventually, New York is installed on this planet, which is projected out of the Milky Way galaxy, then leaves it and flies towards the Greater Magellanic Cloud. New York's spindizzies are irreparably damaged; Amalfi convinces the New Yorkers that they must find a planet to call home from now on. On their chosen planet, New York encounters a city of renegades, calling itself IMT (Interstellar Master Traders), whose sacking of the planet Thor 5 damaged the reputation of the cities in general, and who have enslaved the local human population. In typical fashion, Amalfi swindles the IMT residents and leaves them to be dealt with by the Earth Police, who think they have eliminated New York. Although Blish rarely defines how much time passes during each adventure, a late chapter implies that over three hundred years pass in the course of the novel. Reviewer Groff Conklin praised it as "a real, honest, pure, gee-whiz space opera."[3]

A Clash of Cymbals/The Triumph of Time[edit]

A Clash of Cymbals (published in the US as The Triumph of Time) (1959) follows the passage of Amalfi and the planet 'He' undertaking the first ever inter-galactic transit. In the less relativistically-distorted space between the two galaxies, evidence of a collision between two universes is detected by the 'Hevians': a matter-antimatter collision which reveals the cyclic nature of reality. An alien culture is also investigating this phenomenon, which will shortly accelerate to engulf all galactic space; in other words, the colliding universes will end in a transition in between the Big Bang and Big Crunch. It will be possible to modify the future development of the fresh universes which will emerge from this singularity, and Amalfi directs the 'New Earth' residents to compete with the alien culture (the Web of Hercules) in order to prevent their manipulation of the future of the universe.

As with the other books, a detailed description of the technologies used is provided, including cosmological calculus. While there are some continuity slips, the series presents a unified story of humanity's expansion across the galaxy, and the birth of a new universe.

References in other works[edit]

The spindizzy was used in at least two novels by Jesse Franklin Bone, The Lani People and Confederation Matador and appears as the nickname for fictional Heim Theory devices in Ken Macleod's The Execution Channel.


  1. ^ Hugo Award Winners from the 2000s
  2. ^ "Pick of the Pockets". Hartford Courant, January 21, 1968, p.G15
  3. ^ "Galaxy's 5 Star Shelf", Galaxy Science Fiction, May 1955, p. 115.