James Blish

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James Blish
Born(1921-05-23)May 23, 1921
East Orange, New Jersey, US
DiedJuly 30, 1975(1975-07-30) (aged 54)
Henley-on-Thames, England
Pen nameWilliam Atheling, Jr.
OccupationWriter, critic
Period1940–1975
GenresScience fiction, fantasy
 
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James Blish
Born(1921-05-23)May 23, 1921
East Orange, New Jersey, US
DiedJuly 30, 1975(1975-07-30) (aged 54)
Henley-on-Thames, England
Pen nameWilliam Atheling, Jr.
OccupationWriter, critic
Period1940–1975
GenresScience fiction, fantasy
First publication of A Case of Conscience, September 1953

James Benjamin Blish (May 23, 1921 – July 30, 1975) was an American author of fantasy and science fiction. Blish also wrote literary criticism of science fiction using the pen-name William Atheling, Jr.

Early life[edit]

Blish was born at East Orange, New Jersey.[1]

Career[edit]

In the late 1930s to the early 1940s, Blish was a member of the Futurians.[2] He broke into science fiction print with two stories published by Frederik Pohl Super Science Stories, "Emergency Refueling" in March and "Bequest of the Angel" in May 1940. ISFDB catalogs ten more stories published during 1941 and 1942, but only two in the next five years.[3]

Blish trained as a biologist at Rutgers and Columbia University, and spent 1942–1944 as a medical technician in the United States Army. After the war he became the science editor for the Pfizer pharmaceutical company. His writing career progressed until he gave up his job to become a professional writer.

He is credited with coining the term gas giant, in the story "Solar Plexus" as it appeared in the anthology Beyond Human Ken, edited by Judith Merril. (The story was originally published in 1941, but that version did not contain the term; Blish apparently added it in a rewrite done for the anthology, which was first published in 1952.)

From 1962 to 1968, Blish worked for the Tobacco Institute.[4]

Between 1967 and his death in 1975, Blish wrote authorized short story collections based upon the 1960s TV series Star Trek. He wrote 11 volumes adapting episodes of the series. He died midway through writing Star Trek 12; his second wife, J. A. (Judith Ann) Lawrence, completed the book, and later completed the adaptations in the volume Mudd's Angels. In 1970 he wrote Spock Must Die!, the first original novel for adult readers based upon the series.

The archive of Blish's books and papers is deposited at the Bodleian Library in Oxford.[5]

Works[edit]

Cities in Flight[edit]

Perhaps Blish's most famous works were the "Okies" stories, known collectively as Cities in Flight, published in the science-fiction digest magazine Astounding Science Fiction. The framework for these was set in the first of four novels, They Shall Have Stars (first UK publication under the alternative title of Year 2018!), which introduces two essential features of the series. The first is the invention of the anti-aging drug ascomycin; Blish's employer Pfizer makes a thinly disguised appearance as Pfitzner in a section showing the screening of biological samples for interesting activity. (Pfizer also appears in disguise as one of the sponsors of the polar expedition in a subsequent book, Fallen Star). The second is the development of an antigravity device known as the "spindizzy". Since the device becomes more efficient when used to propel larger objects, entire cities leave an Earth in decline and rove the stars, looking for work among less-industrialized systems. The long life provided by ascomycin is necessary because the journeys between stars are time-consuming.

They Shall Have Stars is dystopian science fiction of a type common in the era of McCarthyism. The second, A Life For The Stars, is a coming of age story set amid flying cities. The third, Earthman, Come Home, is a series of loosely connected short stories detailing the adventures of a flying New York City; the title piece was selected as one of the best novellas prior to 1965 by the Science Fiction Writers of America and included in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume Two.

For his fourth and final installment, The Triumph of Time (UK title: A Clash of Cymbals), Blish set the end of his literature's universe in AD 4004.[6] (The chronology in early editions of They Shall Have Stars differed somewhat from the later reprints, indicating that Blish, or his editors, may not have planned this at the beginning of the series.) A film version of Cities in Flight was in pre-production by Spacefilms in 1979, but never materialized.[7]

The Haertel Scholium[edit]

This term describes the background of a number of Blish's science fiction short stories. Three distinct technologies, their invention, and consequences are outlined. There is some overlap between The Cities in Flight saga and that of The Seedling Stars, mainly through one piece of technology, the Dirac Radio. Another unifying concept is the first trans-luminal drive — The Haertel Overdrive.

Adolph (Dolph) Haertel developed the drive in order to reach Mars rapidly (Welcome to Mars!). Haertel Cosmology, the result of Haertel's science, in Blish's words, "swallowed Einstein the way Einstein swallowed Newton — that is to say, alive." Haertel goes on to develop the drive to allow the entry of men into interstellar space. The DFC-3, piloted by Garrard, reaches Alpha Centauri, where extraterrestrial first contact is made with the Clinesterton Beademung (Short Story: "Common Time"). The Drive at this stage is not well developed, and initially suffers from dramatic chrono-swings from almost complete time-freeze to the hyper-time of pseudo-death.[clarification needed] With refinement, the drive becomes a valid method of interstellar travel, though not without mishap and adventure as other forms of travel are tried, such as the near-useless (though fascinating and instructive for the quantum physicist) Arpe Drive ("Nor Iron Bars").

Refinement of the drive allows the exploration of the near-stars, as well as the Coal-Sack Nebula, wherein the beings known as Angels are first encountered by the hero Jack Loftus, Sylvia McCrary and Dr. Challenger, as well as a long lived and powerful civilization, the Hegemony of Malis (The Star Dwellers). Ultimately deduction, and a first hand experience of a planet deliberately maintained in a state of genocidal savagery ("A Dusk of Idols"), coupled with expert reasoning reveals that the Hegemony is malignant, and Humanity rebels. Mission to the Heart Stars reveals the true nature of the Hegemony, and with the help of a stowaway Angel, Hesperus, humanity is freed of its bondage, and made companions of the Angels.

The stories considered part of the Haertel Scholium include A Case of Conscience, and the Pantropy series (see below). Both are anomalous in that they do not appear to have the Dirac Radio, though it is plausible to assume that A Case of Conscience takes place before the development of the Dirac.

A unifying force of galactic civilization is the Dirac Radio, developed by Dr. Thor Wald. This radio is able to permit faster-than-light radio transmission. It has an additional and unsettling ability — within every transmission, is the sum total of all transmissions from the device, throughout all of time and space. The Department of Intelligence, headed by Captain Robert Weinbaum, and aided by the beautiful video reporter Dana Lje, make this shattering discovery. Three hundred years later, the "Service" is the dominant government of the Galaxy, and Dirac is the center of their power, with a network built from Haertel Overdrive spacelanes. ("Beep", the inspiration for tachyons).

Four thousand years in the future, Human civilization has met its first full antagonist — the Green Exarchy. A system of many civilizations ruled by a non-human emperor, the Green Exarch, this represents a significant threat to High Earth. The Green Exarch has at his employ the extremely dangerous shapeshifting (protean) agents known as Vombis, who will appear human, but do not revert to their true shape when killed, giving them an air of great mystery and menace.

The Haertel Overdrive is now called the Imaginary Drive, and the Dirac is still in common use. High Earth remains the center of Human civilization. That civilization is remarkably advanced — for all practical intents, humans are now immortal. A memory cleanse known as Baptism permits those filled with ennui to begin lives anew, though there are side effects from subconscious recall. A quasi-religious group known as Sagittarians also play a part. The most important financial force in the empire of High Earth is the Traitor's Guild, who permit money to flow from system to system in reward of treachery to system governments, producing a Feudatory system between worlds, though not at the expense of internal stability. Traitors skillfully employ advanced biotechnology to further their aims, and are known to employ fungal cytotoxins, DNA reverse transcription mutation agents (to inject false memories and appearances in order to forestall recognition and testimony during interrogations), as well as technology to petrify dead bodies in order to make up wall fortifications in far offworld planets. The Traitors Guild may be found on all planets (A Traitor of Quality, Section in The Quincunx of Time with a lecture about the Traitor's Guild, and The Green Exarchy).

Five thousand years later still, Human civilization has gone through many Rebirths, or Renaissances. The chance infusion of a mentality from 1949 through a freak combination of the active mode of the Dirac within a Radio Telescope results in the formation, after many adventures and an ultimate resurgence of Man, the Quint, the Autarch of Rebirth V. A computer of this far future time uses the Dirac as both a means of communication and infinite memory storage (Midsummer Century). Its existence was foretold at the time of Capt. Weinbaum, though no-one could interpret its messages then (The Quincunx of Time, novella expansion of "Beep").

After Such Knowledge[edit]

Blish declared that another group of novels was a trilogy, each dealing with an aspect of the price of knowledge, and given the overall name of After Such Knowledge (the title taken from a T. S. Eliot quote). The first published, A Case of Conscience (a winner of the 1959 Hugo Award as well as 2004/1953 Retrospective Hugo Award for Best Novella),[8] showed a Jesuit priest confronted with an alien intelligent race, apparently unfallen, which he eventually concludes must be a Satanic fabrication. The second, Doctor Mirabilis, is a historical novel about the medieval proto-scientist Roger Bacon. The third, actually two very short novels, Black Easter and The Day After Judgment, was written using the assumption that the ritual magic for summoning demons as described in grimoires actually worked. In that book, a powerful industrialist and arms merchant arranges to call up demons in the midst of a modern world crisis, resulting in nuclear war and the destruction of civilization. Black Easter is devoted to that element of the plot; The Day After Judgment is devoted to exploring the consequences of the destruction of the world, with an extraordinary ending in both narrative and theological terms that should not be given away.

The Seedling Stars (Pantropy)[edit]

Blish's most famous short stories are the "Pantropy" tales, collected in the book The Seedling Stars. In these stories, humans are modified to live in various alien environments, this being easier and vastly cheaper than terraforming.

(The German title of the anthology is Auch sie sind Menschen..., literally "They, too, are humans". The stories' titles are Aussaatplan, Himmel und Hölle, Oberflächenspannung and Rückkehr respectively, which would literally translate back into English as "Seeding plan", "Heaven and Hell", "Surface tension" and "Return" or "Homecoming". However, except for Surface Tension the original English titles seem to be different.)

Watershed makes reference to the planet, Lithia, which is the centerpiece of A Case of Conscience, and it must be assumed that the Pantropy stories take place in a slightly different Universe, given the respective fates of the planet within each Universe.

Other[edit]

Blish collaborated with Norman L. Knight on a series of stories set in a world with a population a thousand times that of today, and followed the efforts of those keeping the system running, collected in one volume as A Torrent of Faces. Included in this collection is Blish's Nebula-nominated novella The Shipwrecked Hotel, a story about a semi-submerged hotel with approximately a million guests which experiences a massive computer failure (a result of escaped silverfish) and begins to sink. Running parallel to all the side-plots is the inevitable catastrophe of the mile-wide asteroid "Flavia" striking Canada.

The stories are also notable for including a form of pantropy that has been used to modify humans into a sea-dwelling form known as "Tritons".

James Blish's grave marker

Selected bibliography[edit]

Cities in Flight[edit]

A one-volume collection of all four Cities in Flight books exists, first published in the United States by Avon (1970), (ISBN 0380009986) and later in the UK by Arrow (1981), (ISBN 0099264404), which includes an analysis of the work (pp. 597 onwards) as an Afterword by Richard D. Mullen, derived from an original article by Leland Shapiro in the publication Riverside Quarterly. It is now available in hardcover and trade paperback from Overlook Press.

Outside the United States, a single volume collecting all four books is available from Gollancz as part of its SF Masterworks series. This edition includes a new (2006) introduction by Stephen Baxter; and uses the original United States title The Triumph of Time for A Clash of Cymbals. The first two were also collected as Cities in Flight, Vol. 1 (1991) and the second two as Cities in Flight, Vol. 2 (1991)

After Such Knowledge[edit]

The Haertel Scholium[edit]

Other stories[edit]

Star Trek[edit]

[Books 2, 3 and 8 were combined as The Star Trek Reader (1976). Books 1, 4 and 9 were combined as The Star Trek Reader II (1977). Books 5, 6 and 7 were combined as The Star Trek Reader III (1977). Books 10, 11 and Spock Must Die! were combined as The Star Trek Reader IV (1978)]

Other collections[edit]

Anthologies[edit]

Non-fiction[edit]

Blish wrote criticism of science fiction — some quite scathing — under the name of William Atheling, Jr. (derived from a pseudonym Ezra Pound used for music criticism), as well as reviewing under his own name. The Atheling articles were reprinted in two collections, The Issue at Hand (1964) and More Issues at Hand (1970), and the posthumous The Tale That Wags The God 1987 collects Blish essays.

He was a fan of the works of James Branch Cabell, and for a time edited Kalki, the journal of the Cabell Society.

Reviewing The Issue at Hand, Algis Budrys described "Atheling" as "aciduous, assertive, categorical, conscientious and occasionally idiosyncratic." [9]

Honors, awards and recognition[edit]

Soon after his death there was a 1976 BSFA Special Award to Blish for Best British SF.[clarification needed]

The British Science Fiction Foundation inaugurated the James Blish Award for SF criticism in 1977, recognizing Brian W. Aldiss, "but it then lapsed for lack of funds".[10]

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame inducted him in 2002.[11]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Bloom, Harold. "James Blish: 1921-1975", Science fiction writers of the golden age, p. 63. Chelsea House, 1995. ISBN 0-7910-2199-8. "James Blish 1921-1975 James Benjamin Blish was born on May 23, 1921, in East Orange, New Jersey, the only child of Asa Rhodes Blish and Dorothea Schneewind Blish."
  2. ^ "Futurians". Fancyclopedia 3. Retrieved July 26, 2013. 
  3. ^ James Blish at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database (ISFDB). Retrieved 2013-04-08. Select a title to see its linked publication history and general information. Select a particular edition (title) for more data at that level, such as a front cover image or linked contents.
  4. ^ http://www.blish.org/gens/1380I.html James Benjamin Blish, B.Sc., Ed. genealogy page
  5. ^ "Collection Level Description: Books and Papers of James Blish". Retrieved October 15, 2013. 
  6. ^ Choosing AD 4004 is a satirical reference to the year "4004 BC", inferred by Bishop James Ussher to be the year of the creation of the universe, based on his study of the Book of Genesis.
  7. ^ Perakos, Peter S. (June 1979). "John Flory's Monument: An SF Saga in the Works". Starlog (23). 
  8. ^ a b c "Blish, James". The Locus Index to SF Awards: Index to Literary Nominees. Locus Publications. Retrieved 2013-04-08.
  9. ^ "Galaxy Bookshelf," Galaxy, June 1965, pp.168-69.
  10. ^ "Blish, James". The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. Online third edition 2011–2012. Retrieved 2013-03-22.
  11. ^ "Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame". Mid American Science Fiction and Fantasy Conventions, Inc. Retrieved 2013-03-22. This was the official website of the hall of fame to 2004.
Citations

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]