Earthman, Come Home is set a few hundred years after the previous novel. John Amalfi is still the mayor of the Okie city New York, and is now over 700Earthman, Come Home is set a few hundred years after the previous novel. John Amalfi is still the mayor of the Okie city New York, and is now over 700 years old; thanks to the anti-agathic drugs that all citizens take. New York is running low on supplies and must land and take a job soon, but Amalfi's only option is to pick one of two warring planets in the closest system, both of which they have been warned off by the earth police. Amalfi first chooses to land on Utopia, a planet ravaged by nuclear attacks. But later chooses to move over to Gort, a planet in the old Hruntan Empire. The Hruntans turn out to have been a bad choice of allies, as they hold NY hostage and demand from them an explanation of the sought-after friction-field generator tech. When Amalfi finally manages to escape from the Hruntans, the City has accumulated even more violations on its record, and the earth police are not happy with them. So Amalfi takes the city out into the Rift, a huge expanse of space that is empty of stars and planets, Except for one lonely star system, containing the planet He, which is the only possible place to land inside the emptiness of the rift.
The citys adventures continue on, endlessly, which make it a very difficult book to synopsise. New York, as Okie cities do, moves from one planet to the other, never able to settle, and seemingly never getting ahead, always in some trouble, always low on some resource or other. As such, the plot does seem to wander as much as the city itself does, but later events always rely on something learned or gained in earlier adventures, so things do tie together quite nicely.
The passage of time in this novel was seriously hard to comprehend. With the spindizzy drive, the okie cities can travel across distances that just would not be possible for us, the spindizzy is equivalent to travelling many times the speed of light. But apparently it does still take years to travel between systems, and the cities spend years again fulfilling their contracts on planets. Yet it did take me a while to understand this, there is no feel of a great passage of time in the writing, the story moves on from one event straight to the other, and then suddenly Amalfi will muse that he's 2 centuries older! I found this very jarring. I couldn't relate to the time spans at all.
I also didn't get along very well with the main character. Arguably, Amalfi is supposed to be a hard character to relate to, because he has lived centuries longer than most humans and has become a little detatched from the rest of humanity. I think he even admits at one time that he behaves more like a computer now than a human. But on top of that I'm afraid I found him just plain irritating. Amalfi is constantly keeping plans to himself until the last possible second, even from the reader, which is a really childish way to create a plot mystery, I have to say I expected more from Blish than this terrible fake suspense trick. I'm not even sure why Amalfi keeps a City Manager to run the city, as he never lets Hazleton get on with his job. He makes his plans without telling a single person, and then when Hazleton tries to makes descisions, Amalfi countermands all his orders without an explanation. I found this just incredibly annoying, it doesn't make Amalfi sound heroic or intelligent, just irritatingly childish. Every time it happened I couldn't help thinking how much better things would have gone if he'd have just been open with Hazleton from the beginning. But then of course there would be no 'suspense'.
Another character that irritated me was Dee, the only female character. She was portrayed as fairly intelligent, but unfortunately she never seemed to do anything with her intelligence. She had no role on the city, apart from to be someone elses wife, and she had no skills, and nothing whasoever to do. She may have been an intelligent love interest, but she was just a love interest all the same. I suppose I'm not entirely suprised, considering the decade the book was written in, but I don't have to like it. Although I'm sure Blish's portrayal of female characters improved in the 60s when he started writing for the very progressive Star Trek series.
There were a lot of interesting ideas in the novel, the technology, the planets, and the civilisations were all fascinating, but I don't feel that it was carried off very well at all. Apart from Amalfi's secret plotting, there were also a few too many instances of Deus ex Machina, eg when (view spoiler)[doctor schloss suddenly saves them all by mending the invisiblility machine they all thought was fake, and then the machine is never mentioned or used again (hide spoiler)]..
I found out after finishing the entire set of novels that although number 3 in the series, Earthman, Come Home was actually the first written. Which explains why it never seems as well thought or out, or as well written as the others. But it still contains a lot of very good ideas, and I suppose in the end it is worth reading in order to tie all the other novels together. Still, I'd have to say this was my least favourite out of all the 4 books.
It is now just over 1000 years since humans first discovered the Spindizzy - the antigravity drive that enabled their exodus to the stars. For a longIt is now just over 1000 years since humans first discovered the Spindizzy - the antigravity drive that enabled their exodus to the stars. For a long time, spindizzies have been used not just to drive ships, but to launch whole Cities into space. These Cities - referred to as 'Okies' - live a nomadic lifestyle, wandering through the galaxy and landing for a short time on planets where they take on any job the inhabitants need doing, such as mining, or refining, drilling etc. But most of their time is spent traveling between star systems.
The Industrial city of Scranton, is about to power up its Spindizzy drives and leave earth to go Okie. Crispin (Chris) DeFord has picked his spot beyond the city perimeter to watch Scranton take off. Unfortunately for him, the City is operating press-gangs on the perimeter, and one such group discovers him and forces him into the city as it takes off. Chris is forced to leave behind his family and the only life he has ever known, and make whatever life he can for himself on Scranton. Chris has had no formal schooling, but has a personal interest in astronomy, which he uses to pass himself off as a professional for a short time on Scranton. But it can't last for long, and as soon as another Okie ship offers a trade of workers, Chris takes the opportunity to jump ship. Chris then finds himself on the city of New York, where his chances in life are somewhat improved. He is put through a hard course of advanced schooling through hypnotherapy, and the city fathers - the artificial intelligences that perform all the basic running of the city - drive him hard to find any hidden skills or talents he may have. If he manages to show a useful skill, when his 18th birthday comes, he could be granted citizenship. And like every other citizen he would be granted the anti-aging drugs that let Okies live for centuries on their flying city ships.
I enjoyed this second installment of Cities in Flight almost as much as the first. I found Chris to be a very relatable character, he's young and intelligent and he knows what he wants, but he's yet to figure out how to get it. He's fairly brash and he's willing to lie and break the rules a little to get his own way, but not to the point of losing his own sense of right and wrong. And he seems to make friends easily. He is some what cliche of other sci-fi and fantasy adventurous kids, getting into scrapes but ultimately being forgiven, but it makes him an easy character to get along with.
The tone of the novel was however a little childish at times, I think this is because Blish is writing from the point of view of the teenage Chris, and yet Chris seemed to have some very mature ideas for his age. So the whole young-adult feel to the narration was a little un-wanted and a bit patronising in parts.
One thing I was a little confused at, was how the nature of the anti-agathic (anti-aging) drugs seemed to have changed from how they were first explained in book one. In They Shall Have Stars it was explained that simple removing all diseases from humanity wouldn't be enough to stop them aging, and that there was a separate toxin that caused the aging itself and could be counteracted. But in A life for the Stars the anti-aging drugs were just a collection of antibiotics that prevented all disease, which is a complete backtrack of the original idea, and simply didn't cut it for me. I can't believe that just eradicating disease would stop aging, and the scientists said as much in the first book!
And so in conclusion, I enjoyed the storyline, but I was seriously peeved by the Blish's u-turn on the sciencey bits. I'm definately on with books 3 and 4 tho, and reviews will come soon.
I'm currently reading through the omnibus Cities in Flight, which contains all four books in Blish's series. But I couldn't contain myself to one reviI'm currently reading through the omnibus Cities in Flight, which contains all four books in Blish's series. But I couldn't contain myself to one review for the omnibus, each book deserves its own personal review, so hopefully I may be forgiven for shelving all four books and the omnibus. It's not done to drive up my 2012 book challenge, honest!
'They Shall Have Stars' was slightly difficult to get into, not only is the style of writing slightly different to the modern sci-fi and fantasy that I'm more used to. But the method is quite original, and reminds me in hindsight now of George R.R. Martin's method in the Song of Ice and Fire novels. The story is told from 3 different 3rd person points of view, which change each chapter.
In the first setting, we are in Washington, watching the character Senator Bliss Wagoner, who is making some very hard decisions. Scientifically, humanity is in a bit of a rut. No new advances have been made for decades, and humanity is no closer to interstellar travel than it was 50 years ago. The West is still pitted against Russia in what seems to be a war of science and ideas. But everything in the west is so mired in 'top secret' bigbrotherness, that no ideas can be shared and no progress is ever made. Wagoner is determined that new breakthoughs must be made, and turns to his friend Giuseppi Corsi for advice. Corsi advises Wagoner to seek innovation through ideas that have already been dismissed untried, where scientists have been labeled as crazy and ignored. And thus Wagoner's new science initiative is born, but whatever price is paid by humanity to carry out these crackpot experiments, the whole of it rests on Wagoner's shoulders.
In New York, Colonel Paige Russel of the Army Space Corps is dropping off soil samples collected on Jupiter V, at the Pfitzner Plant for analasis. Paige finds himself curious about why the soil samples are needed and manages to get himself a personal tour of the laboratory, during which he hears the cries of newborn babys. He refuses to believe the lies then told him about this, and becomes concerned about the real reason why babies might be involved in laboratory research. He hopes to gain some answers by going on a date with the secretary Anne, who knows more than a secretary normally would. But unwittingly he stumbles head over heels in love with Anne, and finds himself suddenly personally involved in the morally dubious research for the secret of anti-aging drugs.
And on Jupiter V, a moon of Jupiter, Bob Helmuth is one of a team of personal working on a Top Secret project. Remotely, through a virtual reality medium, Helmuth controls machines which are building an inhumanly large 'bridge' of ice above the surface of Jupiter. Helmuth and the other workers have been mentally conditioned into believing that the bridge is the most important thing to them, to ensure completion of the project even through the unbearable conditions they must put themselves. The bridge on Jupiter is a massive undertaking, but the goal and purpose of it is unknown even to the workers, but Helmuth has his own theories. He believes that the bridge may be part of an experiment to produce anti-gravity technology.
They Shall Have Stars was a great beginning to the quadrilogy. Whilst the unusual setup made it slightly slow to get into, once I was in I was completely hooked by the various mysteries going on.
I found Wagoner to be a particularly hard character to read. He has a determination to keep the civilisation of the West marching forward, but he doesn't seem to care what price they have to pay to get there. He is responsible for some quite horrific tragedies through ordering these experiments, and yet I'm not sure he shows much remorse for it. Yes he questions it, but obviously he sticks with the choice he made, and I'm not sure that I felt a great deal of emotion from him about it. I could just be missing it due to my unfamiliarity with the writing style, but I just wasn't completely happy with his character. Other reviewers have stated that Wagoner was intended to be a christ figure, but I can't say I saw that at all. Christ was willing to be sacrificed yes, and he knew that his disciples would suffer for him also, but he gave them that choice. Wagoner never gave a choice to the people he used. I could go into more detail, but I'd be risking spoilers, and probably getting into a big rant, and everyone hates rants. So I'll just leave that topic with this - if Blish did intend Wagoner to be a christ figure then he's lost a bit of my respect for that, I'd much prefer that Wagoner remain a driven but fallible man, the story works much better that way.
The character than I most felt the most sympathy for was Robert Helmuth, the bridge worker. His sections invoked real feelings of awe for the huge scope of the bridge project and for the storm-wracked alien landscape of Jupiter itself. But also the strange combination of frustration and fear from his unusual situation. Bob is to all intents on puposes trapped on the little moon base, with his fellow workers who are all conditioned mentally to revere the bridge. And yet Bob is having nightmares about the bridge, and seems more depressed by it all than in love with it. It's almost like being inside a fanatical cult, but one sanctioned by your own goverment, and one trapped on a far away asteroid with no real way off. These parts were (for me) probably the best written, and the most evocative of the whole book.
One minor thing that also bothered me in this novel, was a repeated error in the mathematical notation. Blish was quite cool by using actual mathematical formulas, which despite the age of the novel still gave an interesting and somewhat believable base for his science fiction. But there was a small error in the notation that irritated the hell out of me. In the main formula used, instead of being written 'G^(1/2)' (which also can be written as the square root of G) the notation 'G 1/2' was used (which is not the same at all), and which ruined the derivation of the next formula completely. I probably sound like I'm up my own ass, but mathematical and scientific errors can be as off-putting to me as grammatical and spelling errors are to other readers. It's a shame how a minor error can spoil things, but it happens.
On the whole tho, I thought They Shall Have Stars was a great start to the series, and I'm realling interested to see where things go from here. Onto the next book!
William Mandela is one of the first humans drafted into an intergalactic war. The enemy are the Taurens, an alien race that no one has ever actually sWilliam Mandela is one of the first humans drafted into an intergalactic war. The enemy are the Taurens, an alien race that no one has ever actually seen. We first follow Mandella's training, a very harsh six months on a barren asteroid, where he and his fellow soldiers learn combat, and base building in mech suits, in a very alien environment. Not all survive the training. As soon as training is over Mandella is shipped off to the first strike against the Taurens, who suprisingly never see it coming, yet the battle is still brutal.
One of the many aspects of sci-fi that most novels and tv series choose to ignore or bypass - relativity - is actualy utilised in this novel for great effect. Mandella spends most of his 4 years of service travelling at high speeds through space, and so time for him passes differently than time on earth. When Mandella arrives home after his first tour of duty, 20 years have passed on earth. Mandella tries to settle back in to civilian life, but find things too greatly changed, it's a massive culture shock for him, and eventually he signs back up again, and is dispatched back out to the front. As the war is taken further and further out in space, and the technology enables faster and more far reaching travel, the passage of time on earth increases, so that each time Mandella returns home, 100s of years have gone by, and the civilisation that he was born into is all but unrecognisable. The only thing that remains the same for Mandella, is the war.
The Forever War was greatly different from my usual sci-fi. Space travel is greatly different from the luxury galaxy class starships of star trek. No replicators, no holodecks. Just the gritty realism of military life, spending months at a time in cramped quarters in space, with brief periods of time spend asleep in pressure suits while the ship accelerates and deccelerates. It really brought home to me the vastness and alieness of space.
It also gives food for thought on the way wars affect civilisations. The war was always far distant to earth, but the changes were still felt. The portrayal of things on earth when Mandella came back after his first 4 (or 20) years, showed many parallels with life today, and showed how many things could change in future.. consider my country has been at war in the east for 10 years now, but like this most people don't think about it, we don't see it, but we will feel the effects.
I understand that this is somewhat of an anti war novel, Haldeman wrote this after his turn in the vietnam war. Some people may find the underlying moralism a bit patronising. But for me, I'm young enough that I never had a close connection to any wars, I don't even having living grandparents thaht remember the world wars. So for me, this is insight that I never had.
I finished this book feeling quite depressed. I didn't agree with Haldeman's chosen ending, I'm cynical enough to think that realistically things would have gone quite differently. But nevertheless the ending was enough to make me cry. I can't help but give this book 5 stars. And if the rest of the books chosen for the SF Masterworks are up to the same standard, I think I'll end up buying them all....more
The last nuclear world war has left the world changed, the population is only a fraction of what it once was, so many rooms lie empty and deserted jusThe last nuclear world war has left the world changed, the population is only a fraction of what it once was, so many rooms lie empty and deserted just cluttered with the junk that people left behind. Many animal species are exctinct or close to exctinction, and every household is morally obliged to keep an animal. Many people emmigrated to mars, where android companions and servants are popular. Androids are outlawed on earth, but they sneak in anyway and try to pose as human, until they're discovered and 'retired'.
Rick Deckard is a bounty hunter for the police who hunts down and retires illegal androids. When the local top bounty hunter gets hospitalised by a rogue android, Rick gets passed his current job, 6 androids with the latest AI tech that makes them near impossible to spot under the testing system. Meanwhile Rick also has a depressed wife at home, and a broken electric sheep that is his greatest shame, what Rick wants most of all is a real live animal.
The question of how to tell androids and humans apart was probably the most defining point of this book. The test that Rick used checked for signs like blushing and hesitation when being asked about morally questionable subjects like promiscuity or the killing of animals. But then there are certain humans with abnormal morals, or a deficiency of empathy, that can fail a test where an android might pass.
Theres a definate mechanical creepyness in the android characters that makes it hard to sympathise with them, so it was never in question in my mind, whose side we were on. I mean in the end it's team Rick all the way. Possibly helped by the fact that I remember seeing the movie, and no one could possibly side against Harrison Ford.. really..
Having said that there were a lot of differences to the movie, the movie doesn't have the issue with animals and electric animals at all, which I think is a bit of a loss, it certainly gave something more empathic to Rick Deckard's character. All he wants is a real live animal, it's a deep moral craving to do his human duty, and it really sets the foundation for his whole personality. But then I think the movie set out to do something completely different with Rick.
The 'religion' of mercerism, was the one point that I never truly grasped in the novel. It's a strange thing where everyone sort of mentally hooks in to a virtual reality where you get to be this guy called mercer, who is walking up a hill and having stones thrown at him. And at the same time you feel the emotions of everyone else in the world who is 'being' mercer. It was all a bit too surreal for me, and I couldn't really get into. Which meant that I probably missed out on some of the effect, and probably didn't get the ending as well as I should have.. but I think this is my failing probably, for not being able to 'connect' with what the author intended. It's a shame, I think I must be an android....more
Gully Foyle is an uneducated, unmotivated thug, just barely surviving, alone in a small airtight locker on a wrecked ship in deep space. When a ship pGully Foyle is an uneducated, unmotivated thug, just barely surviving, alone in a small airtight locker on a wrecked ship in deep space. When a ship passes by after several months, Gully emits a distress flare, the ship stops long enough to notice Gully.. and then continues on... After that moment Gully has a purpose, a single driving angry purpose to not just survive, but get free and get revenge upon the ship that passed him by.
The book is set in a future where humans have populated the solar system, where corporations are the ruling powers, and where the population travels mostly (on planet surface) by self teleportation. But in space teleportation is impossible, and so humanity still relys on spaceships for travel. Telepathy is extremely rare, but is also a possibility.
Gully's drive for revenge ultimately changes Gully throughout the long course of the book, it is the one thing that could have made him better himself. But it never turns him into a likeable character. I think this would be the main reason I didn't care so much for the book. It's hard to get absorbed in a book where you don't care for or can't relate to the main character, as such I'm not sure why this book has been highly rated, maybe I'm alone in my tastes! But Gully isn't just uneducated and unintelligent, he just doesn't have any real desires apart from his vengeance, and it makes for a very weak character. I can't even agree with his taste in women.
I can say it was a mildly interesting setting, and some of the side characters were fairly nice and quirky, especially the one guy thats so radioactive he can't be among other people for more than half an hour, and makes everyones technology break.
Probably won't be up for another by this author, not my cup of tea....more