The city of New York has now settled on a planet called 'New Earth', and John Amalfi, once mayor of the city in flight, is reduced to a mostly figure-The city of New York has now settled on a planet called 'New Earth', and John Amalfi, once mayor of the city in flight, is reduced to a mostly figure-head role. Until the astronomists spots the newly arrived planet He, a travelling planet outfitted with a spindizzy drive previously in the series. Amalfi goes to meet with the scientist of He, and returns with the news that the Hevians have discovered a point in space which indicates the collision of two universes. The matter-antimatter collision of two opposing universes is set to annihilate both universes involved, and birth multiple new universes in another big bang explosion. The people of New Earth and a new opposing alien faction - the Web of Hercules - must compete to win control of the collision point and therefore bring the big bang event under their own control.
Since the city settled on the New Earth planet, Amalfi is depicted as feeling particularly restless, since he was once mayor of the city, but now has little to do with the running of the planet. And yet I feel that Amalfi often pretty much was a figurehead before, and none of his duties seems to have actually changed. Perhaps its more of a result of centuries of space travel and now being stuck on one planet, in one solar system. But still I find it hard to relate to the character, he is much too big for his boots sometimes with little to show for it.
Dee's confession of love for Amalfi comes out of the blue, possibly because we've seen little evidence for it, but then Dee barely has a personality anyway. Also possibly because there is little in Amalfi to love and I bear no sympathy for her feelings. Then again perhaps its just my incompatibility with Blish's writing, I enjoy the science-fiction aspects but fail to empathise with most of his characters.
You can certainly see that Blish's writing has improved however, over the course of writing this series, but you have to pay attention to the fact that the series was written in a completely different order to the series order. This 4th book was in fact written 3rd, and it shows a definate improvent (to me at least) over the 3rd book in the series, which was in fact the first book to be written.
As I said tho, I do enjoy the science fiction aspects, and in this novel the main plot line involving the collision of two universes was absolutely fascinating. Whether or not you believe in this theory of universe evolution, its certainly interesting to think about. That our universe will not go on forever, but will one day crumple and then explode outwards creating brand new universes, the circle of life, death and rebirth manifested on a incomprehensible scale. It certainly is a mesmerising idea, and apt to make humans feel significant. But the way that Blish deals with it in the resolution puts all the humanity back into it, and makes us feel like even in the death and birth of universes we can have some small part to play.
On the whole, I do recommend the series, as there are some really great sci-fi ideas, even if the characters are a little bland and flaky. And plus its very rare to find sci-fi writing that actually tries to be scientific, and not just make things up entirely, even if it is now somewhat out of date, most of it still holds up well, and still has the power to entertain.
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!