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on 31 December 2007
This is 4 novels, originally published independently( from the late 50s to early 60s), the first 2 being self-contained, although serving as prequels (potentially, originally, but explicitly here, in this edition). These are: 'They shall have stars' (also published as 'Year 2018'), 'a Life for the Stars', ' Earthman come home', and ' a Clash of Cymbals'. They were originally published out of sequence, although the fourth novel, a Clash of Cymbals, was explicitly a follow up to 'Earthman, Come Home'.

The third novel, 'Earthman come home', is the place to start and, frankly, stop if you don't like it, or even if you do, but find it enough to be going on with - I read it three times, over many years, before I was aware of the others. Don't look for any refinements of style - in fact, it's wincingly awful sometimes. Blish is definitely 50s cold war American comic book in outlook and depth of characterisation, but that has it's attractions for me - simplicity and focus on a story, and an easy read. I read all his books I could find when I was younger, for all that. I think Blish, like many of the early SF pioneers, became a regular contributor of scripts to Star Trek. Anyway, 'Earthman, Come Home' is an amusing flight of fancy. Earthmen had long ago spread throughout the home galaxy. A technology (spindizzy drives) had been developed, which enabled entire cities to lift into space ( Blish obviously had a background in engineering or physics - there's a sprinkling of plausible, if dated, technological language). Earth's cities had long ago been deserted by its cities, which traveled the galaxy looking for work amongst the settled planets, contracting for work as needed. Earth, which had once had an empire, but which few of the flying cities had now ever seen, still maintained a police force, which enforced contracts, and generally policed the flying cities. There are some nods to John Steinbeck's tale of 1930s depression America, 'the Grapes of Wrath', about migrant workers, driven by desperation to seek work in California, known as 'Okies' (from Oklahoma) - so we have 'Okie cities' and an 'Okie jungle' (hobo jungle). Don't expect Steinbeck, though, or even Philip K. Dick. The central character is the mayor of the city once known as New York (just the Manhattan bit, though). The first 'adventure' is a bit confusing, but after that it's quite straightforward.

I wouldn't be surprised if there is a film based on 'Earthman...' soon, now that the CGI is up to it.

The fourth novel continues the story, not very remarkably as I remember. The first 2 novels are set in time before the cities took off from Earth, recognisably our world a little in the future (as imagined in the 50s or 60s). 'Year 2018' centres around the bizarre effort to build a bridge from Jupiter to one of its moons, which tested a lot of the theory later used to lift the cities. 'A Life for the Stars' is the story of how the central character of 'Earthman...', John Amalfi, mayor of Manhattan-in-space, took his first step from Earth into a life in the stars.

I can understand the readers who found this a drag, though, which is why I say: read 'Earthman, come home' first - it's the most action-packed and imaginative, and is the core of the quartet; then read the sequel(if you want), 'a Clash of Cymbals'. Then read the other 2 at your leisure. They were published originally as self-contained novels (except for the last one) and should be treated as such; Blish's style is fine in short bursts, as originally conceived, but to read all these books in a row would tax most people who don't already have a fondness for them - in fact, I myself have never read them all in a row like this.

If you can get one of the old Mayflower paperback editions of 'Earthman, come home', the jacket would be worth the price: the cover is, I think, the work of cult artist Richard Powers, who was the biggest influence in jacket design for early SF, for a while. The cover has an abstract expressionist painting (paint splashes), Jackson Pollock style (I saw one of his paintings recently that looked like it might have been the one that gave Powers the idea for this). In the middle of the paint whirls and doodles is a little picture of a man in a space suit, as if in the midst of some cosmic quantum soup - for me a perfect illustration of the contents with it's 'Dirac transmitters' and 'spindizzy generators'. The uniquely American art (and some say CIA sponsored - but that's another story - see Serge Guilbaut's ' How New York stole the idea of modern art' for a start) of abstract expressionism, married to the science fiction of the cold war space race era, perfectly captures the zeitgeist of the times.
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on 10 August 2000
As a lover of older sci fi, i have to say that this is a fantastic book. Looking at it now, i can see how it may have influenced generations of sci fi authors, concepts such as aikira, and the ship in 'close encounters' are startling realisations of some of the smaller implications of this groundbreaking book. Just the concept of turning a city into a spaceship is awesome. The cultures mentioned in this book are also well observed, and with the fall of the USSR, but the rise of big brother, how far is earth from his predicted future :) Classic and imagination provoking.
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'Cities in Flight' by James Blish is collection of his four short novels that were written in period of 15 years in the 50's and 60's.

At the beginning of 21st century humankind discovered the possibilities to control gravity which enabled interstellar travel. Also, due to development of medicine, powerful drugs were invented that prolonged human life to thousands years or even more.

As it could be expected, lot of people went to space looking for promised land, establishing human colonies all across the universe. On the other hand, Earth started slowly decaying, wars and chaos erupted and lasted for several centuries. As solution that will provide better life for Earth citizens, the spindizzies were invented. These machines which are able to control gravity were mounted under the cities enabling whole shielded cities to leave Earth.

First story of Blish collection is "They Shall Have Stars" which is telling the story how the original discoveries happened - it's year 2013 and on Earth war is still raging between West and the East, although there are no real difference between war parties, both trying to impose complete control over their population. American senator Bliss Wagoner is working on the major construction project on Jupiter and due to his research, whole humankind future will be changed...

The second story "A Life for the Stars" is happening several centuries after the first, when humans discovered powerful gravitronpolarity generator, colloquially called "spindizzy", enabling whole cities to abandon Earth in search for better life somewhere else among the stars. The main character called Chris deFord is one man who is also departing Earth when Scranton, one of the last remaining cities on Earth, will take flight...

The third story in series one called "Earthman Come Home" is longest although best story in the series about New York City that travels across the galaxy. City lead by Mayor John Amalfi takes contracts with many human colonies and goes through lot of exciting adventures which will lead to discovery that threaten the entire human species...

The last fourth story "The Triumph of Time" continues the saga of New York City when Mayor Amalfi is coming out of retirement to face a final challenge that can mean the end of the whole universe. It was the least satisfying of the four stories. This story is somehow of a bit lower quality compared to others, with its final outcome somewhat unexpected. It seems as if the author was happy to finish this collection, although many opportunities were offered to continue it in different directions.

Overall, "Cities in Flight" as a collection is a piece of good, old school science fiction that offers intrigue and believable concept that is able to grab reader's attention. On the other hand, there are some parts that are of bit lower quality, some characters are not believable sometimes even stereotypical and with the time distance particular events sound somewhat unconvincing.

Still, what separates these novels from other SF works is that there are more inside than just science fiction. A reader is able to found great philosophical, social, political, economic and even visionary aspects of this story which makes it more deep and convincing. And due to that, although writing style is a bit outdated, it influences on overall impression making its quality similar to better representatives of SF genre.

Sadly, if such story will be written these days certainly there will be more than four stories in series due to the possibilities this concept is offering for an almost unlimited number of installments.
So have a bit of understanding for the author, he wrote it 60 years ago and you'll see that eventually you will enjoy it.
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on 30 August 1999
Cities in flight is actually four books, that were written quite far apart, and out of sequence. Blish uses a small number of crucial characters in the rise and fall of a Terran galactic empire, apparently based on the excellent "Rise and decline of the West", by Spengler.
The characters are interesting, and involving, though not very consistant or credible. Blish's major failing is that sometimes his situations are very very derived and incredible, to the point that you wonder "Why did they do that" ?
The overall feeling of the series is one of ineviibility - you can see the decline of empire after empire, though they only view of the empire itself is through the lives of a small number of people. Though I did enjoy reading it, many of the ideas that Blish has shoe-horned into the plot are strange and dated...or maybe just innovative, but from a different time.
The SF Masterworks series is an excellent cross section of SciFi books. This is a masterwork in it's own way, but like many of the series, I can see it missing the mark with some people. If you like SciFi - buy it. If you just like some scifi books, don't.
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on 18 May 2010
I couldn't get into it, it started off being dull and carried on for the next 100 pages before I put it down.
There is only so much tech talk and Da Vinci Code-esque dialogue a man can take. Science fiction is better when science provides the backdrop for character led plot lines, not automatons exercising Nietzschean will to power providing an excuse for scientific flights of fancy.

Read Philip K. Dick instead.
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VINE VOICEon 21 August 2007
I've got to admit to being a real fan of classic SF but find that, while some bears up very well with the passage of time, some fares much less well. This has dated very badly and while there a few excellent underlying notions it is impossible to ignore the clunky technology and out-moded social ideas that inform the work.

This is almost certainly a work of 'historical importance' within the SF field and it is that alone, I feel, which explains why it was placed so highly in the 'SF Masterworks' series(one of the things that nudged me into reading it), but I can't recommend it as a reading experience.

Whatever you do don't make this your first journey into 'Classic SF' try Bester(The Stars My Destination), Asimov(Foundation),Clarke(The City and the Stars), Dick(The Man in the High Castle),...
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on 20 December 1999
This book is a compendium edition of James Blish's Sipindizzie novels which tell the story of the flight of the cities from a devestated Earth. The West is finished, overwhelmed by bureaucracy and state intervention. But in it's dying gasps the brightest and best are evacuated out to the stars using spindizzie technology. After a Millenium's interegnum a more liberal civilisation is created on Earth, but the planet's resources are worn out and the cities flee to the stars . The last couple of stories cover the flight of New York from the forces of Earth who are determined to break up the okie cities. This is a seriously good compendium and I heartily recommend it!
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on 10 March 2015
I have given this book a 5 rating because the space opera is very good, though the science in some cases is very suspect and boring and was not needed for the main story. It is also a book of its time, a number of writers were hinting about the west becoming more like Russia as it coped with the cold war etc. Meaning that both sides would outwardly look the same and the military and government paramilitary organisations would regulate all.
The book appeared in the shops to the best of my knowledge in the sixties, it is over 40 years since I first read it, and was one of the first space opera books that got under my skin. Migrant for hire workers travelling the galaxy to find work, this along with all the prejudices and exploitation and misunderstandings that our earth bound migrant workers suffer from provides plenty of food for thought in the 21st century. I think this book has a place in science fiction history and should be read bearing that in mind.
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on 20 July 2016
Really great novel (or series of), the scope is really good and the writing, while not great, keeps you interested by sheer epicness. The ending really leaves nothing to be desired, its worth reading just for that.
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on 2 April 2006
Great idea; I thought I was in for a sort of twist on those ripping 'spend-generations-in-space and watch society evolve' type plots which made for some really interesting SF. Robert Silverberg (the world inside) and Larry Niven (integral trees, ringworld) are superb at this stuff.
Ughh! I was dead wrong. I'll come clean and admit I couldn't get through the whole thing - I got mired down just about half way through. The premise is interesting; if cities could move anywhere in the universe, where would they go, and how would it affect society? Unfortunately James has written from a mildly autistic 1950's structural engineers point of view. The equivalent today of a Linux Geeks view of the world. '...uh, what would be the effect of a mega-Tsunami hitting us here in London? Nothing serious - I'd be back on-line using my 3G cellphone in minuites. *snort*'
It's a bit Uber-Heinlein if you know what I mean; 'Bossing' jobs, women are decorative, technology is gritty and mechanical, and people will do what they're told by their properly elected local government.
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