Friday, 28 August 2009
James Blish, Cities in Flight (1955-62)
Drafting an afterword for a Gollancz masterworks reissue of this fine quartet (Graham Sleight and I are doing a number of these between us) has given me the chance to revisit Blish's masterwork. Very good. I'll save my insights for the afterword, but will note a couple of things here. One is that I found it impossible to see the title Cities in Flight without singing it, to the tune of John Shuttleworth's 'Pigeons in Flight', something I recommend all SF fans try. The other is the variety of attempts to illustrate Blish's sublime concept. Up there, top of this post, is an early Analog cover, and very pretty it is too. But city? Judge the scale for yourself, but it looks to me barely even a city block ... 300m across at its widest point, if that. And so it strikes you; giving some sense of the proper scale of an entire city in space surrounded by its spindizzy field ... that's hard. Here's an early stab by the superb Chris Foss:
Huge Chunks of Rock and Soil in Flight. Judging by the pyramid, that's either a piece of Egypt, or else Las Vegas. Foss is more comfortable with the Big Spaceship (Model 9000: Storage Bin Exhaust Ports) in the foreground. Perhaps nonrepresentational is the way to go:
Are those coloured dots supposed to be stars, or a cloud of orbiting smarties? And why are there no houses on the IN? Who lives on IN? OK, well, perhaps botanical is the way to go, although it sounds a little odd to suggest it.
And, turns out, it looks a little odd too. A plant that releases not pollen by myriad face masks modelled on the actor who plays Mini-Me. That's a little ... nightmarish, I'd say. And of only glancing relevance to the novels. Or perhaps I'm missing something. There are other ways of dispensing with cities altogether. Like this:
An edition evidently published under the rare, variant title: Earthmen, Come Home Specially Abridged By The Author. Better, though, than this:
Which looks very much like somebody's bathtime.