“Cities in Flight,” by James Blish, is a whopper of a science fiction novel series. Set in the near future, after the fall of western civilization, the cities of earth have taken off – powered by great molecular spinning machines or “spindizzies.” They wander from planet to planet, seeking work, doing itinerant industrial labor: they are hoboes, tramps, “Okies.” The discovery of anti-agathic, or anti-death drugs, along with the discovery of the spindizzy principle, is what has made this possible.
“They Shall have Stars” tells the story of the discoveries that set off the flight. “A Life for the Stars” features a young man dragooned into one of the departing cities. This also introduces us to our heroes – the metropolitan hero, New York, New York – the great city of the stars, and its human hero, Mayor John Amalfi. In “Earthman Come Home,” we read of Amalfi’s adventures, most notably when he takes on the greatest enemy of earthmen, the Vegan flying fortress. In the course of the book we learn that not only cities, but whole planets can be flown. Their flight is a terrifying, tumultuous and impressive one. In the final book, “The Triumph of Time,” we read of humans confronting the end of the cosmos as they know it, and the transition to a new one.
Science fiction stretches our imagination. Relationships are familiar; there are always the love stories, the successful and failed romances, the poignant parties and meetings. But the settings are wild, fantastic, mind-blowing. Our life is for the stars – this is the theme, and it is a powerful one. Not the lonely mundane life of a small planet, but galaxies after galaxies, these are our heritage. This is the message of science fiction.