Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, January 4, 2013


They Shall Have Stars by  James Blish (1956)

Freshman Senator Blake Wagoner has a problem.  As the chairman of the Joint congressional Committee onspace Flight, Wagoner realizes that mankind is not making any real scientific progress, and hasn't for at least half a century.  In that time, there hasn't been a major engineering or scientific discovery.  Mankind -- especially in the Western world -- is stagnating in political and scientific orthodoxy.  Wagoner knows that it's time to think outside the box, to begin examining the "oddball" ideas that have been rejected by the mainstream to see if any of those ideas have have the potential to jumpstart humanity back onto its path of progress.  Once such projects are identified, Wagoner must implement the projects while keeping the true purposes of these projects hidden from a hidebound government that would not approve of them.

One such project is the Bridge.  Mankind's most massive and ambitious project, a "bridge" on the surface of Jupiter.  The purpose of the Bridge is hush-hush, but everyone knows that it's important because of the time and money being spend on it.  It is a Bridge to nowhere.  Eleven miles wide, thirty miles high, and currently fifty-four miles long and counting.  The harsh conditions on the gas giant are continually destroying parts of the Bridge, but Bridge operators controlling the remote automatic construction keep rebulding the damaged parts and adding to the main structure.  The bridge itself is made of native Ice IV.  Formed on the planet at 94 degrees below zero Farenheit and at a million atmospheres of pressure, Ice IV is the only material in the solar system that can withstand the 25,000 mile per hour wind that exists five thousand miles below the visible surface of Jupiter.

The surface of Jupiter is constantly changing.  To secure the Bridge, a large satellite was brought down to the mushy surface of the planet and embedded there.  The Bridge was then anchored to satellite.  Because the surface of the planet changes so, the Bridge will soon move to a confluence of Jupiter's Red Spot and another large storm; it is doubtful the Bridge will survive.

Robert Helmuth is one of the Bridge operators, painstakingly creating, repairing, and expanding the Bridge from his remote location on one of Jupiter's moons.  The pressure of his assignment is beginning to get to Helmuth and he wonders if he is going insane.  Helmuth is also beginning to get an inkling of the true purpose of the Bridge:  to lead mankind to the development of a working form of antigravity -- the "spindizzy."  Helmuth also discovers that, below the Bridge, native life exists unsuspected.

Meanwhile, on Earth, Colonel Paige Russell is using his leave to deliver soil samples he had taken from the Jovian system to Jno. Pfitzner & Sons, a medical research company that is obstensibly looking for new sources of drugs.  There, Russell meets Anne Abbott, an overly-lknowledgable receptionist for the company.  At first glance, Anne is a rather plain girl, but her smile changes that impression and Russell finds himself falling for her.  Russell is then slowly drawn into Pfitzner's culture and realizes that the company's true purpose is being hidden from the public and the government:  Pfitzner is developing an agathic drug -- a drug that can "cure" death and bring mankind to the brink of immortality.

Lurking in the background of both of these projects is Francis Xavier MacHinery, the heriditary head of the FBI.  The powerful MacHinery has a vested interest in the status quo and would do everything in his power to block both projects if he knew their true purposes

They Shall Have Stars is the first book chronologically in Blish's Cities in Flight series, in which the cities of Earth use the spindizzy and the agathic drugs to roam through space.  although the first chronologically, it was the second published in what was to become on of the most innovative science fiction series of the 1950s.  The four books in the series are:

  • Earthman, Come Home (1955), a fix-up of the stories Okie, Bindlestiff, Sargasso of Lost Cities, and Earthman, Come Home.
  • They Shall have Stars (1956), a fix-up of novellas Bridge and At Death's End; the book has also been published as Year 2018!
  • The Triumph of Time (1958).
  • A Life for the Stars (1962), whose events run concurrent with those in Earthman, Come Home.
All four novels have been published in an omnibus volume, Cities in Flight.

James Blish (1921-1975) is still a recognizable name in the science fiction field.  He was known for his rigorous scientific approach, his unbridled imagination, and his strong philosophic bent.  Besides the above books he has given us such classics as A Case of Conscience, Surface Tension, and There Shall Be No Darkness, among many others.  Blish also adapted the original Star Trek series into a dozen collections.  His pioneering work in science fiction criticism has been collected in The Issue at Hand and More Issues at Hand, both as by "William Atheling, Jr."  Blish remains one of a handful of writers whose work (while valuable and entertaining in and of itself) should be read in order to gain a better understanding of modern science fiction.


Todd Mason at Sweet Freedom is collecting today's Forgotten Books links.  Check it out.


  1. Early on, as Damon Knight was not too kind to mention, Blish was also known for his run-on sentences, overpacked with dependent clauses and too much information...a tendency I seem bound and determined to continue emulating.

    I'm tempted to grab your WHO book for FFB, as well...

    1. No one can ever claim that Blish was a great stylist, Todd. I think his virtues far outweigh his faults, though.

      Feel free to add the Doctor to the roster. (My fumble fingers were about to add the Doctor to the rooster; that's an adventure I don't think has been done in his fifty-year history!)

    2. Blish, unlike me, eventually learned to write a simple (and elegant) sentence. What I think he actually learned to do was second drafts...a habit I should fall into. Will add the WHO when I can get back to this, later on...

  2. I like EARTHMAN COME HOME the best of the bunch.