James Blish

From Academic Kids

James Benjamin Blish (East Orange, New Jersey, May 23, 1921 - Henley-on-Thames, July 29, 1975) was an American author of fantasy and science fiction. Blish also wrote criticism of science fiction using the pen-name William Atheling Jr.

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James Benjamin Blish

Blish trained as a biologist at Rutgers and Columbia University, and spent 1942-1944 as a medical technician in the U.S. Army. After the war he became the science editor for the Pfizer pharmaceutical company. His first published story appeared in 1940, and his writing career progressed until he gave up his job to become a professional writer.

Perhaps his most famous works were the 'Okies' stories in Astounding Science Fiction, known collectively as the 'Cities in Flight'. The framework for these was set in the novel They Shall Have Stars. This shows the development of the two essential features of the series. The first was the invention of the anti-aging drug ascomycin; Blish's employer Pfizer makes a thinly disguised appearance in a section showing the screening of biological samples for interesting activity. (Pfizer also appears in disguise as one of the sponsors of the polar expedition in Fallen Star). The second was the development of an antigravity device known as the 'spindizzy'. Since the device became more efficient as its field of influence was increased, entire cities were lifted from Earth and sent roving amongst the stars.

Of the four novels, the first (They Shall Have Stars) is straight dystopian science fiction of a type which was common in the era of McCarthyism. The second (A Life For The Stars) is a fairly standard growing-up story, which manages to display a fairly large portion of the society of the flying cities along the way. The third (Earthman, Come Home) is a series of loosely connected short stories detailing the adventures of a flying New York, and the fourth is yet different again.

The stories could have continued as a series indefintely, were it not for Blish setting the end of the Universe in 4004 AD (the chronology in early editions of They Shall have Stars differed somewhat from the later reprints, a hint that this may not have been planned by Blish at the beginning of the series). The adventures the Okies have as they run across various civilizations prefigure, in some ways, those of the Enterprise in the original series of Star Trek, which Blish novelized.

Another group of novels were (apparently retrospectively) declared by Blish to be a trilogy, each dealing with an aspect of the price of knowledge, and given the overall name by Blish of 'After Such Knowledge' (the title taken from a T.S. Eliot quote).

The first, A Case of Conscience (a winner of the 1959 Hugo award as well as 2004/1953 Retro-Hugo award for Best Novella), showed a Jesuit priest confronted with an alien intelligent race, apparently unfallen, which he eventually concludes must be a Satanic fabrication.

The second, Doctor Mirabilis, is an historical novel about the medieval proto-scientist Roger Bacon. This book was considered by Blish himself to be one of his best works.

The third, actually two very short novels, Black Easter and The Day after Judgement, were written using the assumption that the ritual magic for summoning demons as described in grimoires actually worked.

In the first book, a wealthy arms manufacturer comes to a black magician, Theron Ware, with a strange request: he wishes to release all the demons from hell for one night to see what might happen. The book includes a lengthy description of the summoning ritual, and a detailed (and as accurate as possible, given the available literature) desciption of the grotesque figures of the demons as they appear. Tension between white magicians who appear to have a line of communications with heaven, and Ware is woven over the terms and conditions of a magical covenant that is designed to provide for observers and limitations. Black Easter ends with Baphomet announcing to the participants that the demons can not be compelled to return to hell: the War is over, and God is dead.

The Day After Judgment, which follows in the series, develops and extends the characters from the first book. It suggests that God may not be dead, or that demons may not be inherently self-destructive -- as something appears to be restraining the actions of the demons upon Earth.

Of Blish's short stories, his most famous are the 'Pantropy' stories (collected in The Seedling Stars), in which humans are modified to live in various alien environments, this being easier and vastly cheaper than terraforming. The most popular of this series was Surface Tension, in which generations of microscopic aquatic humans battle with the other occupants of their world, eventually building a space ship to cross to other worlds - at the climax of the story, the two-inch long wooden spacecraft trundles along on caterpillar treads to the next puddle(!) while the crew speculate on "life in other worlds".

Blish collaborated with Norman L. Knight on a series of stories set in a world with a population a thousand times that of today, and followed the efforts of those keeping the system running, collected in one volume as A Torrent of Faces.

He is credited with coining the term gas giant, in the story "Watershed" as it appeared in the anthology Beyond Human Ken (Ed. Judith Merril, 1954). This is one of those terms that has escaped from the field of science fiction to become entirely standard in the scientific literature.

Between 1967 and his death in 1975, Blish became the first author to write novels based upon the cult TV series Star Trek. In total, Blish wrote 11 volumes adapted from episodes of the 1960s TV series, as well as an original novel, Spock Must Die! in 1970 - the first original novel for adult readers based upon the series (since then literally hundreds more have been published). He died midway through writing Star Trek 11; his wife, J.A. Lawrence, completed the book, as well as two additional volumes of Star Trek episode adaptations.

Blish lived in Milford, Pennsylvania at Arrowhead until the mid-1960s. In 1968, Blish emigrated to England, and lived in Oxford until his death from lung cancer in 1975.


Selected bibliography

Cities in Flight

  • They Shall Have Stars (1957) (also published under the title Year 2018!)
  • A Life for the Stars
  • Earthman Come Home (1956)
  • A Clash of Cymbals, sometimes known as The Triumph of Time. (1959)

After Such Knowledge

  • A Case of Conscience (first section published in If magazine, 1953, expanded version published 1958)
  • Doctor Mirabilis (1964)
  • Black Easter or Faust Aleph-null (serialised as Faust aleph-null in If magazine, 1970)
  • The Day After Judgement (published in Galaxy magazine in 1970, book publication 1972)


  • The Seedling Stars (1957)
  • VOR
  • The Night Shapes
  • Jack of Eagles
  • Welcome to Mars!
  • Fallen Star (1957) - Set in the International Geophysical Year of 1958, it tells the story of a disaster-ridden polar expedition that finds a meterorite containing fossil life forms.
  • The Quincunx of Time
  • Mission to the Heartstars
  • Titans' Daughter (also under the title Beanstalk)
  • A Torrent of Faces (with Norman L. Knight, 1967)
  • Midsummer Century
  • Star Trek 1-11 (1967-1975) Novelizations of the scripts of the well-known TV series.
  • Spock Must Die (1975) An original Star Trek novel.


Blish wrote criticism of science fiction (some quite scathing) under the name of William Atheling Jr, as well as reviewing under his own name.: the Atheling articles were reprinted in two collections, The Issue at Hand (1964) and More Issues at Hand (1970), and the posthumous The Tale That Wags The God 1987 collects Blish essays.

He was a fan of the works of James Branch Cabell, and for a time edited Kalki, the journal of the Cabell Society.

More on James Blish

Honors, Awards and Recognition

  • 2002 Elected to Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame
  • 1977 Creation of the James Blish award for Criticism (first winner, Brian Aldiss)
  • 1976 BSFA Special Award for Best British SF
  • 1970 Nebula award nomination for "A Style in Treason" "Best Novella"
  • 1970 Guest of honor, British Eastercon
  • 1969 Hugo award nomination for "We All Die Naked" "Best Novella"
  • 1968 Nebula award nomination for Black Easter "Best Novel"
  • 1965 Nebula award nomination for "The Shipwrecked Hotel" "Best Novelette" (with Norman L. Knight)
  • 1960 Guest of Honor, World Science Fiction Convention
  • 1959 Hugo award for A Case of Conscience "Best Novel"
  • 1953/2004 Retro-Hugo for "Earthman Come Home" "Best Novelette"
  • 1953/2004 Retro-Hugo for "A Case of Conscience" "Best Novella"
  • 1950/2001 Retro-Hugo nomination for "Okie" "Best Novelette"

External links

See also

de:James Blish fr:James Blish ja:ジェームズ・ブリッシュ nl:James Blish


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