Year 2018! by James Blish (1957)

November 2nd, 2009

Year 2018! is the title used on this first paperback edition of James Blish’s novel: They Shall Have Stars. I guess that the title was changed by the publisher to make it seem more futuristic, although in the preface Blish speaks about the British edition and how this version has been updated and expanded, so it may be to distinguish it from the other editions and the original novel as published in Astounding (1956).

Year 2018! is the first book of Blish’s Cities in Space stories. It is a prequel detailing the development of the Spindizzy effect that powers the cities. I love the images in the later books where the City of Pittsburg takes off to the stars and the City of New York travels the space lanes in search of commerce and adventure. I encountered these for the first time in my uncle’s attic where he stored his back issues of Astounding.

It is interesting that the book takes place in 2018, which is near what I think is the nexus of the Singularity – that moment when technology overrides what we knwo as progress and becomes revolution. Many of the Earth scenes have a cyberpunk feel describing rabid fundamental religions and an oppressive fascist government in a decaying society. The story brings together two technological quantum leaps: the invention of an effective ant-death and aging drug, and the ability to travel to the stars without Relativistic limits.

The characters in the story feel real and have an odd sort of love affair going on. There is not enough of this, though, because Blish has to describe the building of a huge bridge on the surface of Jupiter. The bridge is not a real bridge, but a scientific instrument to determine the actual value of the constants needed to create the field that will let man jump to the stars.

Year2018! is only about 65,000 words long, but it really should be a little longer. I would have liked to see a little more characterization. Some of the characters get little notice and yet have large rolls in the action. A modern writer, of course, would have stretched the book out to a three volume set with a huge cast of characters, and I prefer this shorter book to that kind of novelization. I just would have liked another 10,000 words devoted to the people in the book.

I received this as a birthday present from Erica. It is a good book. I read it before and I am pretty sure that it was the magazine version. I don’t have any other Cities in Flight books in my library, so I will be on the lookout for them. I’d like to read them again. Blish gets better with age. This book is 60 years old and it is not dated (much) and the themes and style are very modern. If you have time, give it a read.

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