Cities in Flight is an omnibus volume of four novels, originally published between 1955 and 1962, two of which are fix-ups of pieces that first appeared in various magazines in the early '50s. Despite having been conceived more than 50 years ago, and produced in episodic fashion, they stand head and shoulders above most SF available today.
In They Shall Have Stars, humankind's will to explore space is renewed with the advent of two discoveries: anti-gravity (the "spindizzy" machines) and the key to almost eternal life (anti-agathic drugs). By A Life for the Stars, centuries have passed and most of the major cities have built spindizzies into their bedrock and left earth, cruising the galaxy looking for work, much like the hobos of the Depression Era. Earthman, Come Home, told from the perspective of John Amalfi, the major of New York, was the first-written of the novels and--although not as tightly woven as the other segments--is still a masterly work. Blish gives the same weight and authority both to the sweeping cultural change wrought and suffered by the cities, and to the emotional growth of a man who is several hundred years old. We stay with Amalfi for the final episode, The Triumph of Time. New York is now planet-bound in the Greater Magellanic Cloud, but when Amalfi learns of the impending destruction of time itself, he is forced into space one more time, to take a last, desperate chance. The novel ends, literally, with a bang.
Despite the occasional, inevitable anachronism, such as vacuum tubes, Cities in Flight stands up remarkably well to modern reading. The novel's political and literary sophistication was unmatched in its time; there is very little to rival it even today. For most readers of a certain age, this was probably the first SF they encountered that was written from a mature standpoint and adult sensibility. The fact that Blish also manages to tell a fabulous, galaxy-spanning adventure tale makes this essential reading. --Luc Duplessis