Monday, 16 July 2012

Four Pillars Of Okie Culture

In James Blish's Cities in Flight tetralogy, interstellar trade by "Okie" flying cities is made possible by antigravity, anti-agathics and the germanium-based Oc dollar and is supplemented by the faster than light ultraphone and the instantaneous Dirac transmitter.

Antigravity is discovered in "Bridge" and anti-agathics in "At Death's End" and the Dirac is invented in "Beep" although, for reasons stated elsewhere, this story parted company with the Okie series.

That leaves the Oc dollar without an origin story. (I always thought that "Oc" must abbreviate "Okie" but it was never explained.) This currency matters because its collapse in the main Okie volume Earthman, Come Home (London, 1963) signaled the end of Okie culture. However, Blish does describe its origin in the Prologue to Earthman, Come Home.

Before space travel, germanium's importance for solid-state physics had made it fantastically valuable on Earth. Then:

"The opening of the interstellar frontier drove its price down to a manageable level, and gradually it emerged as the basic, stable monetary value of space trade. Nothing else could have kept the nomads in business." (p. 12)

That is all we are told: not enough for a story but the currency matters because, when it collapses, to be replaced by a drug standard, the Okies are finished and New York leaves the galaxy.

The advantages of the drug standard are:

drugs can be exactly valued by their therapeutic efficacy and availability;
cheaply synthesised drugs "...would be the pennies and nickels of the new coinage..." whereas rare, in demand drugs "...would be the hundred dollar units..." (pp. 121-122);
drug dilution could make debt payment flexible;
drugs, like metals, can be tested for counterfeiting;
rapid outmoding of drugs would prevent hoarding.

There would continue to be paper money but anti-agathic credits would raise the dilemma of using them to relieve poverty or continuing to live in poverty in order to live longer. It is no surprise when Blish's characters, like Poul Anderson's Master Merchants of the declining Polesotechnic League, decide to start afresh elsewhere. The fourth volume of Cities In Flight is set entirely outside the home galaxy where, of course, other problems arise.

The Eight Volumes

Yes, I think that these proposed eight volumes would adequately present James Blish's interconnected works:

I, Some Early Blish.
II, The Galactic Cluster Trilogy.
III, Jack Loftus.
IV, After Such Knowledge.
V, The Seedling Stars.
VI, Cities In Flight.
VII, The Quincunx Tetralogy.
VIII, The Haertel Scholium Coda.

The Haertel Scholium, ie, works referring either to the character Adolph Haertel or to his interstellar drive, comprises Volumes II, III, VII and VIII and a third of IV. Anyone who had read to the end of Vol VI would by then have encountered three Haertel overdrive futures and one spindizzy-Dirac communicator future. (The spindizzy or Dillon-Wagonner gravitron polarity generator is, like the Haertel overdrive, a faster than light interstellar drive.) Vol VII presents a Haertel overdrive-Dirac communicator future.

The instantaneous Dirac communicator, simultaneously receiving all past, present and future Dirac messages in a single "beep" of sound and light, first appeared in a one-off story never published in its original form because, under the guidance of Blish's Editor, John W Campbell, it was transformed into the concluding episode of a four part "Okies" series collected as Earthman, Come Home. That volume plus one pre-Okie novel, one juvenile Okie novel and one post-Okie novel equals Cities In Flight.

The pre-Okie novel, They Shall Have Stars, is a joint novelisation with new material of two stories each showing one of the two discoveries, anti-agathics and antigravity, that were necessary for Okie civilization. Logically, there should be a third story showing the invention of the Dirac communicator. In fact, that story exists but could not be incorporated into Cities In Flight because Blish wanted his Okie characters to meet challenges without being helped by messages from their future. Therefore, both the invention of the Dirac and the extraction of messages from the beep are described in the independent story, "Beep," novelized as The Quincunx Of Time.

In the longer version, one Dirac message describes the background of Blish's story, "A Style In Treason," and another is transmitted in his novel, Midsummer Century. Thus, Volume VII, for which I suggest the title The Quincunx Tetralogy, would contain:

Welcome To Mars, about Haertel's discovery of antigravity;
The Quincunx Of Time;
"A Style In Treason";
Midsummer Century.

The early Adapted Men stories could have fitted into the Okie sequence, and indeed looked as if they were going to, but then the two series developed in different directions so the former are collected as The Seedling Stars. Thus, the contents of Volumes V, VI and VII grew from two roots, the earliest written Okie and "pantropy" (science of Adaptation) stories, but also incorporated other material from the Haertel Scholium (Welcome To Mars and The Quincunx Of Time) and via the Dirac transmitter ("A Style In Treason" and Midsummer Century).

Because most of these works describe the consequences of future scientific discoveries, it makes sense that, in the first part of After Such Knowledge (ASK), Blish presents a fictitious biography of Roger Bacon, the discoverer of scientific method. Because Bacon, a scientist, was mistaken for a magician, it is also appropriate that the second part of ASK is neither sf nor about scientists but fantasy about magicians. The third part of ASK is a Haertel overdrive novel about a future conflict between theology and science.

"Common Time," the opening story of Galactic Cluster, presents Haertel as an elderly scientist receiving a report back from the pilot of the first successful test flight with his overdrive whereas Welcome To Mars, written later, presents him as a teenager discovering antigravity and flying to Mars while a slight variation on that version of Mars is presented in the story that would introduce Vol VIII. These works present creativity without linearity.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Eight Volumes?

A James Blish Complete Works could include eight volumes collecting connected works. I have said most of this before but am trying to refine it.

Vol I, Early Blish: several early stories refer to common characters and technologies. These include "The Real Thrill," which later provided material for a Dirac message received in The Quincunx Of Time, thus in Vol VII below.

II, The Galactic Cluster Trilogy: from Garrard's test flight of the Haertel overdrive through microcosmic exploration to the beginning of interstellar conflict between the Terrestrial Matriarchy and the Central Empire. (In publishing terms, this volume, just three short stories, would be far too short but that is not the point here. Its contents form a linear sequence and are substantial.)

III, The Jack Loftus Novels: from first contact with energy beings called "Angels" to the beginning of a UN-Angels alliance against the Heart Stars Empire.

IV, After Such Knowledge: from Roger Bacon's discovery of scientific method through a magical metaphysical metamorphosis to a conflict between theology and science on an interstellar scale.

V, The Seedling Stars: from the invention of "pantropy," the science of adapting organisms for different environments, to the colonization of the entire galaxy and even of a changed Earth by Adapted Men.

VI, Cities In Flight: from the discovery of antigravity and anti-agathics through flying cities and planets to the end of the universe.

VII, The Quincunx Tetralogy: from Haertel's discovery of antigravity through an unexpected application of the Dirac transmitter (introduced in Vol VI) to both an expanding intergalactic civilisation and a "Rebirth" of human terrestrial civilization.

VIII, The Haertel Scholium Coda: Haertel-related works that do not fit elsewhere. I suggested before that these be included in a Galactic Cluster: Revised Edition but they should be read after all the linear sequences. Thus:

a short story set on not quite the same Mars as that visited by Haertel in the opening novel of Vol VII;
earlier, shorter versions of the second and third works collected in Vol VII;
a short story set in an alternative version of the Angels-Heart Stars history (Vol III)
etc (an editor would decide which other works to collect here and which to place in other volumes of a Complete Works).