Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Earthman, Come Home

This is an evocative passage from the Prologue to James Blish's Earthman, Come Home (London, 1963):

"Thus the Earth police held their jurisdiction, but the hegemony of Earth was weak, for the most part. There were many corners of the galaxy which knew Earth only as a legend, a green myth floating unknown thousands of parsecs away in space, known and ineluctable thousands of years away in history. Some of them remembered much more vividly the now-broken tyranny of Vega, and did not know - some of them never had known - even the name of the little planet that had broken that tyranny." (p. 13)

The passage evokes thousands of years of galactic history with many intelligent races ruled at a distance first by Vega, then by Earth. However, other parts of the Cities In Flight Tetralogy suggest a smaller spatiotemporal scenario. Vega is said to have ruled most of this galactic quadrant, not all of the galaxy. Earthmen are said to rule Arm II. The text of Earthman, Come Home tells us that:

"Only eleven non-human civilizations had been discovered, and, of these, only the Lyrans and the Myrdians had any brains to speak of (unless one counted the Vegans; Earthmen did not think of them as human, but all non-human cultures did; anyhow, they were extinct as a civilization)." (p. 89)

(John Amalfi, Mayor of New York, is told that he is atypical enough to pass as a Vegan so they must be quite humanoid but we do not see any of these non-human races. Myrdians are not humanoid. An Okie city must transport "Dr Beetle," real name unpronounceable, in a tank.)

Finally, the concluding Volume of the Tetralogy ends the universe in 4004 (later revised to 4104) but Earthman rule begins in 2522 and is assimilated by another interstellar power, the Web of Hercules, in 4000 so that Earthmen rule for less than one and a half millennia.

That is a pity because the text, like the Prologue, of Earthman, Come Home does refer to thousands of years, which would seem to be necessary for some of the events to occur. That evocative passage from the Prologue presents an intriguing future historical perspective even though it differs in some respects from the fictitious history presented in the rest of the series.

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