Thursday, 28 March 2013

Cities In Flight As Future History

Volumes I and II of James Blish's Cities In Flight Tetralogy certainly achieve future historical status. Vol I presents world-changing events in three parts of a future society: politics in Washington; research in New York; exploration of Jupiter.

Vol II is set centuries later in the changed world. Although the series has now moved into the era of flying cities, Vol II does not begin with John Amalfi, mayor of Manhattan-in-Flight, the central character of Vols III and IV. Instead, it begins with Crispin deFord, a teenager growing up in the permanent economic depression on Earth who is press ganged by another city, Scranton, as it goes aloft.

The city manager of Scranton refers to Amalfi as someone on another city that Scranton is dealing with. When Chris deFord transfers to New York, he hears of Amalfi as a well known though rarely seen public figure. Vol II ends with the only account in the series of Amalfi's physical appearance and mannerisms as seen by another character. This is the last part of the series to be written.

Both Vols III and IV do start with Amalfi's point of view. Here, the future historical perspective is less prominent. We see important, dramatic and history-changing events occurring and are told that centuries are elapsing. However, thanks to the anti-agathics, it is the same small group of characters that is involved in or responding to these events so that we do not have the same sense of the passage of time.

Because Vol IV deals with the end of the universe, Blish wanted to show how a younger generation that had not lived for centuries would respond to the imminent end so some passages are written from the point of view of the former New York city manager's grandson but, apart from that, it is all Amalfi.

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