Wednesday, 20 March 2013

What The Okies Do II

The richness of James Blish's Cities In Flight is shown by the fact that not only can each of the four volumes be discussed in detail and at length but also each raises a different issue or issues:

in Volume I, McCarthyism, biology, the Jovian environment, physics and psychology;
in II, technological unemployment and education;
in III, adventure fiction and economics;
in IV, cosmology.

In Vol III, Earthman, Come Home, the Okie city of New York is legally obliged to get permission from the authorities on the colonised planet of He before mining their planet for germanium. In return, the Okies will wipe out the Hevian jungle and share the anti-agathics. Thus, if He had not been colonised or if the Okies had been willing to act illegally, then they could have mined the planet without having to give anything in return. So far, in Earthman, we have seen New York mining Utopia, offering to mine Gort and again mining He. So we come back to the questions: Why do the cities need paid work? Can they not be self-sufficient? I will try to defend the economic basis of the series.

Vol I, They Shall Have Stars, concentrates on the two discoveries, one in biology, the other in physics, that make interstellar travel possible but otherwise makes an assumption that is common to much science fiction (sf):

" 'Richardson Observatory, on the Moon, has two likely-looking systems mapped already - one at Wolf 359, the other at 61 Cygni - and there are sure to be others, hundreds of others, where Earth-like planets are highly probable.' " Cities In Flight (London, 1981), p. 123.

Highly probable that there are many planets where human beings can breathe the air and drink the water as if they had merely flown to another continent on Earth? In Blish's parallel series, The Seedling Stars, human beings must be "Adapted," by the science of pantropy, before they can colonize (many) other planets. An "ultimate" Blish novel might have been one incorporating all his divergent and convergent concepts into a single narrative:

the spindizzy and/or the Haertel overdrive;
the anti-agathics;
the Dirac transmitter, with the "beep";
the Arpe drive exploring the microcosm;
a single all-encompassing rationale for telepathy;

We suppose that the "Colonials" who left the Jovian system in 2021 were well equipped to survive on and to start terraforming a few extra-solar planets. Three and a half centuries later, Thorium Trust Plant no 8 uses the rediscovered spindizzy to leave the Solar System and to seek work among the colonists who have by now made a few planets fully habitable. The Plant is equipped to mine and refine thorium but not to colonize so the colonists somehow pay it to help them industrialize. The Exodus from Earth begins and germanium becomes the standard of exchange. The colonists have already settled those planets that can most accurately be described as "Earth-like." There is not a large number of uninhabited planets with mine-able oil deposits and they are not easy to find. The Okies become part of an economy in which they assist in planetary development in exchange for Oc dollars or the right to mine for what they need. The Colonials of 2021 had had both the spindizzy and the anti-agathics but somehow the latter come to be used mostly by those who need them most, the Okies.

I will continue to reread the series noting what is said about contracts between cities and planets. Amalfi from New York compares notes with an Okie from another city. New Yorkers are mainly miners and petroleum geologists but have developed sidelines. The other city were agronomists working on the periphery, "'...teaching abandoned to work poisoned soil and manage low-yield crops without heavy machinery...,'" with a sideline in soil-source antibiotics (p. 313). They " '...converted to a barter economy as soon as we got out of the last commerce lanes.' " (p. 313)

Barter must also have preceded the germanium standard.

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