Saturday, 23 March 2013

What The Okies Do VII

After today, I expect not to have access to a computer until Good Friday at the earliest. I certainly aim to post more about James Blish whose Cities In Flight, which I am currently rereading, is proving to be considerably richer than expected. Of course, I did appreciate and rate the series on previous readings many years ago and with good reason although I would not have been able to articulate all of the reasons adequately then.

I think that the main American future histories are definitely those written by Heinlein, Blish, Anderson and Niven. Asimov's can be read for comparison but I think that it lacks the substance and solidity that can be attributed to those others.

Blish said that Cities In Flight, Volume II, A Life For The Stars, resulted from the "laziness" of using an established background for a new juvenile sf novel instead of creating a new background. However, I am glad that this novel exists because it adds significantly to the series, even answering some questions that are not even addressed in the earlier written Volume III, Earthman, Come Home. The flying cities are shown only in Volumes II and III so we should certainly be grateful that they appear in two whole volumes and not just in one.

We are told more about why the cities go aloft. When Scranton goes Okie, it takes its slag heaps with it because there will be some frontier planets with iron ore to process and others with a use for slag whereas Earth has by now exhausted all of its iron ore. Scranton must leave the Solar System because:

there is no iron ore on the gas giants or Pluto;
no steel town can afford to process the iron on Venus or Mercury;
Mars, lacking not iron but oxygen, necessary for making steel, can support only one steel town, Pittsburgh.

Bystanders too near the perimeter when the city lifts are press ganged but must show that they have useful skills if they are not to be assigned to pitching slag. Even a Master Steel Puddler goes to the slag heaps because Scranton is " '...a Bessemer-process town...'" (Cities In Flight, London, 1981, p. 149). I still do not understand these technicalities but this time I am noting them instead of just reading past them. This is how Blish builds the plausibility of his narrative.

It becomes clear, I think, that the Scrantonites are capable, maybe, of selling their existing skills to established colonies but not of what would in fact be the far more difficult tasks either of founding their own colony or of transforming their flying city into a self-sufficient entity. The latter project would, according to information given in Volume III, require them to change their mining operations from iron to oil and also to find uninhabited Earth-like planets where they could mine. How many such planets would be left in the accessible parts of the galaxy after several centuries of colonisation?

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