Monday, 15 April 2013
a spaceship from Earth has crossed an interstellar distance, sometimes by unspecified means but usually faster than light (FTL);
the ship approaches an inhabited planet;
characters on the bridge or in a spaceship cabin discuss what, if anything, is known about the planet;
there is a landing or some other kind of interaction with the planet's inhabitants;
the story might present speculation about planetary environments, alien biologies, alternative societies etc;
lessons about humanity may be learned by comparison or contrast.
It makes sense for such stories to be written as series and Star Trek is an obvious example. Several of James Blish's works follow this "spaceship story" formula. They can be compared with Star Trek and we can sometimes imagine them being adapted as Star Trek episodes. Cities In Flight is such a series in which the "ships" are flying cities.
In "A Dusk Of Idols," an Earth ship stops at the planet Chandala where the ruling class uses epidemics to control the population. The ship's surgeon and a passenger who is a famous society doctor discuss the situation on Chandala and I could not help thinking that Dr McCoy, from the Enterprise, would have belonged here but the author, of "A Dusk Of Idols," pointed out that McCoy did not even exist in his creator's mind yet when the story was written.
The ship's surgeon, narrating, tells us that he knows how his famous colleague was "lost" so we expect the latter to die on Chandala and it is a relief when he merely learns a lesson - that the idols are falling.
Other Blish "spaceship stories" are:
"Tiger Ride" (with Damon Knight);
the three that I call the Galactic Cluster trilogy ("Common Time," "Nor Iron Bars" and "This Earth Of Hours");
"And Some Were Savages";
the last pantropy story, "Watershed";
the second Jack Loftus novel, Mission To The Heart Stars.