Saturday, 23 March 2013

What The Okies Do VIII

James Blish's Earthman, Come Home, Volume III of his Cities In Flight Tetralogy (London, 1981), starts with Mayor John Amalfi on the flying city of New York and stays with Amalfi so that we get no sense of New York as a city with a population. Apart from the city manager and one or two others, most of the characters, technicians etc, come on stage to obey Amalfi's orders and then go straight back off stage again so does the novel effectively realise a city?

The later written Volume II, A Life For The Stars, does address at least part of this problem. This juvenile novel starts not with the Mayor of a major city but with a teenager press ganged by a lesser city, Scranton, just before that city goes aloft. Because Scranton is not a spaceship with a small and like-minded or disciplined crew but a city with a larger and diverse population, the viewpoint character Chris deFord is treated in different ways by the citizens that he meets. The press gang boss warns him to claim some useful skills or knowledge when questioned by the city manager. Faking a knowledge of astronomy, Chris is assigned to the city's navigator, a university astronomer. The navigator soon realises that Chris' knowledge of astronomy is minimal and insufficient but shields him for as long as possible as an "apprentice" rather than let him be relegated to pitching slag.

The novel does describe the internal economy of a flying city, a commune where:

everyone takes what he needs in accordance with the status of his job;
hoarding is a capital offence;
money is used only for foreign trade.

"Amalfi" is heard as the name of the mayor of another city. When Chris moves to that other city, New York, he enters a more sophisticated Okie society where he receives education and might qualify for citizenship and the antiagathics if he can demonstrate useful skills that are worth preserving in a single individual as against training a new individual in each generation or depending on the accidents of birth for comparable talents. Surprisingly, one of the antiagathics removes the need for sleep!

There is more that is worth recording but it may have to wait and I have not finished rereading yet.

No comments:

Post a Comment