Earthman, Come Home
is set a few hundred years after the previous novel. John Amalfi is still the mayor of the Okie city New York, and is now over 700 years old; thanks to the anti-agathic drugs that all citizens take. New York is running low on supplies and must land and take a job soon, but Amalfi's only option is to pick one of two warring planets in the closest system, both of which they have been warned off by the earth police. Amalfi first chooses to land on Utopia, a planet ravaged by nuclear attacks. But later chooses to move over to Gort, a planet in the old Hruntan Empire. The Hruntans turn out to have been a bad choice of allies, as they hold NY hostage and demand from them an explanation of the sought-after friction-field generator tech. When Amalfi finally manages to escape from the Hruntans, the City has accumulated even more violations on its record, and the earth police are not happy with them. So Amalfi takes the city out into the Rift, a huge expanse of space that is empty of stars and planets, Except for one lonely star system, containing the planet He, which is the only possible place to land inside the emptiness of the rift.
The citys adventures continue on, endlessly, which make it a very difficult book to synopsise. New York, as Okie cities do, moves from one planet to the other, never able to settle, and seemingly never getting ahead, always in some trouble, always low on some resource or other. As such, the plot does seem to wander as much as the city itself does, but later events always rely on something learned or gained in earlier adventures, so things do tie together quite nicely.
The passage of time in this novel was seriously hard to comprehend. With the spindizzy drive, the okie cities can travel across distances that just would not be possible for us, the spindizzy is equivalent to travelling many times the speed of light. But apparently it does still take years to travel between systems, and the cities spend years again fulfilling their contracts on planets. Yet it did take me a while to understand this, there is no feel of a great passage of time in the writing, the story moves on from one event straight to the other, and then suddenly Amalfi will muse that he's 2 centuries older! I found this very jarring. I couldn't relate to the time spans at all.
I also didn't get along very well with the main character. Arguably, Amalfi is supposed to be a hard character to relate to, because he has lived centuries longer than most humans and has become a little detatched from the rest of humanity. I think he even admits at one time that he behaves more like a computer now than a human. But on top of that I'm afraid I found him just plain irritating. Amalfi is constantly keeping plans to himself until the last possible second, even from the reader, which is a really childish way to create a plot mystery, I have to say I expected more from Blish than this terrible fake suspense trick. I'm not even sure why Amalfi keeps a City Manager to run the city, as he never lets Hazleton get on with his job. He makes his plans without telling a single person, and then when Hazleton tries to makes descisions, Amalfi countermands all his orders without an explanation. I found this just incredibly annoying, it doesn't make Amalfi sound heroic or intelligent, just irritatingly childish. Every time it happened I couldn't help thinking how much better things would have gone if he'd have just been open with Hazleton from the beginning. But then of course there would be no 'suspense'.
Another character that irritated me was Dee, the only female character. She was portrayed as fairly intelligent, but unfortunately she never seemed to do anything with her intelligence. She had no role on the city, apart from to be someone elses wife, and she had no skills, and nothing whasoever to do. She may have been an intelligent love interest, but she was just a love interest all the same. I suppose I'm not entirely suprised, considering the decade the book was written in, but I don't have to like it. Although I'm sure Blish's portrayal of female characters improved in the 60s when he started writing for the very progressive Star Trek series.
There were a lot of interesting ideas in the novel, the technology, the planets, and the civilisations were all fascinating, but I don't feel that it was carried off very well at all. Apart from Amalfi's secret plotting, there were also a few too many instances of Deus ex Machina
, eg when doctor schloss suddenly saves them all by mending the invisiblility machine they all thought was fake, and then the machine is never mentioned or used again
I found out after finishing the entire set of novels that although number 3 in the series, Earthman, Come Home
was actually the first written. Which explains why it never seems as well thought or out, or as well written as the others. But it still contains a lot of very good ideas, and I suppose in the end it is worth reading in order to tie all the other novels together. Still, I'd have to say this was my least favourite out of all the 4 books.See my other reviews of Cities in Flight:
← #2 A Life for the Stars
| #4 The Triumph of Time