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LIFE FOR THE STARS (CITIES IN FLIGHT / JAMES BLISH)

A Life for the Stars - James Blish It is now just over 1000 years since humans first discovered the Spindizzy - the antigravity drive that enabled their exodus to the stars. For a long time, spindizzies have been used not just to drive ships, but to launch whole Cities into space. These Cities - referred to as 'Okies' - live a nomadic lifestyle, wandering through the galaxy and landing for a short time on planets where they take on any job the inhabitants need doing, such as mining, or refining, drilling etc. But most of their time is spent traveling between star systems.

The Industrial city of Scranton, is about to power up its Spindizzy drives and leave earth to go Okie. Crispin (Chris) DeFord has picked his spot beyond the city perimeter to watch Scranton take off. Unfortunately for him, the City is operating press-gangs on the perimeter, and one such group discovers him and forces him into the city as it takes off. Chris is forced to leave behind his family and the only life he has ever known, and make whatever life he can for himself on Scranton. Chris has had no formal schooling, but has a personal interest in astronomy, which he uses to pass himself off as a professional for a short time on Scranton. But it can't last for long, and as soon as another Okie ship offers a trade of workers, Chris takes the opportunity to jump ship. Chris then finds himself on the city of New York, where his chances in life are somewhat improved. He is put through a hard course of advanced schooling through hypnotherapy, and the city fathers - the artificial intelligences that perform all the basic running of the city - drive him hard to find any hidden skills or talents he may have. If he manages to show a useful skill, when his 18th birthday comes, he could be granted citizenship. And like every other citizen he would be granted the anti-aging drugs that let Okies live for centuries on their flying city ships.

I enjoyed this second installment of Cities in Flight almost as much as the first. I found Chris to be a very relatable character, he's young and intelligent and he knows what he wants, but he's yet to figure out how to get it. He's fairly brash and he's willing to lie and break the rules a little to get his own way, but not to the point of losing his own sense of right and wrong. And he seems to make friends easily. He is some what cliche of other sci-fi and fantasy adventurous kids, getting into scrapes but ultimately being forgiven, but it makes him an easy character to get along with.

The tone of the novel was however a little childish at times, I think this is because Blish is writing from the point of view of the teenage Chris, and yet Chris seemed to have some very mature ideas for his age. So the whole young-adult feel to the narration was a little un-wanted and a bit patronising in parts.

One thing I was a little confused at, was how the nature of the anti-agathic (anti-aging) drugs seemed to have changed from how they were first explained in book one. In They Shall Have Stars it was explained that simple removing all diseases from humanity wouldn't be enough to stop them aging, and that there was a separate toxin that caused the aging itself and could be counteracted. But in A life for the Stars the anti-aging drugs were just a collection of antibiotics that prevented all disease, which is a complete backtrack of the original idea, and simply didn't cut it for me. I can't believe that just eradicating disease would stop aging, and the scientists said as much in the first book!

And so in conclusion, I enjoyed the storyline, but I was seriously peeved by the Blish's u-turn on the sciencey bits. I'm definately on with books 3 and 4 tho, and reviews will come soon.


See my other reviews of Cities in Flight:
#1 They Shall Have Stars | #3 Earthman, Come Home