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In This World or Another
James Blish
Five Star, 388 pages

In This World or Another
James Blish
James Blish was born in 1921 at East Orange, New Jersey. He received a BA in microbiology from Rutgers in 1942 and served in WWII as a medical technician. After the war, he continued his studies at Columbia for 2 years. His first wife was Virginia Kidd, the literary agent. Blish moved to England in 1968 with his 2nd wife, Judith Ann Lawrence. A prolific author, he also wrote under such names as William Atheling, Jr., Arthur Merlyn, Donald Laverty and John MacDougal. His awards include the 1959 Hugo for Best Novel for A Case Of Conscience. He died on July 29, 1975, at Henley-on-Thames, UK

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: A Case Of Conscience
SF Site Review: The Seedling Stars

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Cindy Lynn Speer

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Chosen by his widow, this collection of James Blish's work spans his whole career, and offers a great deal to readers.

In "Citadel of Thought," Dan Lothar discovers a race of humanoid aliens who were in a sort of hibernation, awake enough to watch as a growing evil approaches. They fight with their minds. But their minds may not be enough to face this, so he gets them to build him a ship. But how can one man stand alone against an alien force whose very thoughts are like the breath of death? Blish admits that he was only 19 when he wrote this story, and that it contains influences from the pulps he was addicted to reading. You can see it in the daredevil one-man-builds-a-ship-to-stand-against-the-universe theme. It feels a bit like a Burroughs story, and a classic bit of SF. The story is saved from being pure pulp fiction by the fact that it is the intellectuals who protect everyone, even though brawn eventually saves the day.

"Get Out of My Sky" is a nifty story and a strange bit of social commentary. Aidregh is a citizen of a world that has always had everything -- water, minerals, energy sources -- but it is a world that shares its space with another, desolate planet. The people on the water world are being convinced that the people of the other world are evil, and are considering war. But Aidregh, with the help of a mental trick taught to him by the desert-world's mentally strong people (for they are mostly people of the mind with no real natural resources -- what else can they be?) is hoping to prevent it. It's a clever story. I like how he used SF to create a commentary on political manipulation (a theme that somehow always feels appropriate to today's happenings) yet had all sorts of interesting SF things. The idea of these worlds orbiting so close together (to get a clear picture of their world, they had to go to another planet where they discover something else that's interesting and slightly ominous) is really fascinating.

In "Nor Iron Bars," Dr. Gordon Arpe was the one who made the breakthrough on the Haretel Overdrive, which will hopefully transport mass amounts of people to space without the previous space drive's side effect of making people insane. They've made him Captain of a ship that will take colonists to Centarius, certain that everything will go smoothly. Of course, things don't go quite according to plan. This space adventure is particularly fun because of Doctor/Captain Arpe. He's a genius, but he's not a people person at all, and the interaction he gets into are often quite funny. Thankfully he has a strong first officer to help him. The complications are really well done, and the ultimate decision that Arpe makes is really quite admirable.

"Work of Art" stars a resurrected Richard Straus, who has been brought back into a volunteer body in order to write and perform a new masterwork. I loved this story because it's a very ironic piece, and how Strauss reacts to being brought back, and his conclusions about it, really struck a cord with me. Ummmm... No pun intended.

"The Oath" is a post-apocalyptic tale where the people, angry at those with technical knowledge of any sort, have executed all that they can find, even doctors. Dr. Frank Tucci is searching for people to join a settlement that will be a safe haven for these people. He finally finds Gotlieb, a poet who read up on doctoring, who refuses to do anything for those he deems unfit. It's mostly a meditation on the philosophy of survival of the fittest and the meaning of the Hippocratic oath. I found it well done, but scary. The idea that someone would arbitrarily choose who and who not to treat in some Darwinian nightmare is unsettling, especially to someone who has just recently visited the hospital.

"Surface Tension" is probably the most popular of Blish's stories, and one for which I have always had a huge fondness. A seed ship accidentally wrecks on a small world with just one tiny continent. Since the ship's finished, they can't leave. There's very little food, so they need to find a new way to carry on. Their cargo of human seeds is mostly lost, so they decide to use their own DNA to create microscopic people to live in the water of this world. They've given them the ability to live like thist because there's very little land, and they have a better chance in the water. The next part of the story explores the lives of the tiny people themselves as they struggle to survive. It is so different. The things these amazing, microscopic people do, the wars they fight, the fascinating ways they learn to survive through hibernating in cocoons and their eventual exploitation of the world above the surface; it's all so neat. Really it is his best story, and probably one of the best SF short stories ever.

Other stories in this collection include "A Dusk of Idols", "How Beautiful With Banners," "Testament of Andros", "Common Time" and the poem "Scenario: The Edifice." In This World or Another is a very strong collection of stories. Most people may connect James Blish with the original Star Trek, and while he did some great work there, he is really so much more. This collection is a great tribute to one of the masters of the SF genre.

Copyright © 2003 Cindy Lynn Speer

Cindy Lynn Speer loves books so much that she's designed most of her life around them, both as a librarian and a writer. Her books aren't due out anywhere soon, but she's trying. You can find her site at www.apenandfire.com.


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