And Then I Read: A LIFE FOR THE STARS by James Blish

The second book in the “Cities In Flight” series puts us into the initial phase of cities leaving Earth with the use of massive “spindizzy” engines that create anti-gravity force fields. Earth’s resources and economy have become stressed and stripped by overpopulation and war, and the planet is ruled by a dictatorial central government, but spindizzy technology provides an escape. Factories at first, then entire cities leave Earth to roam the spaceways looking for work and income for their inhabitants. These escapees are called Okies, a nod to the migrant farmers who left the middle and southwestern United States during the droughts of the 1930s in search of better lives in California.

Teenager Chris deFord lives in the Appalachian hills outside Scranton, Pennsylvania, and has heard that Scranton is getting ready to lift off. He wants to witness this event in secret, but a roving band of “recruiters” finds his hiding place and brings him into the city, where he becomes an unwilling part of the migration when Scranton heads for the stars. Space travel’s long time-frame is only made possible by anti-aging drugs, but they are scarce, and Chris is one of many conscripts who are not eligible for them. He’s only wanted for his skills as a laborer, but after some adventures aboard Scranton, he has the chance to move to a larger Okie city, New York, when he’s traded to that city for some other workers Scranton wants. In New York City, Chris is treated better, and educated, but he will still not be a full citizen and eligible for the anti-aging drugs until he proves his worth to the city. Chris has more adventures with New York as they land on various worlds and take job contracts until a contract is offered on a world that is trying to get rid of an Okie city causing them trouble. That city is Scranton, and Chris’s unique knowledge of his former city gives him a lead role in trying to fulfill that contract.

This was an enjoyable read, and I’d call it my favorite of the four books in the series. Blish’s model for the story might have been the Heinlein juveniles, coming of age stories by Robert A. Heinlein, and though this is a shorter book than most of those, and not as well written, it’s still a worthy attempt along the same lines.

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