Rereading: EARTHMAN, COME HOME by James Blish

The third in the “Cities in Flight” series by Blish is what’s called a fix-up novel, one made by combining several short stories with changes to make it read as a more continuous narrative. The original stories appeared in the early 1950s, the first things written in the series, and it’s the longest book but episodic, and it doesn’t hold together as single plot very well. It’s the first one I read, and I loved the ideas in it.

The focus is the adventures of the wandering Okie city of New York headed by Mayor Amalfi, who we met in the second book, “A Life For The Stars.” New York is one of the largest cities in flight, and one of the most revered due to its history on Earth, but among the spaceways, it’s just another hobo trying to find work, make money, and feed its citizens. The cities are supposedly overseen by Earth Police, who act as sort of cops on the intergalactic beat in smaller spindizzy ships of their own, well armed. New York and other cities get by under police rules, but sometimes walk the line between legal and illegal activities. Other cities have gone criminal, and are called bindlestiffs, taking what they want where they can get away with it. Cities like New York take on contracts to do work for planets they encounter who need their help, but in this book a galaxy-wide depression has devalued what the cities use for money, work is scarce, and they are gradually being starved. Some gather in a space colony called a Jungle (after hobo jungles on Earth in the 1930s), trying to negotiate as a group, but in danger of being destroyed by Earth Police. Amalfi’s New York is forced to join this rebel group, and when they decide to travel together back to Earth to demand rights and justice, Amalfi finds a way to make that work for him and save Earth at the same time by taking over an entire planet and making it travel like the cities do with spindizzy engines. Then New York must flee, and they travel to the distant Lesser Magellanic Cloud beyond our galaxy in search of a new home.

There’s plenty of adventure in this book, and I enjoyed rereading it, even if the science is not always very believable. The characters are appealing, and the plot’s many twists and turns keep things interesting. One thing I would have liked to see more of is making the buildings, streets, and environment of New York more part of the story, most of the interior scenes take place mainly in City Hall, and few New York landmarks are mentioned. On the whole, recommended.

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