Rereading THEY SHALL HAVE STARS by James Blish

I’ve decided to revisit James Blish’s “Cities In Flight” series of four books, which I haven’t read since I bought these paperback editions in the late 1960s. Blish was an interesting writer, and these books are based on the clever idea that in our future, with Earth’s environment ruined and the planet strangled by overpopulation, entire cities would leave Earth to travel through space looking for work and resources, an idea based on the migration of farmers from the Dust Bowl droughts of the 1930s in the American midwest and southwest to seek greener pastures in California. This first book was written second in 1956, and details the origins of the two major discoveries that paved the way for flying cities: antigravity machines nicknamed “spindizzies” and anti-aging drugs allowing for the long life needed for interstellar travel, and as a near-future cautionary tale, has many elements that resonate with today.

Alaskan Senator Bliss Wagoner is a man of vision trying to find solutions to Earth’s problems, and also new avenues of research, as present ones are bogged down in restrictive regulations and bureaocracy. Scientist Dr. Corsi has some good advice for him: look into crackpot theories that no one has pursued. Perhaps there’s something there that’s been overlooked. Wagoner does that and eventually a huge project on the surface of Jupiter is funded and underway, though only a few people know the true reason for it: anti-gravity research.

In Washington, a military spaceman, Colonel Paige Russell has brought some soil samples from the Jovian moons to a research facility for analysis, and his curiosity soon has him deeply involved in the top secret project there to develop anti-aging drugs as well as anti-gravity engines. The fact that he’s attracted to the receptionist at the company, who turns out to be a surprisingly important figure at the project, helps get him there, and eventually Senator Wagoner, Colonel Russell and Anne Abbott are on the way to Jupiter. There, one of the scientists, Robert Helmuth, has uncovered the secret research on Jupiter’s surface, and is also drawn into the top secret project, even while back in Washington, Wagoner’s enemies are about to destroy his plans.

This book is well written, with a suspenseful plot and snappy dialogue that reminded me of Hollywood films like “The Front Page.” It’s a short book, and enjoyable enough to seem even shorter. The scientific ideas, though fictional, are well-supported by convincing writing, even though operational details are scarce. Essentially, the “spindizzy” antigravity engine is there to do whatever the books require, and for that, it works well.

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