A Life for the Stars

by James Blish

I felt at first like this book was going to just plod along. It’s listed as “Cities in Flight, #2” but I don’t think this is a series so much as a shared universe, so you don’t miss much (if anything) by starting here. In any event, you get a lot of none-too-thrilling exposition up front. The book is actually peppered with it, and it’s probably a good reminder for writers of what NOT to do.

Or, at least, in my experience, it seems like an un-engaging way to do things, not that I can’t appreciate how difficult it is to tell a concise story in a truly foreign civilization without such things.

It doesn’t help that some of this exposition is just terribly wrong, too, and sometimes unnecessary. Written in the ’50s (I think), the author states, flatly, that neither Communism nor Fascism has ever been tried on earth. (It’s usual to hear defenders of Communism state that; to hear Fascism put in the same terms is odd, to say the least.) The author demonizes cholesterol, saying only women need it (and I think while they’re pregnant) which—I’m not sure on this—may have been cutting edge medical theory back then. A sort of immortality is obtained by preventing all viral disease and eliminating cholesterol and one other thing, I forget what.

One doesn’t expect the science in old SciFi to be good, of course, just fitting the best understanding of the time. It just seemed like there were a lot of “own goals”, one might say.

That aside, this is a book that seems too short for what it wants to do. It’s kind of an epic tale, and when you figure in all the exposition already there, it’s still got so many holes and missing parts that it feels like a shadow of what it might have been.

The “third act” is pretty strong, though. It uses a lot of what was set up to its advantage. It wraps up super quick, though, and comes across like a “young adult” novel (which maybe it’s supposed to be, I don’t know).

Trivia: James Blish ended up novelizing many of the episodes of “Star Trek”, which he had no involvement with and had not even seen prior to novelizing them, but this novel contains the phrase “Prime Directive” and, unrelatedly, the concept of not interfering with alien cultures. (Although, not that alien, since they’re all Earth colonies.) So perhaps Roddenberry was aware of Blish.

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