Cities in Flight

Cities in Flight is a four-volume series of science fiction stories by American writer James Blish, originally published between 1950 and 1962, which were first known collectively as the "Okie" novels. The series features entire cities that are able to fly through space using an anti-gravity device, the spindizzy. The stories cover roughly two thousand years, from the very near future to the end of the universe. One story, "Earthman, Come Home" won a Retro Hugo Award in 2004 for Best Novelette.[1] Since 1970, the primary edition has been the omnibus volume first published in paperback by Avon Books.[2] Over the years James Blish made many changes to these stories in response to points raised in letters from readers.

Cities in Flight
Cities in Flight
Cover of the first omnibus edition, 1970.
AuthorJames Blish
Country United States
GenreScience fiction, Adventure fiction
Publication date
1955 to 1962
Media typePrint
Two complete science adventure books 1953spr n8
The novella "Sargasso of Lost Cities", Blish's third "Cities in Flight" story, was originally published in Two Complete Science-Adventure Books in 1953.

The books

They Shall Have Stars

They Shall Have Stars (1956) (also published under the title Year 2018!), incorporating the stories "Bridge" and "At Death's End",[3] is set in the near future (the book begins in 2013). In this future, the Soviet Union still exists and the Cold War is still ongoing. As a result, in the West, civil liberties have been eroded more and more, until society eventually resembles the Soviet model. Alaska's Senator Bliss Wagoner, head of the Joint Congressional Committee on Space Flight, is determined to do something about it.

Scientific research has stagnated, mainly because knowledge has become restricted. On the advice of scientist Dr. Corsi, Wagoner concentrates his attention on fringe science theories. One project he has funded is the building of a "bridge" made of Ice IV on the surface of Jupiter to make measurements. This leads to one of two major discoveries which make interstellar space travel feasible: gravity manipulation (nicknamed the "spindizzy"), which leads to both a faster-than-light travel and effective shielding. Another project yields an "anti-agathic" drug, which stops aging. Wagoner is eventually convicted of treason by an oppressive regime, but not before he has sent out expeditions (in a later book, it is revealed that they succeed in establishing thriving colonies). Politically, the book clearly expresses a strong opposition to McCarthyism, at its peak during the time of writing. The main antagonist is one Francis X. MacHinery, hereditary Director of the FBI, which has become a de facto secret police agency. In the final chapter he is heard to say "Bliss Wagoner is dead", with the narrative noting that "as usual, he was wrong", as his legacy will endure.

Reviewing a later edition, the Hartford Courant described the novel as "a skillful mixture of human reality and technological fantasy".[4]

A Life for the Stars

In the period in between the first and second parts, the Cold War ended with the peaceful merging of the East and West blocks into a single, planet-wide Soviet-ruled dictatorship, which hardly made any perceptible change, as the West's political system had already become virtually identical with the Soviet one. However, this dictatorial power was broken by the spindizzy drive which works for very large objects, so that dissidents and malcontents have an easy way of escaping and going off into space. First factories, then eventually whole cities migrate from the economically depressed Earth in search of work; these space-wandering cities are called Okies.

A Life for the Stars (1962) is a bildungsroman describing the adventures of sixteen-year-old Chris deFord, born when the above process of migration had already been going on for a considerable time. When Chris goes to watch the imminent departure of Scranton, Pennsylvania, he is unaware that the law requires that anybody found nearby must be taken along.

After several adventures, Chris is fortunate to be transferred to the much more prosperous New York (or at least the Manhattan portion of it), a major "Okie" city under Mayor John Amalfi. Scranton is run by the city manager rather than its figurehead mayor. When the two cities meet again and come into conflict over Scranton's bungling of a job, Chris is able to convince an influential friend in his old city to depose the city manager and end the conflict. Impressed, Amalfi elevates him to the newly created position of city manager of New York and gives him the status of resident rather than passenger (and thus entitled to anti-agathic drugs).

Earthman, Come Home

Earthman, Come Home (1955, G. P. Putnam's Sons, New York), combining the stories "Okie", "Bindlestiff", "Sargasso of Lost Cities" and "Earthman, Come Home",[5] is the longest book in the series. It describes the many adventures of New York under Amalfi, amongst a galaxy which has planets settled at different periods of history under loose control by Earth. New York eventually ends up in an "Okie Jungle" created by an economic collapse. Amalfi realises that the "Vegan Orbital Fort", a semi-mythical remnant of the previously dominant alien civilisation, is likely to emerge in such chaos to take its revenge on Earth. His plan includes forcing the Okies to "march" on Earth, attracting the Vegan fort to join in the "march", and culminates in installating a spindizzy drive system on a small planet and using it to defend the Earth against the Vegan attack. But meanwhile the Earth Police had got a navy of big powerful armed spacecraft called "monitors", which appear from invisibility and quickly efficiently vaporize all the attacking Okie cities, except New York, which jumps unnoticed away to safety (in some editions it uses a special circuit which works only once), but the police think that they destroyed New York. At least one police monitor is destroyed in this battle. In later versions the Vegan fort destroys many police monitors.

Eventually, New York is installed on a spindizzy-equipped planet called He, which is projected out of the Milky Way galaxy, and then leaves the Milky Way galaxy and flies towards the Greater Magellanic Cloud. Some of New York's spindizzies are irreparably damaged; Amalfi convinces the New Yorkers that they must find a planet to call home from now on. On their chosen planet, New York encounters a city of renegades, which calls itself IMT (Interstellar Master Traders), whose sacking of the planet Thor 5 damaged the reputation of the cities in general, and who have enslaved the local human population. In typical fashion, Amalfi swindles the IMT residents; their city flew up and was summarily vaporized by a patrolling Earth Police monitor. Although Blish rarely defines how much time passes during each adventure, a late chapter implies that over three hundred years pass in the course of the novel. Reviewer Groff Conklin praised it as "a real, honest, pure, gee-whiz space opera."[6]

A Clash of Cymbals/The Triumph of Time

A Clash of Cymbals (published in the U.S. as The Triumph of Time) (1959) follows the passage of Amalfi and the planet "He" undertaking the first intergalactic transit. In the less relativistically-distorted space between the two galaxies, evidence of a collision between two universes is detected by the "Hevians" — a matter-antimatter collision that reveals the cyclic nature of reality. An alien culture is also investigating this phenomenon, which will shortly accelerate to engulf all galactic space; in other words, the colliding universes will end in a transition in between the Big Bang and Big Crunch. It will be possible to modify the future development of the fresh universes which will emerge from this singularity, and Amalfi directs the "New Earth" residents to compete with the alien culture (the Web of Hercules) in order to prevent their manipulation of the future of the universe.

As with the other books, a detailed description of the technologies used is provided, including cosmological calculus. While there are some continuity slips, the series presents a unified story of humanity's expansion across the galaxy, and the birth of a new universe.

Frederik Pohl praised the novel as "science fiction which deals with tomorrow on its own terms", citing Blish's "triumph of inventions, great and small", but concluded that despite the "brilliance" of the author's conceptions, Triumph suffered from its inadequate story.[7]

Fictional technology

  • The powerful space weapon called the Bethé blaster operates by causing a fast atomic fusion explosion in all low-atomic-weight elements in its target, thus completely vaporizing its target. It efficiently and quickly destroys any Okie city which it is fired at. It was named after Hans Bethe.
  • The mesotron rifle is a hand-held energy weapon.
  • The spindizzy is an anti-gravity and faster-than-light flight device.
  • The Dirac communicator allows instantaneous communication across the width of a galaxy. It was named after Paul Dirac. It occurs often in Blish's fiction and its creation is described in the novel The Quincunx of Time.
  • Bethé barrier: a sort of defensive barrier sometimes set up at an Okie city's limits.
  • Transistor metals: the story mentions germanium often, including as a money metal, but it never mentions silicon.
  • Scranton circa 3000 AD is described as being largely still as it was around 1960.
  • Steelworks workmen's safety helmets in the story are once called "tin hats" and are thus likely made of metal sheet and not of polymer like real modern safety helmets: see Hard hat#History.
  • In the start of A Life for the Stars a man booking a ride in a computer-controlled taxicab spoke his social security number to it, demonstrating computer voice recognition.


In the year 2010 omnibus edition, these flying Okie cities are named (but many more are mentioned):-

  • Buda-Pesht (Hungary)
  • Coquilhatville - Congo
  • Dresden - Saxony (Germany)
  • Pittsburgh
  • New York City - The main protagonist City about which the stories revolve.
  • Thorium Trust's Plant Number 8
  • Gravitogorsk-Mars (later renamed) IMT = Interstellar Master Traders
  • Los Angeles (only in a legend that was current among the Okie cities)
  • Liverpool (England)
  • Bradley - Vermont
  • Lincoln - Nevada (a false name used for itself by the Vegan orbital fort) ("Lincoln, NV" is part of the postal address of Area 51.)
  • Scranton (Pennsylvania, USA)
  • Washington, D.C. - Described as 'The sole City on the sleepy planetary capital of the system', and 'The place where old bureaucrats went to retire' , Earth. All other Cities had by this time left the earth. Seat of operations of the Earth Police, and the Earth Government which regulates and polices the far-flung Okie cities.

References in other works

The spindizzy was used in at least two novels by Jesse Franklin Bone, The Lani People and Confederation Matador, and appears as the nickname for fictional Heim Theory devices in Ken MacLeod's The Execution Channel.


  1. ^ Hugo Award Winners from the 2000s
  2. ^ ISFDB publishing history
  3. ^ Index to Science Fiction Anthologies and Collections
  4. ^ "Pick of the Pockets". Hartford Courant, January 21, 1968, p.G15
  5. ^ Index to Science Fiction Anthologies and Collections
  6. ^ "Galaxy's 5 Star Shelf", Galaxy Science Fiction, May 1955, p. 115.
  7. ^ "In the Balance", If, July 1959, pp. 96-98

Anti-gravity (also known as non-gravitational field) is a theory of creating a place or object that is free from the force of gravity. It does not refer to the lack of weight under gravity experienced in free fall or orbit, or to balancing the force of gravity with some other force, such as electromagnetism or aerodynamic lift. Anti-gravity is a recurring concept in science fiction, particularly in the context of spacecraft propulsion. Examples are the gravity blocking substance "Cavorite" in H. G. Wells's The First Men in the Moon and the Spindizzy machines in James Blish's Cities in Flight.

In Newton's law of universal gravitation, gravity was an external force transmitted by unknown means. In the 20th century, Newton's model was replaced by general relativity where gravity is not a force but the result of the geometry of spacetime. Under general relativity, anti-gravity is impossible except under contrived circumstances. Quantum physicists have postulated the existence of gravitons, massless elementary particles that transmit gravitational force, but the possibility of creating or destroying these is unclear.

"Anti-gravity" is often used to refer to devices that look as if they reverse gravity even though they operate through other means, such as lifters, which fly in the air by moving air with electromagnetic fields.

Bigger Than Worlds

"Bigger Than Worlds" is an essay by the American science fiction writer Larry Niven (born 1938). It was first published in March 1974 in Analog magazine, and has been anthologized in A Hole in Space (1974) and in Playgrounds of the Mind (1991). It reviews a number of proposals, not inconsistent with the known laws of physics, which have been made for habitable artificial astronomical megastructures.After an introduction saying that everyone may not always live on a single planet, the essay is divided into (mostly short) sections having the following titles and brief descriptions:

The Multi-Generation ShipA generation ship is a slower-than-light spaceship housing some hundreds of people which takes several human generations to complete its journey. It could in principle be built using known technology.

GravityNiven can conceive of four ways of generating artificial gravity in a spaceship: (1) centrifugal force; (2) adding mass, e.g. neutronium or a black hole (this would incur serious penalties in fuel consumption); (3) gravity waves; and (4) continuous linear acceleration to the midway point of a journey, followed by continuous deceleration.

Flying CitiesThese were proposed by James Blish (1921–75) in his novel sequence Cities in Flight (1956–62); they used an as-yet-undiscovered means of propulsion. As an alternative to Blish's idea of launching existing cities into space, Niven proposes a giant annular spaceship, which rotates to generate artificial gravity.

Inside OutsideThis describes a hollowed-out planetoid, with living quarters inside.

Macro-LifeAny of the foregoing could be made self-sufficient and a permanent habitation, enlarged by materials obtained from planetary systems.

WorldsNiven introduces the concept of engineering and terraforming whole planets.

Dyson SpheresA Dyson sphere is a hollow spherical megastructure that completely encompasses a star. The inside surface is inhabited. The structure need not be a complete sphere; as, for example, in Niven's novel Ringworld (1970). A star could be provided with rings of different diameters each occupying a different plane.

Dyson Spheres IIAs alternative to the gravity generators used in Ringworld, a Dyson structure could rotate to generate artificial gravity. Alternatively, one could do without gravity and live in free fall by inhabiting the space between two concentric Dyson spheres.

Hold It A MinuteThe mathematics are plausible; the materials of construction are unknown.

The DiscAn Alderson disk is a platter of diameter similar to that of the orbits of Mars or Jupiter, with a star occupying a hole in its center.

Cosmic MacaroniIn a topopolis, a star is surrounded by a toroidal tube, which rotates around its internal circular axis to generate artificial gravity by centrifugal force. The structure need not be circular: it could be more complex, consisting of multiple loops around the star.

The MegasphereA Dyson sphere contains the heart of a galaxy. The outside surface is the biosphere; the stars inside the source of energy. Surface gravity is minute, so that ability to live in free fall would be necessary. The atmosphere would not thin out for scores of light-years, so that structures such as ringworlds could be installed around the megasphere itself.

Finally, Niven notes that a rotating ringworld equipped with conducting surfaces could set up enormous magnetic forces acting on the star, which could be used to control its burning and to force it to emit a jet of gas along the system's axis. The star would become its own space drive, towing the ringworld along by gravity. By the time the star was used up, the system would be moving at sufficient speed to use interstellar gas as fuel for a Bussard ramjet. Such a megastructure would be impossible to land, and only useful if fleeing a galaxy-wide disaster.

Blackett effect

The Blackett effect, also called gravitational magnetism, is the hypothetical generation of a magnetic field by an uncharged, rotating body. This effect has never been observed.


Colonialism is the policy of a foreign polity seeking to extend or retain its authority over other people or territories, generally with the aim of opening trade opportunities. The colonizing country seeks to benefit from the colonized country or land mass. In the process, colonizers imposed their religion, economics, and medicinal practices on the natives. Some argue this was a positive move toward modernization, while other scholars refute this theory as being biased and Eurocentric, noting that modernization is a concept introduced by Europeans. Colonialism is largely regarded as a relationship of domination of an indigenous majority by a minority of foreign invaders where the latter rule in pursuit of its interests.Early records of colonization go as far back as Phoenecians, an enterprising maritime trading culture that spread across the Mediterranean from 1550 BC to 300 BC and later the Greeks and Persians continued on this line of setting up colonies. The Romans would soon follow, setting up colonies throughout the Mediterranean, Northern Africa, and Western Asia. In the 9th century a new wave of Mediterranean colonization had begun between competing states such as the Islamic Ottomans and the Venetians, Genovese and Amalfians, invading the wealthy previously Byzantine or Eastern Roman islands and lands. Venice began with the conquest of Dalmatia and reached its greatest nominal extent at the conclusion of the Fourth Crusade in 1204, with the declaration of the acquisition of three octaves of the Byzantine Empire.

Later, in the 15th century some European states established their own empires during the European colonial period. The Belgian, British, Danish, Dutch, French, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish and Swedish empires established colonies across large areas. Imperial Japan, the Ottoman Empire and the United States also acquired colonies, as did imperialist China and finally in the late 19th century the German and the Italian.

At first, European colonizing countries followed policies of mercantilism, in order to strengthen the home economy, so agreements usually restricted the colonies to trading only with the metropole (mother country). By the mid-19th century, however, the British Empire gave up mercantilism and trade restrictions and adopted the principle of free trade, with few restrictions or tariffs. Christian missionaries were active in practically all of the colonies because the Colonialists were Christians. Historian Philip Hoffman calculated that by 1800, before the Industrial Revolution, Europeans already controlled at least 35% of the globe, and by 1914, they had gained control of 84%.

In the aftermath of World War II, the archetypal European colonial system practically ended between 1945–1975, when nearly all Europe's colonies gained political independence.

Faster-than-light communication

Superluminal communication is a hypothetical process in which information is sent at faster-than-light (FTL) speeds. The current scientific consensus is that faster-than-light communication is not possible, and to date it has not been achieved in any experiment.

Under present knowledge superluminal communication is impossible because, in a Lorentz-invariant theory, it could be used to transmit information into the past. This contradicts causality and leads to logical paradoxes.A number of theories and phenomena related to superluminal communication have been proposed or studied, including tachyons, quantum nonlocality, and wormholes.

Fictional planets of the Solar System

The fictional portrayal of our Solar System has often included planets, moons, and other celestial objects which do not actually exist in reality. Some of these objects were, at one time, seriously considered as hypothetical planets which were either thought to have been observed, or were hypothesized in order to explain certain celestial phenomena. Often such objects continued to be used in literature long after the hypotheses upon which they were based had been abandoned.

Other non-existent Solar System objects used in fiction have been proposed or hypothesized by persons with no scientific standing, while yet others are purely fictional and were never intended as serious hypotheses about the structure of the Solar System.

Floating cities and islands in fiction

In speculative fiction, floating cities and islands are a common trope, which range from cities and islands that float on water to ones that float in the atmosphere of a planet by scientific or magical means. While very large floating structures have been constructed or proposed in real life, aerial cities and islands remain in the realm of fiction.

Future history

A future history is a postulated history of the future and is used by authors of science fiction and other speculative fiction to construct a common background for fiction. Sometimes the author publishes a timeline of events in the history, while other times the reader can reconstruct the order of the stories from information provided therein.

Galactic Empire (Isaac Asimov)

The Galactic Empire is an interstellar empire featured in Isaac Asimov's Robot, Galactic Empire, and Foundation series. The Empire is spread across the Milky Way galaxy and consists of almost 25 million planets settled exclusively by humans. It had a total population of 500 quintillion. For over 12 millennia the seat of imperial authority was located on the ecumenopolis of Trantor, whose population exceeded 40 billion, until it was sacked in the year 12,328. The official symbol of the empire is the Spaceship-and-Sun. Cleon II was the last Emperor to hold significant authority. The fall of the empire, modelled on the fall of the Roman Empire, is the subject of many of Asimov's novels.

James Blish

James Benjamin Blish (23 May 1921 – 30 July 1975) was an American science fiction and fantasy writer. He is best known for his Cities in Flight novels, and his series of Star Trek novelizations written with his wife, J. A. Lawrence. He is credited with creating the term gas giant to refer to large planetary bodies.

Blish was a member of the Futurians. His first published stories appeared in Super Science Stories and Amazing Stories.

Blish wrote literary criticism of science fiction using the pen-name William Atheling Jr. His other pen names included: Donald Laverty, John MacDougal, and Arthur Lloyd Merlyn.


Laputa is a flying island described in the 1726 book Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift. It is about 4.5 miles in diameter, with an adamantine base, which its inhabitants can maneuver in any direction using magnetic levitation. It has a cave in the very centre which is precisely there to gather all the rainwater. It is also used by the king to enforce his supremacy.

List of fictional city-states in literature

This is a list of fictional city-states in literature. A city-state is a sovereign state that consists of a city and its dependent territories. They have been an important aspect of human society, and historically included famous cities like Athens, Carthage, Rome, and the Italian city-states of the Renaissance. Correspondingly in literature, there are numerous examples of fictional city-states.

List of fictional politicians

This is a list of political office holders from works of fiction. Fictional U.S. Presidents, U.S. Vice Presidents, U.S. Presidential candidates, British Prime Ministers, British monarchs, and Australian and British politicians are all covered by separate articles.

List of fictional vehicles

The following is a list of fictional vehicles.


An Okie is a resident, native, or cultural descendant of Oklahoma. It is derived from the name of the state, similar to Texan or Tex for someone from Texas, or Arkie or Arkansawyer for a native of Arkansas.

In the 1920s in California, the term (often used in contempt) came to refer to very poor migrants from Oklahoma (and nearby states). The Dust Bowl and the "Okie" migration of the 1930s brought in over a million newly displaced people; many headed to the farm labor jobs advertised in California's Central Valley.

Dunbar-Ortiz (1998) argues that "Okie" denotes much more than being from Oklahoma. By 1950, four million individuals, or one quarter of all persons born in Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, or Missouri, lived outside the region, primarily in the West. Prominent Okies in the 1920s included Woody Guthrie. Most prominent in the late 1960s and 1970s were country musician Merle Haggard and writer Gerald Haslam.

Okie (disambiguation)

Okie is a term meaning resident of Oklahoma.

Okie may also refer to:

Okie dialect - Southern American English

Okie dokie - slang for Okay

Okie Noodling - documentary about fishing in Oklahoma

In James Blish's space story series Cities in Flight, an Okie is a city equipped for space flight, or one of its inhabitants

Planets in science fiction

Planets in science fiction are fictional planets that appear in various media of the science fiction genre as story-settings or depicted locations.


The Dillon-Wagoner Graviton Polarity Generator, known colloquially as the spindizzy, is a fictitious anti-gravity device imagined by James Blish for his series Cities in Flight. This device grows more efficient with the amount of mass being lifted, which was used as the hook for the stories—it was more effective to lift an entire city than it was to lift something smaller, such as a classic spaceship. This is taken to extremes in the final stories, where an entire planet is used to cross the galaxy in a matter of hours using the spindizzy drive.

According to the stories, the spindizzy is based on principles contained in an equation coined by P.M.S. Blackett, a British physicist of the mid-20th century. Several other Blish stories involving novel space drives contain the same assertion. Blackett's original formula was an attempt to correlate the known magnetic fields of large rotating bodies, such as the Sun, Earth, and a star in Cygnus whose field had been measured indirectly. It was unusual in that it brought Isaac Newton's gravitational constant and Coulomb's constant together, the one governing forces between masses, the other governing forces between electric charges. However, it was later disproved by more accurate measurements, and by new discoveries such as magnetic field reversals on Earth and the Sun, and the lack of a magnetic field on bodies such as Mars, despite its rotation being similar to Earth's.

Blish's extrapolation was that if rotation combined with mass produces magnetism via gravity, then rotation and magnetism could produce anti-gravity. The field created by a spindizzy is described as altering the magnetic moment of any atom within its influence.

The spindizzy was also used in at least two novels by Jesse Franklin Bone, The Lani People and Confederation Matador and appears as the nickname for fictional Heim theory devices in Ken MacLeod's The Execution Channel.


In science fiction, ultrawaves (or hyperwaves or subwaves) are transmissions or signals that may propagate faster than light through either normal space, or alternate space, such as hyperspace or subspace.

Ultrawaves are also sometimes a form of energy transmission or weapon such as a beam weapon or death-ray.

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