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.
|Born||James Benjamin Blish|
May 23, 1921
East Orange, New Jersey, United States
|Died||July 30, 1975 (aged 54)|
|Occupation||Writer, Literary critic|
|Genre||Science fiction, Fantasy|
Blish was born on 23 May 1921 at East Orange, New Jersey. While in high school, Blish self-published a fanzine using a hectograph, called The Planeteer. The fanzine ran for six issues. Blish attended meetings of the Futurian Science Fiction Society in New York City during this period.
Futurian members Damon Knight and C.M. Kornbluth became close friends, however, Blish's relationship with other members were often bitter. A personal target was fellow member Judith Merril, whom he would debate politics with. Merril would frequently dismiss Blish's self-description of being a "paper fascist". She wrote in Better to Have Loved (2002), "Of course [Blish] was not fascist, antisemitic, or any of those terrible things, but every time he used the phrase, I saw red."
Blish studied microbiology at Rutgers University, graduating in 1942. He was drafted into Army service, and he served briefly as a medical laboratory technician. The United States Army discharged him for refusing orders to clean a grease trap in 1944. Following discharge, Blish entered Columbia University as a masters student of zoology. He did not complete the program, opting to write fiction full-time.
From 1962 to 1968, Blish worked for the Tobacco Institute, as a writer and critic. Much of his work for the institute went uncredited; subsequently, his work has been characterized as delusional and normalizing of "one of the least healthy habits imaginable".
Blish died on 30 July 1975 from complications related to lung cancer. He was buried in Holywell Cemetery, Oxford. The Bodleian Library at Oxford is the custodian of Blish's papers. The library also has a complete catalog of Blish's published works.
Throughout the 1940s, Blish published most of his stories in the few pulp magazines still in circulation. His first story was sold to fellow Futurian Frederik Pohl for Super Science Stories (1940), called "Emergency Refueling". Other stories were published intermittently, but with little circulation. Blish's "Chaos, Co-Ordinated", co-written with Robert A. W. Lowndes, was sold to Astounding Science Fiction, appearing in the October 1946 issue, earning Blish national circulation for the first time.
Blish was what Andrew Litpack called a "practical writer". He would revisit, revise, and often expand on previously written stories. An example is "Sunken Universe" published in Super Science Stories in 1942. The story reappeared in Galaxy Science Fiction as "Surface Tension", in an altered form in 1952. The premise emphasised Blish's understanding of microbiology, and featured microscopic humans engineered to live on a hostile planet's shallow pools of water. The story proved to be among Blish's more popular, and was anthologized in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume One, 1929–1964, edited by Robert Silverberg.
The world of microscopic humans continued in "The Thing in the Attic" in 1954, and "Watershed" the following year. The fourth entry, "A Time to Survive", was published by The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction in 1957. The stories were collected, edited together, and released as the fixup The Seedling Stars (1956) from Gnome Press. John Clute said of all of Blish's "deeply felt work" explored "confronting the Faustian (or Frankensteinian) man".
The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction explains that it was not until the 1950s, and the Okie sequence of stories beginning their run, "did it become clear [Blish] would become a [science fiction] writer of unusual depth". The stories were loosely based on the Okie migration following the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, and were influenced by Oswald Spengler's two part Der Untergang des Abendlandes (The Decline of the West).
The stories detail the life of the Okies, humans who migrate throughout space looking for work in vast city-ships, powered by spindizzies, a type of anti-gravity engine. The premise and plot reflected Blish's feelings on the state of western civilization, and his personal politics. The first two stories, "Okie", and "Bindlestiff", were published in 1950, by Astounding. "Sargasso of Lost Cities" appeared in Two Complete Science-Adventure Books in April 1953. "Earthman, Come Home" followed a few months later, published by Astounding. In 1955, Blish collected the four stories together into an omnibus titled Earthman, Come Home, published by Putman.
More stories followed: In 1956, They Shall Have Stars, which edited together "Bridge" and "At Death’s End", and in 1958, Blish released The Triumph of Time. Four years later, he published a new Okies novel, A Life for the Stars. The Okies sequence was edited together and published as Cities In Flight (1970).
Clute notes, "the brilliance of Cities in Flight does not lie in the assemblage of its parts, but in the momentum of the ideas embodied in it (albeit sometimes obscurely)."
Blish continued to rework older stories, and did so for one of his best known works, A Case of Conscience (1958). The novel originated as a novella, originally published in an issue of If, in 1953. The story follows a Jesuit priest, Ramon Ruiz-Sanchez, who visits the planet Lithia as a technical member of an expedition. While on the planet they discover a race of bipedal reptilians that have perfected morality in what Ruiz-Sanchez says is "the absence of God", and theological complications ensue. The book is one of the first major works in the genre to explore religion and its implications. It was the first of a series including Doctor Mirabilis (1964) and the two-part story Black Easter (1968), and The Day After Judgment (1971). The latter two were collected as The Devil's Day (1980). An omnibus of all four entries in the series was released by Legend in 1991, titled After Such Knowledge.
Blish was commissioned by Bantam Books to adapt episodes of Star Trek. The adapted short stories were generally based on draft scripts, and contained differing plot elements, and situations present in the aired television episodes.
The stories were collected into twelve volumes, and published as a title series of the same name from 1967 to 1977. The adaptations were largely written by Blish, however, his declining health during this period proved problematic. His wife, J. A. Lawrence, wrote a number of installments, however, her work remained uncredited until the final volume, Star Trek 12 released after Blish's death in 1977.:25
The original novel based on the television series, Spock Must Die! (1970), was also written by Blish, and he planned to release more. According to Lawrence, two episodes featuring popular character Harry Mudd, "I, Mudd" and "Mudd's Women", were held back by Blish for adaptation to be included in the follow-up to Spock Must Die!. However, Blish died before a novel could be completed. Lawrence did eventually adapt the two episodes, as Mudd's Angels (1978), which included an original novella Business, as Usual, During Altercations by Lawrence.
Blish credited his financial stability later in life to the Star Trek commission, and the advance he received for Spock Must Die!.:21
Blish was among the first literary critics of science fiction, and he judged works in the genre by the standards applied to "serious" literature. He took to task his fellow authors for deficiencies, such as bad grammar and a misunderstanding of scientific concepts, and the magazine editors, who accepted and published such material without editorial intervention. His critiques were published in "fanzines" in the 1950s under the pseudonym William Atheling Jr.
The essays were collected in The Issue at Hand (1964) and More Issues at Hand (1970). Reviewing The Issue at Hand, Algis Budrys said that Atheling had, along with Damon Knight, "transformed the reviewer's trade in this field". He described the persona of Atheling as "acidulous, assertive, categorical, conscientious and occasionally idiosyncratic".
Blish was a fan of the works of James Branch Cabell, and for a time edited Kalki, the journal of the Cabell Society.
In his works of science fiction, James Blish developed many ideas and terms which have influenced other writers and on occasion have been adopted more widely, such as faster than light communication via the dirac computer, introduced in the short story "Beep" (1954). The dirac is comparable to Ursula K. Le Guin's ansible.
Blish is also credited with coining the term gas giant, in the story "Solar Plexus" as it appeared in the anthology Beyond Human Ken, edited by Judith Merril. The story was originally published in 1941, but did not contain the term. Blish reworked the story, changing the description of a large magnetic field to "a magnetic field of some strength nearby, one that didn't belong to the invisible gas giant revolving half a million miles away".
The British Science Fiction Foundation inaugurated the James Blish Award for science fiction criticism in 1977, recognizing Brian W. Aldiss. The Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame inducted him in 2002.
Blish's work was released by a variety of publishers in the United Kingdom and the United States, often with variations between editions and different titles. Blish also expanded and re-released his older work on several occasions. His work continued to be published after his death.
Note: Very few of Blish's first editions were assigned ISBN numbers.
Novels published in complete form, or serialized, in fiction magazines are included for completeness, and to avoid confusion.
β Novelette, ε Novella, γ Novel.
The 18th World Science Fiction Convention, also known as Pittcon, was held September 3–5, 1960, at the Penn-Sheraton Hotel in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States.
The chairman was Dirce Archer. The guest of honor was James Blish. The toastmaster was Isaac Asimov. Total attendance was 568.A Case of Conscience
A Case of Conscience is a science fiction novel by American writer James Blish, first published in 1958. It is the story of a Jesuit who investigates an alien race that has no religion yet has a perfect, innate sense of morality, a situation which conflicts with Catholic teaching. The story was originally published as a novella in 1953, and later extended to novel-length, of which the first part is the original novella. The novel is the first part of Blish's thematic After Such Knowledge trilogy: it thus follows Doctor Mirabilis and both Black Easter and The Day After Judgment (two novellas that Blish viewed as together forming the third volume of the trilogy).
Few science fiction stories of the time attempted religious themes, and still fewer did this with Catholicism; another exception was Walter M. Miller Jr.'s Hugo Award-winning post-apocalyptic science fiction novel A Canticle for Leibowitz.A Work of Art
"A Work of Art" is a science fiction short story by American writer James Blish. It was first published in the July 1956 issue of Science Fiction Stories with the title "Art Work". It has often been anthologized, appearing in The Worlds of Science Fiction and The Golden Age of Science Fiction, among others.Black Easter
Black Easter is a fantasy novel by American writer James Blish, in which an arms dealer hires a black magician to unleash all the demons of Hell on Earth for a single day. It was first published in 1968. The sequel is The Day After Judgment. Together, those two novellas form the third part of the thematic After Such Knowledge trilogy (the title is from a line of T. S. Eliot's Gerontion: "After such knowledge, what forgiveness?") with A Case of Conscience and Doctor Mirabilis. Blish has stated that it was only after completing Black Easter that he realized that the works formed a trilogy.A shorter version of Black Easter was serialized as Faust Aleph-Null in If magazine, August–October 1967; the book edition retains the phrase as its subtitle. Black Easter and its sequel were later published as a single volume under the title Black Easter and The Day After Judgement (1980); a 1990 edition from Baen Books was renamed The Devil's Day.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. Since 1970, the primary edition has been the omnibus volume first published in paperback by Avon Books. Over the years James Blish made many changes to these stories in response to points raised in letters from readers.Common Time
"Common Time" is a science fiction short story by American writer James Blish. It first appeared in the August 1953 issue of Science Fiction Quarterly and has been reprinted several times: in the 1959 short-story collection Galactic Cluster; in The Testament of Andros (1965); in The Penguin Science Fiction Omnibus (1973); and in Isaac Asimov Presents the Great SF Stories.The story is considered to be an archetype of symbolism in science fiction.Doctor Mirabilis (novel)
Doctor Mirabilis is a historical novel written in 1964 by the science fiction author James Blish.This is the second book in Blish's quasi-religious trilogy After Such Knowledge, and is a recounting of the English philosopher and Franciscan friar Roger Bacon's life and struggle to develop a 'Universal Science'. Though thoroughly researched, with a host of references, including extensive use of Bacon's own writings, frequently in the original Latin, the book is written in the style of a novel, and Blish himself referred to it as 'fiction' or 'a vision'.
Blish's view of Bacon is uncompromisingly that he was the first scientist, and he provides a postscript to the novel in which he sets forth these views. Central to his depiction of Roger Bacon is that "He was not an inventor, an Edison or Luther Burbank, holding up a test tube with a shout of Eureka!" He was instead a theoretical scientist probing fundamental realities, and his visions of modern technology were just by-products of "...the way he normally thought – the theory of theories as tools..." Blish indicates where Bacon's writings, for example, consider Newtonian metrical frameworks for space, then reject these for something which reads remarkably like Einsteinian Relativity, and all "...breathtakingly without pause or hiccup, breezily moving without any recourse through over 800 years of physics".Dynamic Science Fiction
Dynamic Science Fiction was an American pulp magazine which published six issues from December 1952 to January 1954. It was a companion to Future Science Fiction, and like that magazine was edited by Robert W. Lowndes and published by Columbia Publications. Stories that appeared in its pages include "The Duplicated Man" by Lowndes and James Blish, and "The Possessed" by Arthur C. Clarke. It was launched at the end of the pulp era, and when publisher Louis Silberkleit decided to convert Future to a digest format in 1954, he decided not to do the same with Dynamic, simply cancelling the magazine.J. A. Lawrence
Judith Ann Blish (née Lawrence — born c. March 1940), also credited as Judith L. Blish and Judy Blish, is an American sketch artist and short fiction writer. She is most known for her work on the Bantam Books series of Star Trek episode novelizations, with her husband James Blish, and the anthology Mudd's Angels. She has been active in preserving, and promoting her husband's work.Pantropy
Pantropy is a hypothetical process of space colonization in which rather than terraforming other planets or building space habitats suitable for human habitation, humans are modified (for example via genetic engineering) to be able to thrive in the existing environment. The term was coined by science fiction author James Blish, who wrote a series of short stories based on the idea (collected in the anthology The Seedling Stars).Science Fiction Quarterly
Science Fiction Quarterly was an American pulp science fiction magazine that was published from 1940 to 1943 and again from 1951 to 1958. Charles Hornig served as editor for the first two issues; Robert A. W. Lowndes edited the remainder. Science Fiction Quarterly was launched by publisher Louis Silberkleit during a boom in science fiction magazines at the end of the 1930s. Silberkleit launched two other science fiction titles (Science Fiction and Future Fiction) at about the same time: all three ceased publication before the end of World War II, falling prey to slow sales and paper shortages. In 1950 and 1951, as the market improved, Silberkleit relaunched Future Fiction and Science Fiction Quarterly. By the time Science Fiction Quarterly ceased publication in 1958, it was the last surviving science fiction pulp.
Science Fiction Quarterly's policy was to reprint a novel in each issue as the lead story, and Silberkleit was able to obtain reprint rights to two early science fiction novels and several of Ray Cummings' books. Both Hornig and Lowndes were given minuscule budgets, and Hornig in particular had trouble finding good material to print. Lowndes did somewhat better, as he was able to call on his friends in the Futurians, a group of aspiring writers that included Isaac Asimov, James Blish, and Donald Wollheim. The second incarnation of the magazine also had a policy of running a lead novel, though in practice the lead stories were often well short of novel length. Among the better-known stories published by the magazine were "Second Dawn", by Arthur C. Clarke; "The Last Question", by Isaac Asimov; and "Common Time", by James Blish.Spock Must Die!
Spock Must Die! is an American science fiction novel written by James Blish, published February 1970 by Bantam Books. It was the first original novel based on the Star Trek television series intended for adult readers. It was preceded by a tie-in comic book line published by Gold Key and the novel Mission to Horatius by Mack Reynolds, all intended for younger readers.Blish aimed to kill off a popular character as a way to surprise readers, and during the novel's production chose Spock, with the aid of his wife, J.A. Lawrence.
Reviews of the novel have been mixed. Some reviewers have directed criticism at the structure or tone of the novel, while others have expressed no enthusiasm for the work, overall.Spock Must Die! was reprinted numerous times with different cover art, including a cover by Kazuhiko Sano. The novel was collected in an omnibus for the Science Fiction Book Club in 1978.
Prior to the release of the Spock Must Die!, Blish had written three collections of short stories adapting episodes of the television series. The second collection, Star Trek 2 (February 1968), included an adaptation of the episode "Errand of Mercy", which the novel directly references in the second chapter.Star Trek (Bantam Books)
James Blish and J.A. Lawrence adapted episodes of Star Trek for Bantam Books from 1967 to 1978. The short stories were collected into twelve volumes, and published as a series of the same name. A thirteenth volume (originally titled Mudd's Angels) incorporated two episode adaptations and an original novella. The adaptations were generally based on draft scripts, often containing additional plot elements or differing situations from the completed televised episodes.
A range of thirteen original novels, two short story anthologies, and a bestselling reference book on the Star Trek fandom followed. Bantam also produced a line of "fotonovels" that adapted popular episodes of the television series using images from the episodes.
Since 1979, the majority of Star Trek tie-in fiction and reference material has been published by Simon & Schuster imprint Pocket Books.Surface Tension (short story)
"Surface Tension" is a science fiction short story by American writer James Blish, originally published in the August 1952 of Galaxy Science Fiction. As collected in Blish's The Seedling Stars, it was revised to incorporate material from his earlier story "Sunken Universe", published in Super Science Stories in 1942.The Day After Judgment
The Day After Judgment is a 1971 fantasy novel by American writer James Blish. It is a sequel to the 1968 novel Black Easter: they have been subsequently republished in 1990 as a single book called The Devil's Day.The Duplicated Man
The Duplicated Man is a science fiction novel which was one of the first fictional works that tackle the idea of cloning. It was co-written by James Blish and Robert Lowndes. The Duplicated Man was first published in the August 1953 edition of Dynamic Science Fiction and in book form, in 1959 by Avalon Books.The Seedling Stars
The Seedling Stars is a 1957 collection of science fiction short stories by James Blish. It was first published by Gnome Press in 1957 in an edition of 5,000 copies. The stories concern the adaptation of humans to alien environments (a process Blish called pantropy). This may be viewed in contrast to the concept of adapting planetary environments to suit humans (terraforming).There Shall Be No Darkness
"There Shall Be No Darkness" is a horror story by American writer James Blish that was published in 1950. It concerns a group of people on a remote country manor who discover that one of their number is a ravenous werewolf. The story was adapted for the screen in 1974 as The Beast Must Die. Blish himself described the story as "a schoolboy pastiche of Dracula." The story originally appeared in Thrilling Wonder Stories. It was first published in book form by Twayne Publishers in 1952 in the fantasy anthology Witches Three, a volume that also included Fritz Leiber's Conjure Wife and Fletcher Pratt's The Blue Star.
The story attempts to offer a scientific explanation for lycanthropy. One of the characters, a psychiatrist named Christian Lundgren, states that the condition is the result of a mutation in the pineal gland of the afflicted person's brain. At the same time Blish also relies on established werewolf mythology for plot devices, such as the use of wolfsbane and silver. A female character named Doris is revealed to be a witch, and this subplot is important to the story's resolution.Two Complete Science-Adventure Books
Two Complete Science-Adventure Books was an American pulp science fiction magazine, published by Fiction House, which lasted for eleven issues between 1950 and 1954 as a companion to Planet Stories. Each issue carried two novels or long novellas. It was initially intended to carry only reprints, but soon began to publish original stories. Contributors included Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, Poul Anderson, John Brunner, and James Blish. The magazine folded in 1954, almost at the end of the pulp era.