Cities in Flight Essay - Critical Essays

James Blish


Cities in Flight as a whole is more than the sum of its parts, which are pastiches of the science-fiction tradition. The bold image of flying cities and the theme of immortality come directly from part 3 of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726), although Blish borrows none of Swift’s satire. Most of the narrative is typical “space opera” on a grand scale. Devices of science are manufactured as the plot demands, within a context of flashing space battles and an entire galaxy improbably turned into a human landscape that looks and behaves like a somewhat comic map of nineteenth century Europe, complete with squabbling governments and officious military. Blish’s imagined future, sweeping to the end of time itself, is in the high science-fiction tradition reaching back to H. G. Wells and Olaf Stapledon, although Blish compresses his future into a few thousand years. The mapping of the detailed future history that Blish added as Cities in Flight developed is much like the work of Robert A. Heinlein in his Future History and Isaac Asimov in the Foundation series. Blish’s imaginary history reflects directly the ideological concerns of America in the Cold War period.

Cities in Flight derives a distinctive quality and sense of wholeness from the claim, woven into and around the narrative, that the series reflects a serious philosophy of history. This claim is supported by the excerpted fictional study The...

(The entire section is 463 words.)