James Blish Richard D. Mullen - Essay

Richard D. Mullen

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Although some of the contradictions [in Blish's Cities in Flight tetralogy] surely result from authorial carelessness, forgetfulness, or indifference, they are too numerous and too prominent to be regarded as anything other than an essential feature of the overall story. Since point of view is rigidly controlled throughout the work, every statement can be attributed to one or another of the various characters. Given this fact, we can make sense of the tetralogy by regarding it, not as a fiction in which a universe has been created by an omniscient, omnipotent author, but as historical narrative with a large admixture of myth; that is, by assuming that behind the sometimes accurate, sometimes erroneous, sometimes mythical narrative there is an actual history….

[The] explicit Spenglerianism of Cities in Flight is erroneous in one of its details, highly dubious in others … and rather absurd overall. The flat error is in the statement by Robert Helmuth that the building of the pyramids (which occurred in what Spengler considers the Egyptian spring-time) was "the last act of an already dead culture."… The overall absurdity lies in … the idea of the "cultural morphologist":

Chris recognized the term from his force-feeding in Spengler. It denoted a scholar who could look at any culture at any stage of its development, relate it to all other cultures at similar stages, and produce...

(The entire section is 454 words.)