James Blish Roger Baker - Essay

Roger Baker

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

James Blish commands considerable respect as a science-fiction writer and his novels generally have a narrative directness and a thematic credibility that confounds sceptics. [And All the Stars a Stage], though written as usual with simplicity and a lack of pseudo scientific mystification, seems to contain too many themes for comfort….

[Blish makes up for some of the disappointments in this work] through the excitement of his space flight, of two abortive attempts to land (one of which would make an adventure novel alone) and his big finish which has a neat twist, though again a not unfamiliar one and one which experienced sci-fi readers will predict. For once Mr Blish has failed to balance the science with the human interest and I for one, feel cheated.

Roger Baker, "Fiction: 'And All the Stars a Stage'" (© copyright Roger Baker 1973; reprinted with permission), in Books and Bookmen, Vol. 18, No. 6, March, 1973, p. 80.

In both style and content [Midsummer Century] has its roots firmly in the SF of the American 1950s, and is in fact an expanded magazine story. The scientist hero, Martels, is displaced in time by the weary old expedient of falling into his new radio telescope. Arriving in AD 25000, he finds himself a disembodied mind sharing the perspex cranium of an electronic brain which is periodically consulted as an oracle by pilgrim tribesmen….

Machines with minds is a stock SF theme, just as the device for getting Martels to AD 25000 is a traditional one. That heavy facetiousness of style is characteristic also: "In all the ointment which the world had provided for the anointing of John Martels, DSc. FRAS, etc., there was only one fly: there was something wrong with his telescope." Thus the first paragraph in a book which, stripped of its conventions, is a slender little adventure story of nowhen. Perfectly agreeable genre stuff, were it not that Mr Blish becomes wantonly pretentious by exploring an alleged hinterland where mysticism and pure maths meet deep in the heart of a transistor. Bad luck for him that algebra + Zen = claptrap.

"News from Nowhen," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1973; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 3740, November 9, 1973, p. 1377.∗