The Seedling Stars Critical Essays

James Blish


(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

The form of presentation, as a loosely connected series of stories set in various stages of the “seeding program,” does not permit a full discussion of the problems arising from genetic alteration of human beings. Rather, the stories pinpoint some exemplary aspects in the development of pantropy. The appeal of the best story, the classic “Surface Tension,” lies not in the idea of pantropy but in the inherent attraction of minuscule human beings fighting overwhelming environmental odds and winning. Pride in the indestructibility of humankind is the key.

Generally, however, the plots of the stories are not adequate to the theme, and James Blish was not very inventive in his presentation of the kinds of Adapted Men. The beings in “The Thing in the Attic” (adapted to trees) and “Watershed” (adapted to a waterless desert world) are not necessary adaptations. In these stories, humankind does not make itself master of nature but adapts to physical conditions that should have been easy enough to change or adapt to technologically. This is a regression. The first story posits terraforming against pantropy without indicating the obvious objection that pantropy itself might be the most powerful tool of terraforming. Since Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein: Or, The Modern Prometheus (1818), however, authors have begun at the top, with the most difficult task, alteration of human beings.

Only the last story provides a...

(The entire section is 414 words.)