Saturday, July 17, 2010

Flights of Eagles by James Blish

NOTE: Flights of Eagles was a free review copy provided to Luke Reviews by NESFA Press.

I’ve been exploring James Blish recently, with the volume Flights of Eagles, and found a lot to my liking. Before I dive into thoughts on the four short stories contained within, I just want to remind you all that the reviews of the three novels in this collection can be found at the links below:

Welcome to Mars

Jack of Eagles

Get Out of My Sky

At the beginning of this volume, we are given an introduction by Tom Shippey that does a very nice job of placing the contents of this volume in the context of the genre as it was being produced, although it also gave a few minor plot points away, so it may be worth exploring after reading the rest of the volume, depending on personal preference. As to the stories:

“The Thing in the Attic”: Part of the same cycle of stories that includes Blish’s famed “Surface Tension,” this story features a group of people who live in the “attic,” a canopy above the forest floor. Honath is labeled a heretic, and sent to “Hell”: the forest floor. Tehre he must learn to survive if he is ever to return from his sentence. This is a solid story that is very engaging. A fun read.

“The Writing of the Rat”: A tale of interplanetary war unlike any other, this short story pulls off both a bit of action and some interesting thought, wrapped around a cryptographic clue that (while not at all integral to enjoying the story) is an intriguing puzzle in its own right.

“The Genius Heap”: A social experiment is set up with means that may not be as simple as they first seem in this tale that isn’t the strongest of the bunch, but is still fun. The ending thoughts on creativity and art as a necessity for society were surprisingly noncommittal.

“Tiger Ride” (with Damon Knight): Can too much protecting of humanity be a bad thing for them? The answer, especially to fans of science fiction, won’t be a surprise (John W. Campbell, Jr. in particular addressed this one quite well, making it the focus rather than the gimmick). The tale isn’t bad, but a little over-trodden, using a gimmick ending that didn’t add anything to the plot.

Taken as a whole, this volume was a wonderful trip through the work of an author far too important to the genre to be as close to forgotten as he now is. If you have read the classics of Blish, dig a bit deeper with this volume. If you are new to his work, this is a great place to start. Either way, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.


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