Thursday, July 15, 2010
Jack of Eagles by James Blish
One sub-genre that seemed to rise during the fifties was that of ESP and psi. While we frequently hear anything involving psychics and scream “Pseudoscience!” now, at the time it was a burgeoning area of exploration. John W. Campbell, Jr. was still a force, and his interest in just this sort of thing (he was an early backer of Dianetics, another attempt for a science of the mind, this time by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard; agree with it or disagree with it as you will, it is a historical occurrence, and very much a part of that time period’s trends and goals) meant that it popped up more and more. Classics of the genre include Slan by A. E. van Vogt (another Hubbard backer with Scientology, the continuation of Dianetics), Alfred Bester’s Demolished Man, and Theodore Sturgeon’s More Than Human. Those novels all went on to become science fiction classics. James Blish entered the fray near the forefront of the wave, with his first novel, Jack of Eagles.
Danny Caiden is about as average as you can get, working as a journalist who writes up articles about food, living by himself in a rather simple apartment. But he has a rather uncanny knack for finding things, even when there is no possible way for him to know they are there. And now he has started hearing things that haven’t happened yet, but when they finally do, he knows something is up. He approaches parapsychologists, psychic research groups, even a fraud of a medium, and embroils himself in a plot that involves the FBI, the mob, and the end of the world.
Jack of Eagles proved to be another fun adventure found in Flights of Eagles, the new James Blish collection out from NESFA Press. Like in the previous novel from this collection, Blish has the hard task of trying to overcome what may seem to be completely asinine and logic-free moments. When encountered with a bit of telekinesis, most people don’t immediately think, “By golly there must be a scientific explanation for this, and I bet it involves using a visualization of the electron cloud of every single particle that makes up the object I just moved, and then altering each ones’ subatomic structure in such a way that it causes it to lose any influence by gravity whatsoever.” Sounds ridiculous, but Blish somehow pulls it off. The novel reads very much like an action-thriller with a solid science background, rather than a pseudoscience meltdown. Blish builds Danny into a solid character (although some, like Marla, don’t get much depth). The plot twists abound, and no one is as they seem. A lark of a novel, but a fun one nevertheless.