(1921-1975) US writer whose early career in sf followed a pattern typical of the generation whose early careers coincided with World War Two. He was a fan during the 1930s. His first short story, "Emergency Refueling", was published in Super Science Stories in 1940. He belonged to the well-known New York fan group the Futurians, where he became friendly with such writers as Damon Knight and C M Kornbluth. He studied microbiology at Rutgers, graduating in 1942, and was then drafted, serving as a medical laboratory technician in the US Army. In 1945-1946 he carried out postgraduate work in zoology at Columbia University, abandoning this to become a writer. He was married to Virginia Kidd 1947-1963 and then, from 1964 until his death, to Judith Ann Lawrence. Three of his early short stories, two of them collaborations, were written under the pseudonyms Donald Laverty, John MacDougal and Arthur Merlyn.
Blish worked hard to develop his craft, but not until 1950, when the first of his Okie stories appeared in Astounding Science-Fiction, did it became clear that he could become an sf writer of unusual depth. The Okie stories featured flying Cities, the most Iconic of these being Manhattan (see New York) under the leadership of Mayor John Amalfi. Powered by Antigravity devices called Spindizzies, these populous compact Keeps travel through the Galaxy looking for work, much as the Okies did in America in the 1930s when they escaped from the dustbowl. The first Okie book, a coherent if episodic novel, was Earthman, Come Home (April 1950-November 1953 var mags; fixup 1955; cut 1958). Three more followed: They Shall Have Stars (February 1952 and May 1954 Astounding; fixup 1956; rev vt Year 2018! 1957), The Triumph of Time (1958; vt A Clash of Cymbals 1959) and A Life for the Stars (September-October 1962 Analog; 1962). These four books were finally brought together in a single volume, Cities in Flight (omni 1970), where they appeared in the order of their internal chronology: They Shall Have Stars, A Life for the Stars, Earthman, Come Home and The Triumph of Time. Underpinning the pulp-style plotting of much of this series is a serious and pessimistic interest in the cyclic nature of History, partly derived from Blish's reading of Oswald Spengler, especially The Decline of the West (Der Untergang des Abendlandes, 1918-1922; trans 1926-1928). At the end of The Triumph of Time, the cycle moves through the death of our Universe into the birth of the next, in a memorable passage where Amalfi – the main protagonist of the series – becomes, literally, the deep structure of the new Universe.
The years 1950-1958 were extraordinarily productive for Blish, and many of his best short stories were published in this period, including "Beanstalk" (in Future Tense, anth 1952, ed Kendell Foster Crossen), "Surface Tension" (August 1952 Galaxy), "Common Time" (August 1953 Science Fiction Quarterly; also in Shadow of Tomorrow, anth 1953, ed Frederik Pohl), which is probably his most praised story, "Beep" (February 1954 Galaxy) (see Information Theory) and "A Work of Art" (July 1956 Science Fiction Stories as "Art-Work"; vt in Science Fiction Showcase, anth 1959, ed Mary Kornbluth). Several appear in his first collection, Galactic Cluster (coll 1959; with three stories cut and "Beanstalk" added, rev 1960). Blish's own choice was published as Best Science Fiction Stories of James Blish (coll 1965; with one story cut and two added, rev 1973; rev vt The Testament of Andros 1977). Six of the eight stories in this collection, along with an introduction by Robert A W Lowndes, appear with six new stories in the posthumous The Best of James Blish (coll 1979).
These years also saw the publication of his first novel in book form, Jack of Eagles (December 1949 Thrilling Wonder as "Let the Finder Beware!"; rev 1952; cut 1953; full text vt ESP-er 1958). It was followed by The Warriors of Day (Summer 1951 Two Complete Science-Adventure Books as "Sword of Xota"; 1953), The Seedling Stars (1952-1956 var mags; coll of linked stories 1957), The Frozen Year (1957; vt Fallen Star 1957), A Case of Conscience (part 1 September 1953 If; 1958) and VOR (February 1949 Thrilling Wonder as "The Weakness of RVOG" with Damon Knight; exp 1958). Jack of Eagles contains one of the few attempts in sf to give a scientific rationale for Telepathy. A Case of Conscience, which won the 1959 Hugo for Best Novel, was one of the first serious attempts to deal with Religion in sf, and remains one of the most sophisticated in its tale of a priest faced with a planet, Lithia, whose inhabitants seem free of the concept of Original Sin, but who turn out (as he believes) to constitute a kind of honey-trap, constructed by the Adversary with all the rigour of a fine Thought Experiment, to estrange humanity from God: because the Lithians seem to have achieved moral perfection without divine guidance. It is clear that Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow (1996) is dialectically related to this earlier work. In The Seedling Stars and other stories of the period, Blish introduced biological themes (see Biology). This area of science had previously been rather neglected in sf in favour of the "harder" sciences – physics, astronomy, science-based Technologies, etc. The Seedling Stars is an important roadmarker in the early development of sf about Genetic Engineering.
Blish was interested in Metaphysics, and some critics regard as his most important work the trilogy After Such Knowledge: A Case of Conscience, Doctor Mirabilis (1964; rev 1971), and the intimately linked Black Easter; Or, Faust Aleph-Null (August-October 1967 If as "Faust Aleph-Null"; 1968) and The Day After Judgment (August 1970 Galaxy; exp 1971); he regarded the last two volumes as one novel, and indeed they were so published in Black Easter and The Day After Judgement (omni 1980; vt The Devil's Day 1990) – hence his use of the term "trilogy". After Such Knowledge poses a question once expressed by Blish as: "Is the desire for secular knowledge, let alone the acquisition and use of it, a misuse of the mind, and perhaps even actively evil?" This is one of the fundamental themes of sf, and is painstakingly explored in Doctor Mirabilis, an historical novel which treats the life of the thirteenth-century scientist and theologian Roger Bacon. It deals with the archetypal sf theme of Conceptual Breakthrough from one intellectual model of the Universe to another, more sophisticated model. Black Easter, a better and more unified work than its sequel The Day After Judgment, is a strong fantasy in which black Magic – treated here as a science or, as Blish has it, a "scholium" – releases Satan into the world again; Satan rules Heaven in the sequel. The four books were collected in After Such Knowledge (omni 1991).
As a writer, Blish was thrifty – to the point of parsimony in his later years. He returned to many of his best stories to revise and expand them, sometimes into novel form. Apart from those already mentioned, he also used this treatment on an early short story, "Sunken Universe" (May 1942 Super Science Stories as by Arthur Merlyn), and built it into another story, "Surface Tension" (August 1952 Galaxy), which revised again became part of The Seedling Stars; "Surface Tension" was his most popular and most anthologized story. Other examples are Titan's Daughter (in Future Tense, anth 1952, ed Kendell Foster Crossen, as "Beanstalk"; vt "Giants in the Earth" 1956 The Science Fiction Stories; exp 1961) and The Quincunx of Time (February 1954 Galaxy as "Beep"; exp 1973). Blish also wrote two not very successful sf novels in collaboration: The Duplicated Man (August 1953 Dynamic SF as by James Blish and Michael Sherman; exp 1959) with Robert A W Lowndes and A Torrent of Faces (fixup 1967) with Norman L Knight. The latter is a tale of Earth suffering from, but to a degree coping with, Overpopulation.
Blish's later years were much preoccupied with the Star Trek books, beginning with Star Trek (coll 1967) and ending with Star Trek 11 (1975). They are based on the original television scripts, and hence are in fact collaborations, but Spock Must Die (1970) is an original work, the first original adult Star Trek novel (it was preceded by Mack Reynolds's Mission to Horatius , a juvenile). The posthumous Star Trek 12 (coll 1977) contained two adaptations (out of five) completed by Judith Ann Lawrence, who also completed some of the work in #11. Re-sorted in order of television appearance, they were reassembled as Star Trek: The Classic Episodes 1 (coll 1991) with J A Lawrence, 27 first-season episodes, Star Trek: The Classic Episodes 2 (coll 1991), 25 second-season episodes, and Star Trek: The Classic Episodes 3 (coll 1991) with J A Lawrence, 24 third-season episodes.
Aside from Spock Must Die and A Life for the Stars (September-October 1962 Analog; 1962), the fourth of the Okie books, Blish wrote four more juvenile novels, none very successful: a short and rather didactic series – The Star Dwellers (June-August 1961 Boys' Life; 1961) and Mission to the Heart Stars (1965) – along with Welcome to Mars! (July-September 1966 If as "The Hour Before Earthrise"; 1967) and, the weakest of them, The Vanished Jet (1968).
Blish's output remained fairly steady during the 1960s and 1970s, but the overall standard of his work had dropped, although his penultimate serious work was interesting. This was Midsummer Century (April 1972 F&SF; rev 1972; with two stories added, as coll 1974), in which the disembodied consciousness of a scientist is cast forward into a Far Future where it meets different forms of AI and intervenes in an evolutionary struggle. It is hard to read this story of active mental life cut off from the physical world without thinking of the frail Blish's last years. He had a successful operation for throat cancer in the 1960s but died from lung cancer in 1975, characteristically turning out an essay on Spengler and sf on his deathbed – its Definition of SF is "the internal (intracultural) form taken by syncretism in the West". Blish had in fact been for decades recognized, along with Damon Knight, as one of the first and most influential of sf critics. He wrote his criticism as by William Atheling Jr, a pseudonym borrowed from Ezra Pound and first used as a Blish byline on essays for Skyhook; in other fanzines such as Warhoon he published critiques under his own name. Much of this criticism was collected in two books, The Issue at Hand: Studies in Contemporary Magazine Science Fiction (coll 1964) as by William Atheling Jr and More Issues at Hand: Critical Studies in Contemporary Science Fiction (coll 1970) as by William Atheling Jr; Blish acknowledged his authorship in introductions to both. The criticism is notably stern in many cases, often pedantic, but intelligent and written from a much wider perspective than was usual for fan criticism of Blish's era. Further essays, including that on Spengler noted above, appear in a posthumous, curate's-egg collection, The Tale that Wags the God (coll 1987), edited by Cy Chauvin. As anthologist, Blish edited New Dreams this Morning (anth 1966) and Nebula Award Stories 5 (anth 1970). He also edited the only issue of the sf magazine Vanguard Science Fiction (June 1958).
Blish did much to encourage younger writers, and was one of the founders of the Milford Science Fiction Writers' Conference (he and J A Lawrence also founded the UK Milford workshop), and an active charter member of Science Fiction Writers of America. He also became, in 1970, one of the founder members of the Science Fiction Foundation in the UK. The latter organization named the James Blish Award for excellence in sf criticism in honour of him after his death. The first award went in 1977 to Brian W Aldiss, but it then lapsed for lack of funds.
His dominant intellectual passions, which often recur in his writing, were – aside from Spengler – the works of Ezra Pound, a palpable influence on the poems posthumously assembled as With All of Love: Selected Poems (coll 1995); James Joyce (he published papers on both Joyce and Pound); other writers of Modernist literature; James Branch Cabell (he edited the Cabell Society magazine Kalki); the music of Richard Strauss (though he was strangely deaf to Strauss's later work); and Relativistic physics. Blish was an interesting example of a writer with an enquiring mind and a strong literary bent – with some of the crotchets of the autodidact – who turned his attention to fundamentally pulp Genre-SF materials and in so doing transformed them. His part in the transformation of pulp sf to something of greater cognitive ambitiousness is historically of the first importance. Nonetheless, he was not a naturally easy or harmonious writer; his style was often awkward, and in its sometimes anomalous displays of erudition it could appear cold. On the other hand, there was a visionary, romantic side to Blish which, though carefully controlled, is often visible below the surface. Blish had a scholastic temperament, and in 1969 emigrated to England to be close to Oxford, where he is buried. His manuscripts and papers are in the Bodleian Library. These include several unpublished works of both mainstream fiction and sf. He was posthumously honoured with a special British Science Fiction Association Award in 1976 and inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2002. [PN]
see also: Adam and Eve; Aliens; Anti-Intellectualism in SF; Arts; Asteroids; Children's SF; Colonization of Other Worlds; Communications; Computers; Continuous Creation; Cosmology; Critical and Historical Works About SF; Dinosaurs; End of the World; Evolution; Fantastic Voyages; Faster Than Light; Force Field; Galactic Empires; Generation Starships; Golden Age of SF; Gothic SF; Gravity; Great and Small; History of SF; Imaginary Science; Immortality; Invention; Jupiter; Longevity (in Writers and Publications); The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction; Mars; Mathematics; Messiahs; Matter Duplication; Miniaturization; Monsters; Music; Origin of Man; Pantropy; Paranoia; Perception; Physics; Politics; Pollution; Reincarnation; Rejuvenation; Shared Worlds; Sociology; Space Flight; Space Opera; Superman; Supernatural Creatures; Terraforming; Thrilling Wonder Stories; Time Radio; Transportation; Under the Sea; Upload; Utopias; Weapons; Werewolves; World Ships.
James Benjamin Blish
born Orange, New Jersey: 23 May 1921
died Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire: 30 July 1975
- Earthman, Come Home (New York: Putnam's, 1955) [fixup: stories "Okie", April 1950 Astounding; "Bindlestiff", December 1950 Astounding; "Sargasso of Lost Cities", Spring 1953 Two Complete Science-Adventure Books; and "Earthman, Come Home", November 1953 Astounding: Okie: hb/Kohs]
- Earthman, Come Home (New York: Avon Books, 1958) [cut version of the above: Okie: pb/Peter Curl]
- They Shall Have Stars (London: Faber and Faber, 1956) [fixup: stories "Bridge", February 1952 Astounding, and "At Death's End", May 1954 Astounding: Okie: hb/Peter Curl]
- Year 2018! (New York: Avon Books, 1957) [cut vt of the above: Okie: pb/Richard Powers]
- The Triumph of Time (New York: Avon Books, 1958) [Okie: pb/Richard Powers]
- A Clash of Cymbals (London: Faber and Faber, 1959) [vt of the above: Okie: hb/John C Griffiths]
- A Life for the Stars (New York: Putnam's, 1962) [Okie: hb/Robert Maclean]
After Such Knowledge
- A Case of Conscience (New York: Ballantine Books, 1958) [part 1 only appeared September 1953 If: After Such Knowledge: pb/Richard Powers]
- Doctor Mirabilis (London: Faber and Faber, 1964) [After Such Knowledge: hb/Roger Bacon]
- Doctor Mirabilis (USA: Null-Q Press, 1968) [chap: privately printed and copyrighted: After Such Knowledge: hb/]
- Doctor Mirabilis (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1971) [first US trade edition: slightly revised: After Such Knowledge: hb/]
- Black Easter; Or, Faust Aleph-Null (Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, 1968) [first appeared August-October 1967 If as "Faust Aleph-Null": After Such Knowledge: hb/Judith Ann Lawrence]
- The Day after Judgment (Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, 1971) [first appeared August 1970 Galaxy: After Such Knowledge: hb/Judith Ann Lawrence]
All Ties to the original Star Trek series.
- Star Trek (New York: Bantam Books, 1967) [coll: tie to Star Trek: Star Trek: pb/stock photo]
- Star Trek 2 (New York: Bantam Books, 1968) [coll: tie to Star Trek: Star Trek: pb/stock photo]
- Star Trek 3 (New York: Bantam Books, 1969) [coll: tie to Star Trek: Star Trek: pb/stock photo]
- Spock Must Die (New York: Bantam Books, 1970) [tie to Star Trek: Star Trek: pb/stock photo]
- Star Trek 4 (New York: Bantam Books, 1971) [coll: tie to Star Trek: Star Trek: pb/Lou Feck]
- Star Trek 5 (New York: Bantam Books, 1972) [coll: tie to Star Trek: Star Trek: pb/M Hooks]
- Star Trek 6 (New York: Bantam Books, 1972) [coll: tie to Star Trek: Star Trek: pb/Lou Feck]
- Star Trek 7 (New York: Bantam Books, 1972) [coll: tie to Star Trek: Star Trek: pb/CHB]
- Star Trek 8 (New York: Bantam Books, 1973) [coll: tie to Star Trek: Star Trek: pb/Lou Feck]
- Star Trek 9 (New York: Bantam Books, 1973) [coll: tie to Star Trek: Star Trek: pb/S Fantoni]
- Star Trek 10 (New York: Bantam Books, 1974) [coll: tie to Star Trek: Star Trek: pb/S Fantoni]
- Star Trek 11 (New York: Bantam Books, 1975) [coll: tie to Star Trek: Star Trek: pb/S Fantoni]
- The Star Trek Reader (New York: Dutton, 1976) [omni: tie: containing #2, #3 and #8 above: Star Trek: hb/Lou Feck]
- The Star Trek Reader II (New York: Dutton, 1977) [omni: tie: containing #1, #4 and #9 above: Star Trek: hb/Lou Feck]
- The Star Trek Reader III (New York: Dutton, 1977) [omni: tie: containing #5, #6 and #7 above: Star Trek: hb/Lou Feck]
- Star Trek 12 (New York: Bantam Books, 1977) with Judith Ann Lawrence [coll: tie to Star Trek: Star Trek: pb/S Fantoni]
- The Star Trek Reader IV (New York: Dutton, 1978) [omni: tie: containing #10, #12 and Spock Must Die above: Star Trek: hb/Edd Jones]
- Star Trek: The Classic Episodes 1 (New York: Bantam Books, 1991) with Judith Ann Lawrence [coll: tie to Star Trek: Star Trek: pb/]
- Star Trek: The Classic Episodes 2 (New York: Bantam Books, 1991) [coll: tie to Star Trek: Star Trek: pb/]
- Star Trek: The Classic Episodes 3 (New York: Bantam Books, 1991) with Judith Ann Lawrence [coll: tie to Star Trek: Star Trek: pb/]
- Jack of Eagles (New York: Greenberg: Publisher, 1952) [first appeared December 1949 Thrilling Wonder as "Let the Finder Beware!": hb/Nettie Weber]
- Jack of Eagles (New York: Galaxy Books, 1953) [cut version of the above: pb/Ed Emshwiller]
- ESP-er (New York: Avon Books, 1958) [vt of the above: text restored: pb/AIS]
- The Warriors of Day (New York: Galaxy Books, 1953) [first appeared Summer 1951 Two Complete Science-Adventure Books as "Sword of Xota": pb/Paul Callé]
- The Frozen Year (New York: Ballantine Books, 1957) [this edition precedes the Ballantine hardback (same cover art, differently presented) by one month: pb/Richard Powers]
- VOR (New York: Avon Books, 1958) [short version first appeared February 1949 Thrilling Wonder with Damon Knight as "The Weakness of RVOG": pb/AIS]
- The Duplicated Man (New York: Avalon Books, 1959) with Robert A W Lowndes [first appeared August 1953 Dynamic SF as by James Blish and Michael Sherman: hb/Ed Emshwiller]
- Titan's Daughter (New York: Berkley Books, 1961) [first appeared as "Beanstalk" in Future Tense (anth 1952) edited by Kendell Foster Crossen; vt "Giants in the Earth" 1956 The Original Science Fiction Stories: pb/Barye Phillips]
- Giants in the Earth (New York: Belmont Books, 1965) [chap: dos: vt of the above: technically anth ed anon with overall title A Pair from Space but included here for completeness: pb/uncredited]
- The Star Dwellers (New York: Putnam's, 1961) [first published June-August 1961 Boys' Life: hb/Robin King]
- The Night Shapes (New York: Ballantine Books, 1962) [pb/Richard Powers]
- Mission to the Heart Stars (New York: Putnam's, 1965) [sequel to The Star Dwellers above: hb/Irv Docktor]
- A Torrent of Faces (Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, 1967) with Norman L Knight [hb/James Barkley]
- Welcome to Mars! (London: Faber and Faber, 1967) [hb/Margaret Wolpe]
- The Vanished Jet (New York: Weybright and Talley, 1968) [hb/Judith Ann Lawrence]
- ... And All the Stars a Stage (Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, 1971) [first appeared June-July 1960 Amazing: hb/Gail Burwen]
- Midsummer Century (Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, 1972) [first appeared April 1972 F&SF: hb/Emanuel Schongut]
- The Quincunx of Time (New York: Dell Books, 1973) [first appeared February 1954 Galaxy as "Beep": pb/Paul Lehr]
collections and stories
- The Seedling Stars (Hicksville, New York: Gnome Press, 1957) [coll: hb/Lionel Dillon]
- Galactic Cluster (New York: New American Library/Signet Books, 1959) [coll: pb/Paul Lehr]
- So Close to Home (New York: Ballantine Books, 1961) [coll: pb/Richard Powers]
- Best Science Fiction Stories of James Blish (London: Faber and Faber, 1965) [coll: hb/]
- Anywhen (Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, 1970) [coll: hb/James Starrett]
- Anywhen (London: Faber and Faber, 1971) [coll: exp of the above: hb/]
- The Best of James Blish (New York: Ballantine/Del Rey, 1979) edited by Robert A W Lowndes [coll: pb/H R van Dongen]
- Get Out of My Sky; And, There Shall Be No Darkness (London: Panther Books, 1980) [coll: pb/Peter Elson]
- A Work of Art and Other Stories (London: Severn House, 1993) [coll: hb/]
- A Dusk of Idols and Other Stories (London: Severn House, 1996) [coll: hb/]
- In This World, or Another (Waterville, Maine: Five Star Books, 2003) [coll: edited by Judith Ann Lawrence: hb/Bob Eggleton]
- One-Shot (no place given: Project Gutenberg, 2007) [story: ebook: first appeared August 1955 Astounding: na/]
- Works of Art (Framingham, Massachusetts: NESFA Press, 2008) [coll: hb/John Berkey]
- Flights of Eagles (Framingham, Massachusetts: NESFA Press, 2009) [coll: includes Welcome to Mars and Jack of Eagles: hb/John Berkey]
- The Thing in the Attic (no place given: Project Gutenberg, 2010) [story: ebook: first appeared July 1954 If: na/]
nonfiction and poetry
works as editor
about the author
- David Ketterer. Imprisoned in a Tesseract: The Life and Work of James Blish (Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1987) [nonfiction: by far the most complete critical and biographical account: hb/Mike Walters]
- Brian M Stableford. A Clash of Cymbals: The Triumph of James Blish (San Bernardino, California: The Borgo Press, 1979) [nonfiction: chap: also essential: pb/]
- Bob Rickard. "After Such Knowledge: James Blish's Tetralogy" in A Multitude of Visions (Baltimore, Maryland: T-K Graphics, 1975) edited by Cy Chauvin [nonfiction: anth: pb/]
- The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (April 1972) [the special James Blish issue: mag/]
- Judith L Blish. Bibliography in The Tale that Wags the God (Chicago, Illinois: Advent: Publishers, 1987) [nonfiction: coll: edited by Cy Chauvin: hb/nonpictorial]
- Phil Stephensen-Payne. James Blish: Author Mirabilis: A Working Bibliography (Leeds, West Yorkshire: Galactic Central Publications, 1996) [bibliography: chap: in the publisher's Bibliographies for the Avid Reader series: pb/nonpictorial]
Previous versions of this entry