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Night Shade Message Boards » Bishop, Michael » Spindizzies in Blish's Cities in Flight: A Query « Previous Next »

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mike bishop
Posted on Friday, August 13, 2004 - 04:18 am:   

As a young sf reader, I was always fascinated by James Blish's concept of the spindizzy, which, by using rotation, managed to nullify gravity and to permit objects of any size, including cities, to lift off and fly; in fact, size was an altogether irrelevant factor. I had to wonder how you managed to get a city to cohere, to hang together, so to speak, as it went forth into the galaxy to fulfill its Brobdingnagian-scale, hobo-esque, work-for-hire mission, but it was such a magnificent concept that I really didn't think too much about the likely messiness of such a propulsion system connected to such a humongous melange of matter.

My question, since even Googling "spindizzy" hasn't produced a very informative explanation of this "invention," is simply, if anyone has the books or can remember, what did this device look like, or was it a generated field that didn't necessarily look like anything? My curiosity derives from the fact that I'm writing a long story (but one set in the 17th century), and I'm trying to apply Blish's theoretical science, which I know derived from some very real equations (John Campbell put Blish on to them, I understand), to the levitation and propulsion of some flying islands similar to, but more capable of long-distance movement, than Swift's Laputa in the Third Voyage of Gulliver's Travels. In short, I'd be greatly interested in any sort of quasi-plausible adaptation of Blish's notion to my idea that any of you can come up with. I'm trying to visualize, and at this point have placed, the device in a large crater in the center of my flying island, Ploddanratgry. Any advice? Comments? Suggestions? Or am I altogether nuts? (Forget that last question.)
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mike bishop
Posted on Sunday, August 22, 2004 - 11:34 am:   

Does anybody out there even remember James Blish? I fear that if anyone under forty-five does, it will be for little more than the Star Trek adaptations that he did late in his career?

I recall Blish as the author of one of my favorite sf novels, A Case of Conscience [which many now seem to suppose superseded by Mary Doria Russell's (very fine, in my view) novel, The Sparrow] and the fix-up The Seedling Stars, which contains a good story from the SF HALL OF FAME, "Surface Tension."

I also remember Blish in his critical incarnation as William Atheling, Jr., and his close critiques of issues of monthly sf magazines. He was once married to my first agent, the late Virginia Kidd, and many folks looked at him as the sf field's resident intellectual . . . along with Damon Knight, perhaps.

Anyway, I find it a melancholy development that the man's work is almost entirely out of print, or, if in print, very little known. At one time, he was half a rung below Asimov, Bradbury, Clarke, and Heinlein. Okay, maybe a whole rung, but he was often an interesting writer.
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JV
Posted on Sunday, August 22, 2004 - 11:47 am:   

Mike:

I *love* Blish. A Case of Conscience was huge for me growing up. Cities in Flight, also wonderful. But I think it was his two fall-from-paradise novels that had the most lasting impact--Black Easter, etc. (I may have the titles wrong.) I'd love to see those works come out in a nice hardcover format.

And I must confess--I even read his Star Trek novels.

JeffV
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rwexler
Posted on Sunday, August 22, 2004 - 02:09 pm:   

I read Seedling Stars when I was pretty young, and liked it very much. I also read Spock Must Die (when I was even younger). But I haven't read anything else.
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mike bishop
Posted on Monday, August 23, 2004 - 03:59 am:   

Jeff, Robert, thanks for the comments on Blish. I think Black Easter was part of a series that he called After Such Knowledge, and I'll have to confess that I never got into that one. If I remember correctly, it consisted of only two books, but I may not remember correctly, especially since I'm having a hard time recalling what the "other" title was, if there was only one. I do remember being profoundly influenced by an essay that Blish did, as William Atheling, Jr., called "Cathedrals in Space" about religious sf. It was in his critical book from Advent Press, The Issue at Hand or More Issues at Hand. Anyway, good to know that some science fictioneers and fantasists out there recall the man.
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Minz
Posted on Monday, August 23, 2004 - 08:51 am:   

Under 40, and lover of Blish . . . Both A CASE OF CONSCIENCE and "Surface Tension" are must reads for anyone who reads sf, and I really enjoy his essays and reviews (tough to find, tho). And I believe there's a CITIES IN FLIGHT omnibus in print, and a recent Del Rey CASE OF..., though there's plenty more that's OP.
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mike
Posted on Monday, August 23, 2004 - 12:52 pm:   

Thanks for the updates on Blish's in-print status, and of course I agree with you about both the novel and that particular story.
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Rhys
Posted on Tuesday, August 24, 2004 - 04:13 am:   

I love Blish. I loved *The Day After Judgment* and *Doctor Mirabilis* and I also really like *Cities in Flight* (which introduced me to Spengler -- I don't know if that was a good thing or not!)

The spindizzy idea was used by Ed Hamilton before Blish used it, wasn't it?

As for the technicalities of lifting cities into space, I'm assuming they come complete with the part of the Earth's crust they are built on? (Which would make it difficult for Venice, I guess)...

Don't know if this will be of any interest:

http://www.alternativescience.com/eric-laithwaite.htm

The famous 'unpublished lecture' sounds intriguing...
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mike
Posted on Tuesday, August 24, 2004 - 12:29 pm:   

Rhys, thanks for this. I'm going to read it fairly closely before commenting further -- but appreciate your posting this URL.
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m.
Posted on Thursday, August 26, 2004 - 04:25 am:   

Rhys, I printed out the piece on Eric Laithwaite ("The Royal Institution Is Not Amused"), so that I could read it more carefully than I can usually manage online, and must thank you for providing this item. It's fascinating, not necessarily because EL's demonstration of a large gyroscopic apparatus at a Firday Evening Discourse of the Royal Institution offers a road to honest-to-God antigravity, but because his presentation caused such discomfort to so many, and because its full implications seem to lie unexamined owing to that discomfort.

One paragraph reads, "The resounding silence of his audience continued long after that fateful evening. There was to be no Fellowship of the Royal Society, no gold metal, no 'Arise, Sir Eric'. And, for the first time in two hundred years, there was to be no published 'proceedings' recording Laithwaite's astonishing lecture. In an unprecedented act of academic Stalinism, the Royal Institution simply banished the memory of Professor Laithwaite, his gyrocopes that became lighter, his lecture, even his existence."

I suppose we must consider the source of this take on those events, but, on the whole, it strikes me as straightforwardly told and fairly free of the unmistakable taint of crackpot-ism. Anybody else care to comment. Again, this is fascinating material. Reportedly, not long before his death in 1997, Laithwaite said, "Why should people reject the idea of something new? Well, of course, they always have. If you go back to Galileo, they were going to put him to death for not saying the earth was the centre of the universe. I'm reminded of something that Mark Twain once said: 'a crank is a crank only until he's been proved correct.'" (Which, of course, is a remark that has provided loads of comfort to genuine cranks.)
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Jeff Smith
Posted on Thursday, October 14, 2004 - 10:29 pm:   

Most of After Such Knowledge has been mentioned here, just not all together. It was one of those four-book trilogies, and it examined the question of whether the quest for knowledge is neutral or could be good or evil. It consisted of a historical novel about Roger Bacon (Doctor Mirabilis), a science fiction novel (A Case of Conscience), and a fantasy novel (published as two fantasy novels, Black Easter and The Day After Judgment).

I've always paired Blish with Aldiss in my mind, because they were both being published by Signet back when I discovered them. (Yeah, I'm over 45, too.) No real similarities, I guess, except that they both wrote smart stuff. I still occasionally reread one of those old Signet pbs -- my god, they're tiny! Jam-packed with practically no margins . . . a reprint today of The Seedling Stars or Greybeard would probably be three times the size, with exactly the same wordage.
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m.
Posted on Friday, October 15, 2004 - 04:18 am:   

Jeff, thanks for checking in. I know exactly the Signet volumes you're alluding to and also pick them up occasionally with glimmerings of the wonder with which I originally, delightedly, cracked them. Thanks, too, for setting forth the four titles in the After Such Knowledge "trilogy." I often think that an early novel of mine, A Little Knowledge, owes its title, if not its contents, at least partly to my residual memory of Blish's title.

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