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Works of Art by James Blish
Edited by James A. Mann
Cover Artist: John Berkey
Review by Sam Lubell
NESFA Press Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9781886778702
Date: 30 January 2008 List Price $29.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Publisher's Website / Show Official Info /

Once one of the leading writers and critics in science fiction, today Blish is largely forgotten except for his adaptations of the original Star Trek series (and the first original novel, Spock Must Die). But at one time he was well known for his Cities in Flight series, his Seedling Stars stories, and the Hugo winning A Case of Conscience. Editor James Mann and NESFA Press provide a very attractive volume with 17 stories (about 500 pages of fiction), a sample of Blish's criticism, and an introductory essay by Gregory Feeley for not much more money than your typical hardcover.

And what a sample of stories it is. Blish's best known works are represented with "Surface Tension" about the colonization of a planet with a microscopic form of man and their attempt to develop what they think is space travel; "Earthman Come Home," a Cities in Flight novelette about how New York City, now a giant space vessel thanks to the spindizzy device, settled on a planet and won the support of its people; and a novella version of "A Case of Conscience" about different humans' reactions to living with aliens and a Jesuit's fear of a trap from the devil. All of these are among the best stories in the book.

The less familiar stories are also top-notch. The title story, "A Work of Art" is about the revival of the composer Richard Strauss in 2161 in another person's body and his attempt to compose a new opera. The story has a great twist. The somewhat paranoid "The Bridge" about suspicions that a worker who has become disillusioned about the odds of survival on Jupiter would blow up the bridge they are building has new resonance in our post-911 era. "Tomb Tapper", about the horrors of war, is another shock ending story. "The Box," although clearly a post-WWII story has a more modern sense of irony, as a scientist's efforts to save NYC from a giant force field are hampered by the military's suspicion of him. "Beep" is an interesting and humorous story about a secret agency that somehow seems to have access to information from the future. "Common Time" is a scientific story about the different effects of relativity from a FTL drive causing the spaceship's pilot's mind to react far faster than his body. "There Shall Be No Darkness" is a horror story of a werewolf at a party. "A Dusk of Angels" is a medical ethics story as a plastic surgeon gains a conscience. "This Earth of Hours" has an interesting alien race that's really a gestalt organism that cannot understand that each human is an individual. "A Style in Treason" features a society with professional traitors and a wonderful far future feel mixed in with a spy story.

Many of these stories are fifty years old and so some of the science and character attitudes are better fits with the past than with their future settings. Still, many have not dated much and almost all remain interesting and entertaining without needing any interpretation through the lens of historical perspective. I would have liked to have seen a bit more biographical information on Blish and a bibliography would not have hurt either. Still, this collection is a worthy addition to any science fiction fan's collection, especially those with an interest in short stories or the history of the field.

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