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James Benjamin Blish (May 23, 1921 – July 30, 1975) was an American author of fantasy and science fiction. He is best known for his work on Star Trek. Blish also wrote literary criticism of science fiction using the pen-name William Atheling Jr.

James Blish
Born (1921-05-23)May 23, 1921
East Orange, New Jersey, United States
Died July 30, 1975(1975-07-30) (aged 54)
Henley-on-Thames, England
Pen name William Atheling Jr.
Occupation Writer, critic
Period 1940–1975
Genre Science fiction, fantasy



Early life and careerEdit

James Benjamin Blish was born on 23 May 1921 at East Orange, New Jersey.[1] Blish later studied biology at Rutgers and Columbia University.

In the late 1930s to the early 1940s he was a member of the Futurians, an influential science fiction fan club.[2] His first published stories appeared in Super Science Stories, "Emergency Refueling" in March and "Bequest of the Angel" in May 1940. At least ten more stories were published during 1941 and 1942, with two more over the next five years.[3]

Blish spent 1942–1944 as a medical technician in the United States Army. After the war he became the science editor for the Pfizer pharmaceutical company. His writing career progressed until eventually he gave up his job to become a full-time writer.

He is credited with coining the term gas giant, in the story "Solar Plexus" as it appeared in the anthology Beyond Human Ken, edited by Judith Merril. (The story was originally published in 1941, but that version did not contain the term; Blish is thought to have added it in a rewrite done for the anthology, which was first published in 1952.)[4]

From 1962 to 1968, Blish worked for the Tobacco Institute.[5]

Then in 1968 Blish left his native United States and moved to Henley-on-Thames, England.

From 1967 to 1975, Blish worked on a series of books for the Star Trek franchise. He died before the series was completed and the final volume, Star Trek 12, was co-credited to his wife.


James Blish's grave marker

Blish died on 30 July 1975 and was buried in Holywell Cemetery, Oxford. The archive of Blish's books and papers is deposited at the Bodleian Library in Oxford.[6]

SF themes and major worksEdit

Blish's novella "Sargasso of Lost Cities", his third "Cities in Flight" story, was originally published in Two Complete Science-Adventure Books in 1953
Blish's The Warriors of Day was originally published in Two Complete Science-Adventure Books in 1951 as "Sword of Xota"

In his works of science fiction, James Blish developed many ideas and terms which have influenced other writers and on occasion have been adopted more widely.

The Haertel driveEdit

The Haertel drive is a faster-than-light propulsion system developed through a number of Blish's science fiction short stories.

In the story Welcome to Mars! (1967), Adolph (Dolph) Haertel developed the drive in order to reach Mars rapidly. Haertel goes on to develop the drive further, to enable interstellar travel. In Common Time the drive is not yet fully developed but the destination is reached and alien contact made. The details of the story are seen as an early example of symbolism in Science Fiction. Many other short stores of interstellar travel and alien contact followed.

Other stories in which the Haertel drive appears include A Case of Conscience and the Pantropy series (see below).

In some later stories the Haertel drive is referred to as the "Imaginary drive".

Beep: The Dirac communicatorEdit

The Dirac communicator provides instantaneous faster-than-light communication across space. Ursula K. Le Guin's ansible is often compared to it. It first appeared in his classic short story Beep (1955), which tells of its most remarkable property: every Dirac transmission ever made is repeated in a loud beep of noise at the beginning of every signal. Analysis of the beep reveals these messages from past, present and future.[7]

Unlike any other SF story up to that point it is essentially plotless, being in the main a speculative take on the work of the physicist Paul Dirac. Blish also pointed out that the presence of communications from the future, implicit in Dirac's treatment of positrons as electrons travelling backwards in time, has philosophical implications for the debate over whether we have free will or the future is already determined.[8] To Blish's surprise the story proved popular and even started a new subgenre of SF.

The story inspired the physicist Gerald Feinberg to develop the theory of tachyons.[9]

Blish later expanded it into the full-length novel, The Quincunx of Time.

The Dirac communicator reappeared in many of Blish's subsequent works, including the Cities in Flight series.

Many thousands of years later, human civilization has gone through many Rebirths, or Renaissances. The chance infusion of a mentality from 1949 through a freak combination of the active mode of the Dirac within a radio telescope results in the formation, after many adventures and an ultimate resurgence of Man, of the Quint, the Autarch of Rebirth V. A computer of this far future time uses the Dirac as both a means of communication and infinite memory storage (Midsummer Century). Its existence was foretold at the time of Capt. Weinbaum (in The Quincunx of Time), though no-one could interpret it then.[citation needed]

Cities in FlightEdit

The Cities in Flight quartet tells of the "Okie" cities which uprooted themselves from Earth and became itinerant workforces across the Galaxy. Much of the material was originally published in the science-fiction magazine Astounding Science Fiction, and was not written in the chronological order of the stories themselves.

They Shall Have Stars (first UK publication under the alternative title of Year 2018!) introduces two essential features of the series. The first is the invention of the first anti-aging drug, ascomycin, by a company called Pfitzner, echoing Blish's own employer Pfizer (Pfizer also appears in disguise as one of the sponsors of the polar expedition in a subsequent book, Fallen Star).[citation needed] The second is the development of an antigravity device known as the "spindizzy". Since the device becomes more efficient when used to propel larger objects, entire cities leave an Earth in decline and rove the stars, looking for work among less industrialized systems. The long life provided by ascomycin is necessary because the journeys between stars are time-consuming. A further feature of these stories is Blish's Dirac communicator. The chronology in early editions of They Shall Have Stars differed somewhat from the later reprints, indicating that Blish, or his editors, may not have planned this at the beginning of the series.

A Life For The Stars is a coming of age story set amid the flying cities. The third, Earthman, Come Home, is a series of loosely connected short stories detailing the adventures of a flying New York City; the title piece was selected as one of the best novellas prior to 1965 by the Science Fiction Writers of America and included in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume Two.

The Triumph of Time (UK title: A Clash of Cymbals) is the closing work, in which the Universe comes to an end. Blish set the date at AD 4004, possibly in a satirical reference to the year "4004 BC" which had been inferred by Bishop James Ussher to be the year of the creation of the universe.[citation needed]

The Traitor's GuildEdit

Four thousand years in the future, Human civilization has met its first full antagonist — the Green Exarchy. A system of many civilizations ruled by a non-human emperor, the Green Exarch, represents a significant threat to High Earth. The Green Exarch has at his employ the extremely dangerous shapeshifting (protean) agents known as Vombis. The Dirac is still in common use. High Earth remains the center of Human civilization. That civilization is remarkably advanced — for all practical intents, humans are now immortal. A memory cleanse known as Baptism permits those filled with ennui to begin lives anew, though there are side effects from subconscious recall. A quasi-religious group known as Sagittarians also play a part. The most important financial force in the empire of High Earth is the Traitor's Guild, who permit money to flow from system to system in reward of treachery to system governments, producing a Feudatory system between worlds, though not at the expense of internal stability. Traitors skilfully employ advanced biotechnology to further their aims, and are known to employ fungal cytotoxins, DNA reverse transcription mutation agents (to inject false memories and appearances in order to forestall recognition and testimony during interrogations), as well as technology to petrify dead bodies in order to make up wall fortifications in far offworld planets. The Traitors Guild may be found on all planets (A Traitor of Quality, Section in The Quincunx of Time with a lecture about the Traitor's Guild, and The Green Exarchy).


Blish coined the term "pantropy" in 1955, to describe the practice of modifying the human form so that it could live in an alien environment. The word has since become the accepted term for the practice.[10]

Blish wrote several short stories on the theme, treating it as vastly cheaper than terraforming. They were later collected in the book The Seedling Stars. The story "Seeding Program" tells of the beginnings of Pantropy. Another story, "Watershed", makes reference to the planet Lithia, which is the centerpiece of the full-length novel A Case of Conscience in the After Such Knowledge trilogy.

Blish later collaborated with Norman L. Knight on a series of stories, collected in one volume as A Torrent of Faces. The collection includes Blish's Nebula-nominated novella "The Shipwrecked Hotel". The stories also provide an example of pantropy, in the modification of humans into a sea-dwelling form known as "Tritons".

After Such KnowledgeEdit

First publication of A Case of Conscience, September 1953.

After Such Knowledge is a group of two novels and two linked short novels in three volumes, taking its name from a line in the T. S. Eliot poem Gerontion: "After such knowledge, what forgiveness?". Despite being written some years apart, all the novels in the group share a common theme: the quest for new knowledge, and the unanticipated consequences of that knowledge.

The first novel of the four, A Case of Conscience, was a winner of the 1959 Hugo Award for science fiction, as well as the 2004/1953 Retrospective Hugo Award for Best Novella,[11].

It follows a Jesuit priest, Ramon Sanchez-Ruiz, who encounters on the Planet Lithia an advanced and intelligent alien race that has never known murder, war, slavery, racism, or any of the other lapses which plague human society; but also having no religious beliefs of any kind underpinning their morality, which they claim is derived from pure reason. As Sanchez struggles to reconcile all of this with his beliefs he sees his own Faith begin to crumble.

He returns to Earth hearing a gift from his best Lithian friend Chtexa, a sealed urn filled with saline containing the fertilized egg of one of Chtexa's wives (for Lithian females each lay thousands of eggs in the sea every year). The young Lithian, Egvertchi, grows to maturity on Earth; and after wreaking havoc on Earth society, returns to Lithia.

Meanwhile, the Terran military has enslaved Lithia, in order to use it as a secret base. Just as Egvertchi's ship arrives at Lithia, a runaway atomic bomb test ignites a chain reaction which destroys the entire planet.

The second novel, Doctor Mirabilis, is a historical novel about the medieval Franciscan monk and proto-scientist Roger Bacon, and his lifelong quest for knowledge and understanding.

The remaining two short fantasy novels, Black Easter and The Day After Judgment, are often published together in one volume. Their central characters are Father Domenico, a Catholic priest and exorcist belonging to a fictional society of white magicians; and his opponent, Theron Ware, an ambitious black magician, who claims the ability to summon up demons and compel them to do his bidding.

In the first, Black Easter, Ware is commissioned by a wealthy armaments dealer to release all the major demons from the Underworld, and set them free on Earth for just one night, as an act of "creative destruction". However having released the demons from Hell, Theron Ware finds himself unable to govern their actions.

In the sequel, The Day After Judgment, the social, economic, military and theological consequences of Ware's loss of control, up to and including nuclear war and the destruction of civilization, are described.

Star TrekEdit

Blish adapted several episodes of Star Trek for Bantam Books. They were collected into twelve volumes, and published as a title series of the same name from 1967 to 1977. The adaptations were generally based on draft scripts, often containing additional plot elements or differing situations from the televised episodes. He also wrote an original novel, Spock Must Die!, which was released by Bantam in 1970. His success with the Star Trek titles brought him financial stability for the rest of his life.[12]:21 It has been suggested that volumes after Star Trek 6 were written in collaboration with his wife Judith Lawrence, and her mother, Muriel Lawrence.[12]:25 Blish died before the series was completed. The final volume, Star Trek 12, was co-credited to his wife, J. A. Lawrence. She continued the series with Mudd's Angels in 1978.

Selected bibliographyEdit

Cities in FlightEdit

  • They Shall Have Stars (Faber 1956, Avon T-193 1957 published under the title Year 2018![13])
  • A Life for the Stars (G. P. Putnam's Sons 1962, Avon H-107 1963)
  • Earthman Come Home (G. P. Putnam's Sons 1955; Avon T-225 1956, originally published as four short stories)
  • The Triumph of Time, (Avon T-279 1958; published in the UK as A Clash of Cymbals Faber 1959)

A one-volume collection of all four Cities in Flight books exists, first published in the United States by Avon (1970), (ISBN 0380009986) and later in the UK by Arrow (1981), (ISBN 0099264404), which includes an analysis of the work (pp. 597 onwards) as an Afterword by Richard D. Mullen, derived from an original article by Leland Shapiro in the publication Riverside Quarterly. It is now available in hardcover and trade paperback from Overlook Press.

Outside the United States, a single volume collecting all four books is available from Gollancz as part of its SF Masterworks series. This edition includes a new (2006) introduction by Stephen Baxter; and uses the original United States title The Triumph of Time for A Clash of Cymbals. The first two were also collected as Cities in Flight, Vol. 1 (1991) and the second two as Cities in Flight, Vol. 2 (1991)

After Such KnowledgeEdit

Miscellaneous novelsEdit

  • The Star Dwellers (G. P. Putnam's Sons 1961, Avon F-122 1962, Faber and Faber 1962, Berkley 1970)
  • Mission to the Heart Stars (Faber and Faber 1965, G. P. Putnam's Sons 1965, Panther 1980, Avon 1982) — A sequel to The Star Dwellers
  • Welcome to Mars! (G. P. Putnam's Sons 1967, Faber and Faber 1967, Sphere 1978, Avon 1983) — Dolph Haertel's seminal first flight to Mars.
  • Midsummer Century (DAW 89 1972) — The Far Future, at the time of Rebirth V. [The 1974 edition adds two unconnected short stories]
  • The Quincunx of Time (Dell 1973, Faber and Faber 1975, Avon 1983) expansion of "Beep", in which the discovery of the Dirac communicator's universal transmission is made. (Galaxy, Feb 1954)
  • Jack of Eagles (Greenberg 1952, Galaxy 19 1953, as ESPer Avon T-268 1958, Avon 1968, Faber and Faber 1973, Arrow 1975)
  • The Night Shapes
  • The Year 2018!
  • Titan's Daughter
  • Fallen Stars

Star TrekEdit

  • Star Trek (Bantam F3459, 1967)
    • Variant title: Star Trek 1 (Bantam Q2114, 1975)
  • Star Trek 2 (Bantam F3439, 1968)
  • Star Trek 3 (Bantam F4371, 1969)
  • Spock Must Die! (Bantam H5515, 1970) The first Star Trek novel for an adult audience
  • Star Trek 4 (Bantam S7009, 1971)
  • Star Trek 5 (Bantam S7300, 1972)
  • Star Trek 6 (Bantam S7364, 1972)
  • Star Trek 7 (Bantam S7480, 1972)
  • Star Trek 8 (Bantam Pathfinder SP7550, 1972)
  • Star Trek 9 (Bantam Pathfinder SP7808, 1973)
  • Star Trek 10 (Bantam Pathfinder SP8401, 1974)
  • Star Trek 11 (Bantam 1975, Q8717)
  • Star Trek 12 (Bantam ISBN 0-553-11382-8, 1977), with J. A. Lawrence

The Star Trek ReaderEdit

  • The Star Trek Reader (Dutton ISBN 0-8415-0467-9, 1976)
    • Includes volumes Star Trek 2, Star Trek 3, and Star Trek 8.
  • The Star Trek Reader II (Dutton ISBN 0-525-20960-3, 1977)
    • Includes volumes Star Trek 1, Star Trek 4, and Star Trek 9.
  • The Star Trek Reader III (Dutton ISBN 0-525-20961-1, 1977)
    • Includes volumes Star Trek 5, Star Trek 6, and Star Trek 7.
  • The Star Trek Reader IV, (Dutton ISBN 0-525-20962-X, 1978)

The Classic EpisodesEdit

Short storiesEdit

Blish's novelette "And Some Were Savages" was the cover story for the November 1960 issue of Amazing Stories, illustrated by Ed Emshwiller.
  • "There Shall Be No Darkness" (Thrilling Wonder Stories, 1950) — horror short story in which guests at a remote country estate discover that one of them is a werewolf. This was filmed as The Beast Must Die (a.k.a. Black Werewolf) (1974).
  • The Warriors of Day (as Sword of Zota 1951, Galaxy 16 1953, Lancer 1967, Avon 1979, Arrow 1979)
  • "Get Out of My Sky" (novella, 1957)
  • Fallen Star (Faber and Faber 1957) (also published as The Frozen Year, Ballantine 197 1957) — Set in the International Geophysical Year of 1958, it tells the story of a disaster-ridden polar expedition that finds a meteorite containing fossil life forms.
  • VOR (Avon T-238 1958, Arrow 1979) [expanded by Blish from the collaborative 'The Weakness of RVOG' [with Damon Knight], {Thrilling Wonder Stories}, Feb 1949]
  • Titans' Daughter (Berkley G507 1961, Four Square 1963, Avon 1981) (expanded from "Beanstalk" (in Future Tense, ed. K. F. Crossen, 1952)
  • The Night Shapes ( Ballantine F647 1962)
  • The Duplicated Man (with R. W. Lowndes, Avalon 1959, Airmont 8 1964)
  • A Torrent of Faces (with Norman L. Knight, Doubleday 1967, Ace Special A-29 1968)
  • The Vanished Jet (Weybright and Talley 1968)
  • We All Die Naked (1969) in: Three For Tomorrow (three short stories by Blish, Roger Zelazny, Robert Silverberg, foreword Arthur C. Clarke) (1970, Victor Gollancz; 1972, Sphere Books, p.145-190)
  • And All the Stars a Stage (Doubleday 1971, Faber and Faber 1972, Avon 1974)


  • The Seedling Stars (Gnome 1957, Signet S1622 1959, Faber and Faber 1967)
  • Best Science Fiction Stories of James Blish (stories, Faber and Faber 1965). It includes There Shall Be No Darkness; the revised 1973 edition removes There Shall Be No Darkness and adds 2 stories from the late 1960s; this revised version was published by Arrow Books in 1977 as The Testament of Andros.
  • A Work of Art and other stories (edited by Francis Lyall;) Severn House 1993)
  • A Dusk of Idols and other stories (edited by Francis Lyall; Severn House 1996)
  • Works of Art NESFA (edited by James Mann, introduction by Gregory Feeley; NESFA 2008)
  • Flights of Eagles (edited by James Mann, foreword by Tom Shippey; NESFA 2009)
  • Galactic Cluster (stories, Signet S1719 1959) — Containing among others "Beep", "Common Time" and "Nor Iron Bars". Beep was later expanded to the full-length novel, The Quincunx of Time (see also below). The book version of "Nor Iron Bars" combines the original stories "Detour to the Stars" (1956) and "Nor Iron Bars" (1957). The 1960 UK hardback removes three stories from the Signet edition and adds "Beanstalk" (1952); the 1963 UK paperback edition removes three stories from the Signet edition (only two of the three are the same as those removed for the 1960 variation); the 1980 UK paperback uses the 1963 contents and adds "Beanstalk".
  • So Close to Home (stories, Ballantine 465K 1961)
  • Anywhen (Doubleday 1970, Faber and Faber 1970, Arrow 1978, Avon 1983) — Contains among others the novelettes A Style in Treason and "A Dusk of Idols" (The 1971 UK edition removes the preface and adds a short story, "Skysign"]
  • The Testament of Andros: "best of" collection.

Anthologies (edited)Edit

  • New Dreams This Morning (1966)
  • Nebula Award Stories 5 (1970)
  • Thirteen O'Clock and other zero hours (collection of C. M. Kornbluth stories; edited by Blish; 1970)


Blish wrote criticism of science fiction—some quite scathing—under the name of William Atheling Jr. (derived from a pseudonym used by Ezra Pound for music criticism), as well as reviewing under his own name. The Atheling articles were reprinted in two collections, The Issue at Hand (1964) and More Issues at Hand (1970), and the posthumous The Tale That Wags The God (1987) collects Blish essays.

He was a fan of the works of James Branch Cabell, and for a time edited Kalki, the journal of the Cabell Society.

Reviewing The Issue at Hand, Algis Budrys described "Atheling" as "acidulous, assertive, categorical, conscientious and occasionally idiosyncratic."[14][clarification needed]

Honors, awards and recognitionEdit

Soon after his death there was a 1976 BSFA Special Award to Blish for Best British SF.[clarification needed]

The British Science Fiction Foundation inaugurated the James Blish Award for SF criticism in 1977, recognizing Brian W. Aldiss, "but it then lapsed for lack of funds".[15]

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame inducted him in 2002.[16]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Bloom, Harold. "James Blish: 1921-1975", Science fiction writers of the golden age, p. 63. Chelsea House, 1995. ISBN 0-7910-2199-8. "James Blish 1921-1975 James Benjamin Blish was born on May 23, 1921, in East Orange, New Jersey, the only child of Asa Rhodes Blish and Dorothea Schneewind Blish."
  2. ^ "Futurians". Fancyclopedia 3. Retrieved July 26, 2013. 
  3. ^ James Blish at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database (ISFDB). Retrieved 2013-04-08. Select a title to see its linked publication history and general information. Select a particular edition (title) for more data at that level, such as a front cover image or linked contents.
  4. ^ Science Fiction Citations, Citations for gas giant n.
  5. ^ "1380I James Benjamin Blish, B.Sc., Ed. (***) [m]". 
  6. ^ "Collection Level Description: Books and Papers of James Blish". Retrieved October 15, 2013. 
  7. ^ Paul J. Nahin; Time Travel: A Writer's Guide to the Real Science of Plausible Time Travel, JHU Press, 2011, pp. 149-150.[1]. Describes Beep as "classic".
  8. ^ The Science Fiction Encyclopedia
  9. ^ Colin Milburn; "Ahead of Time: Gerald Feinberg, James Blish, and the Governance of Futurity", Histories of the Future.[2]
  10. ^ Richard L. McKinney; "Pantropy", The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy: Themes, Works and Wonders (Ed. Gary Westfahl), Volume 2, Pages 579-581.
  11. ^ a b c "Blish, James" Archived 2012-10-16 at the Wayback Machine.. The Locus Index to SF Awards: Index to Literary Nominees. Locus Publications. Retrieved 2013-04-08.
  12. ^ a b Ketterer, David (1987). Imprisoned in a Tesseract : The Life and Work of James Blish. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press. ISBN 978-0-87338-334-9. 
  13. ^ Blish, James (1957). Year 2018! (First Avon ed.). 575 Madison Avenue--New York 22, NY: Avon Publications, Inc. 
  14. ^ "Galaxy Bookshelf", Galaxy, June 1965, pp.168-69. Reprinted in Benchmarks: Galaxy Bookshelf, Southern Illinois University Press, 1985.
  15. ^ "Blish, James". The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. Online third edition 2011–2012. Retrieved 2013-03-22.
  16. ^ "Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame" Archived 2013-05-21 at the Wayback Machine.. Mid American Science Fiction and Fantasy Conventions, Inc. Retrieved 2013-03-22. This was the official website of the hall of fame to 2004.


  • Tuck, Donald H. (1974). The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy. Chicago: Advent. pp. 51–53. ISBN 0-911682-20-1. 
  • Tymn, Marshall B.; Kenneth J. Zahorski; Robert H. Boyer (1979). Fantasy Literature: A Core Collection and Reference Guide. New York: R.R. Bowker Co. pp. 52–54. ISBN 0-8352-1431-1. 

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit