Earthman, Come Home

by James Blish
Series: Cities in Flight 3
Reviewed date: 2007 May 5
Rating: 2
222 pages
cover art

A thousand years in the future, Earth is an impoverished wasteland. One by one the great cities fit themselves with spindizzy drives and fly off into space in search of work on richer colony worlds. James Blish uses the image of an Okie, a migrant worker in America's Great Depression. These Okie cities fight for scraps in a hostile universe.

Earthman, Come Home stars John Amalfi, the mayor of New York. With help from his city manager Mark Hazleton, he guides the city through one harrowing adventure after another, always in search of honest work, often on the brink of starvation. But it's about to be for naught: the galaxy in the grip of Depression, and eventually all the Okie cities will succumb and be forcibly broken up. Amalfi seizes on a desperate strategy: he recruits hundreds of fellow Okie cities, and together they march on Earth to demand their rights. The journey takes hundreds of years, but with longevity drugs, the cities are used to thinking in the long term.

Earthman, Come Home is structurally flawed. First, it is a fixup novel, in the worst, most excruciating, sense. Even the individual stories that make up the book are structurally deficient. The stories are told from the point of view of John Amalfi, but Blish leaves out the important parts of Amalfi's thoughts and plans, to heighten the suspense. That's a rookie writing mistake. The Okie novels may be classics, but they serve to illustrate the growth that science fiction has undergone in the last fifty years: they wouldn't get published today.

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