Friday, 30 July 2010

"Midsummer Century" by James Blish

"Midsummer Century" is the last of the small treasure trove of James Blish novels found in several used book stores in San Francisco during my recent "journey to the west".

When I first started reading Blish (with "Cities in Flight"), I thought of him as a long-format author.  Now I realize that he actually writes in fairly short form, and that it took four of his novels to add up to a compilation as long as single books like "Mockingbird" by Walter Tevis or "Grass" by Sheri S. Tepper (review coming soon on that one).

"Midsummer Century" is another of these short novels.  It's scarcely half an inch thick, and it flew by almost before I picked it up and started reading.  With a novel this short, it's hard to even give an approximation without spoiling things.  I'll stick to what's on the dust jacket.

Suffice to say this is another in the long tradition of Science Fiction novels that send a modern man into the future ("Accidental Time Machine" by Joe Haldeman, "Farnham's Freehold" by Robert Heinlein and "Word Out of Time" by Larry Niven are good examples).  This variation on a common theme is uniquely Blish.

The main character journeys not in body, but in mind.  His struggles in the new world are largely psychic rather than physical.  The ultimate empowering of the hero comes from visualizing the nature of consciousness and enlightenment.  This visualization is described in loving detail, I think I spent longer trying to sketch that out than reading the rest of the book.

This is a very short novel, a popcorn kernel with a bit of philosophy inside.  It's not the absolute best of Blish, but it's an incredibly quick read and still well recommended.

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