This is a four-in-one of a series of James Blish novels. They’re all in the same universe, but only get truly related to each other later.

The first book, They Shall Have Stars, takes place in an early twenty-first century as seen from about 1956. This means there’s all sorts of technical oddities, but the meat of the story is an interesting take. The United States has grown so paranoid about security that everything is split up into little bits that don’t get to talk to each other. Notably, this has happened to science, and since technical progress depends on peer review, and other methods relying on the free flow of information, progress is grinding to a halt. The plot then revolves around a clandestine effort inside the government to squeeze out a couple last breakthroughs, so a young generation can go riding off into the sunset.

The second book, A Life for the Stars, takes place near the year 3000, and a decent chunk of the galaxy has been colonized by humanity in a couple of waves, thanks to the anti-gravity devices developed in the first book. Earth is seriously depleted of its natural resources, and apparently most of the cities have left for the stars, looking for places to work. Which means all these ‘cities’ are really just the major production centers; steel towns and the like, and there’s no reason why a financial, service, or administration center would need to (or rather, be able to) pick up and leave like that. Of course, the main city the remaining three books follow is former financial hub New York…. But, the story itself the best of the bunch, with a well-done coming of age theme.

What’s odd is that the main character of that book gets killed off-screen in between books, even though he could have made it (this looks to be a result of the stories that make up the second book being written later, necessitating writing him out). But the last two are further adventures of New York City (or at least Manhattan), focusing on the Mayor, who is just a secondary character before this. The fourth book (The Triumph of Time) has some of the oddest feel to it, as it’s kind of Blish’s extended farewell to the universe and characters of the first book. It also really runs into modern physics problems as modern cosmology renders the initial seed of the problem nonsense.

Earthman, Come Home is probably the longest, and most extensive plot of the series, and really shows its origins as a series of short stories stitched together. It indulges in lots action-adventure, and saving the day through engineering. Now, for that sort of thing, it is very well done, and overall hangs together well. Its the real core of the series, and works well as such.

I have to say, when I’d heard of antigravity and flying cities… this isn’t at all what I had in mind. My thoughts were far more down to Earth, with the engineering of cities where vertical distance, and the ground below not being a real concern… not space-opera concepts of ‘cities’ as interstellar vessels. However, in its own axioms, the stories do well, and I can see why its one of the classics.