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Creator / James Blish

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James Benjamin Blish (May 23, 1921 July 30, 1975) was an American author of Speculative Fiction, perhaps best known for his Cities in Flight series, his Hugo-winning novel A Case of Conscience (the first of the After Such Knowledge series), and for writing the authorized book adaptations of the Star Trek: The Original Series scripts, as well as the second-ever original novel based on the series, and the first published by Bantam books, Spock Must Die! note 

He also wrote a popular series of short stories, collected in The Seedling Stars, where mankind is genetically adapted to live on other planets; that being easier than Terraforming. His story "There Shall Be No Darkness" was adapted for the movie, The Beast Must Die.

He is the source for the name of the tropes Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp" (from the Turkey City Lexicon) and Idiot Plot, and is also credited with coining the term "gas giant", as applied to extremely large planets like Jupiter.

Works by James Blish:

Examples of Tropes in works by James Blish:

  • Ambiguous Innocence: In A Case Of Conscience, a Jesuit Priest is part of the team that establishes contact with the first known sapient extraterrestrials. They have a working civilization, but no religion; they are completely without any concept of God, an afterlife, or the idea of sin. The story ambiguously suggests that they were created by Satan.
  • Artistic License Religion: The main conflict A Case of Conscience depends entirely on the "fact" that the Catholic church rejects evolution. In fact, the Catholic Church recently (in the 1940's) said the theory and religion are not mutually exclusive and that the church has no problem with the theory. Compared to certain Protestant sects Catholicism has taken a very moderate stance of the controversy - they were originally neutral on the subject but later came down in favour of it (in fact, English Protestants both supported and rallied against the theory in more or less equal measure-'Darwin's Bulldog' was a Christian). The church made no official pronouncement about the subject at all until Pius XII adopted a neutral attitude. This is more a case of Theology Marches On than a pure example of this trope, but the central character is a Catholic priest who is freaked out by the existence of an alien species that appear to be without sin yet have never known Christianity: in Real Life, the Vatican recently issued a statement to the effect that it was definitely possible humanity would find such a species out there in the universe, and the idea of sinless aliens actually works within Catholic theology since they would not share Adam's curse. (Wait, would that mean that humanity's hat is sin?!) note  Also, the idea of moral perception without revelation (i.e. by the perceiving mind's own powers) has been last considered novel by Catholics in XII century (see Thomas Aquinas).
  • Crystal Spires and Togas: Doubly subverted in the very dark The Day After Judgement (a.k.a. the second half of The Devil's Day). The End of the World as We Know It has taken place. God, it turns out, really did die. Satan (who is not so bad) shows a viewpoint character the Crystal Spires and Togas-future which would have come about had he not destroyed everything and then reveals that compared to such a soul-less living death, the Apocalypse would seem preferable.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: One of these is mentioned in the prologue of The Quincunx of Time. A vast enemy force attacked, "a massed armada that must have taken more than a century of effort on the part of a whole star-cluster ... under the strictest and most fanatical kind of secrecy." And the Service was waiting for them with three times as many ships, all positioned so perfectly that any attempt by the armada to fight would've been plain suicide. "The attack had been smashed before the average citizen could ever even begin to figure out what the attackers might have thought it had been aimed at."
  • Empathic Shapeshifter: In The Duplicated Man, the eponymous duplicates are formed by a machine that is controlled telepathically by its operators. The operators are displeased to discover that all the duplicates come out wrong because each of the operators has his own imperfect, thoroughly subjective ideas of what the original guy is like, both in his personality and his appearance.
  • Energy Beings: In The Star Dwellers and its sequel Mission to the Heart Stars, humans makes contact with energy beings that are created in the births of stars and look like globes of orange light. We dub them "angels," and as the stories go on, the name feels more and more uncomfortably appropriate.
  • Fantastic Religious Weirdness: In A Case of Conscience, the Jesuit protagonist concludes that a race of reptilians leading apparently Edenic lives are of Satanic origin, since they have no concept of God and thus "prove" by their existence that He is unnecessary.
  • Fish People: A microscopic version of this trope appears in "Surface Tension". A colony ship crashes on a planet virtually devoid of land, so they create (via genetic engineering) tiny aquatic humans to carry on their legacy after they've died.
  • Genetic Adaptation: The stories in The Seedling Stars are all about adapting humans for new planets. For example, in "Surface Tension," humans colonize a mostly water-covered planet by creating a race of humanoids out of their own genes hand-crafted to best suit this planet, and leaving all their knowledge, up to and including how to build spaceships, in the form of tablets to be read when they develop enough to manage to do so. The driving point of the story is that being made to perfectly suit the world in question includes being microscopic.
  • Hamster-Wheel Power: The micro-'space ship' from "Surface Tension" is powered by diatoms on treadmills.
  • Hell on Earth: In Black Easter, the Valley of Death materializes (appropriately enough) at Death Valley.
  • Hyperspace Is a Scary Place: "Common Time": A person travelling in "over-drive" first experiences his mind (and therefore his perception of time) operating thousands of times faster than his body, and later experiences his body operating vastly faster than his mind - both potentially fatal conditions. (Several earlier expeditions failed to return). It then gets weirder, and the whole thing is possibly kinky.
  • Invincible Hero: Not a person, but a whole organization: The Service, in The Quincunx Of Time, had not had a defeat or a failure in well over two centuries. The prologue shows how the Service was prepared for every possible conflict:
    The press was free... Yet there had been nothing to report but that:
    (a) an armada of staggering size had erupted with no real warning from the Black Horse Nebula; and
    (b) the Service had been ready.note 
  • Lilliputians: The Novella "Surface Tension", from The Seedling Stars, has microscopic humans produced by genetic engineering. The physics are addressed very realistically, and the biology was not out of question when the story was written, but Science Marches On; their cells were the size of viruses, but we didn't know much about viruses, or a lot about cells for that matter, when the story was written.
  • No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup: In Welcome to Mars!, the protagonist built an antigravity drive in his garage, so he built a homebrew spacecraft and got himself stranded on Mars (which was a less hostile environment than we later discovered). Eventually he was rescued by a ship with another antigravity drive. Since he'd already done it, the engineers who made the second drive knew it must have been possible.
  • Science Marches On: In the Novella "Surface Tension", the protagonists are genetically engineered humans the size of large protozoa (one hundredth of an inch), living in a puddle of water. In the introduction setting up the story, we hear one of the genetic engineers say that the people can be so small and still be intelligent because their cells are the size of viruses. When the story was written, we did not realize viruses are not cells.
  • Square-Cube Law: The Novella "Surface Tension" deals with a race of microscopic humanoids, and does a good job of showing physics on such a scale — for example, the surface of the pond they live in is an impenetrable barrier.
  • Subspace Ansible: A curious version in the short story "Beep" (later expanded into the novel The Quincunx of Time). Ansibles are common and cheap to use, if you can stand the loud and annoying beep that accompanies every one. Due to quantum effects, the eponymous beep contains every message that ever was or will be sent, ever, and they can be heard if slowed way, way down and appropriately filtered. The government's primary purpose is to ensure that the events described in the beep come to pass at all costs, to prevent a paradox from prematurely ending the universe.
  • Water Is Air: The Novella "Surface Tension" averts this trope by having Blish's microscopic water-dwellers live in a "universe" with three "surfaces": the bottom, where the water ends; the "sky", the top of the water, which (as the title suggests) they cannot penetrate; and between these, the thermocline, the division between the sun-warmed upper layers and the cold deeps.
  • Wham Line: In Black Easter an apocalypse of summoned demons is only being held off by God's power over them. At the end of the book we are helpfully informed:
    Satan: God is dead.