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James Blish: The End Of The World

Dr. Paul Shackley

James Blish presents five end of the world scenarios:

a cosmic collision;
a nova;
Armageddon;
an asteroid strike;
an ecological catastrophe.

(By a cosmic collision, I mean not a collision on a cosmic scale but literally a collision between two universes.)

Blish usually tells us what happened afterwards:

“Creation began.” 1

“We have escaped…we will survive.” 2

“…Resurrection.” 3

“…the world was ready to begin.”4

Only the ecological catastrophe story ends without hope because, like Orwell’s 1984 and Blish’s own They Shall Have Stars, it is a warning. The catastrophe tidally disrupts the Earth-Moon system so that lunar bases are no escape. Thus, the story ends not with a new beginning but with a dying moment:

“Juli felt the soft, familiar thump of Hausmaus [a cat] landing on his frequent perch between her shoulder blades, and                  ”5

Blish was not usually pessimistic. They Shall Have Stars, despite its political dystopia, has an up-lifting title and ends when exiles escape from the world Bureaucratic State which will be overthrown in a later volume. On the last page, a man about to be executed writes on the wall of his cell:

“Every end…is a new beginning.”6

-          thus echoing the positive endings of four of the five end of the world scenarios.

  1. James Blish, The Triumph Of Time in Blish, Cities In Flight (London: Arrow Books, 1981), p. 596.
  2. James Blish, …And All The Stars A Stage (New York: Doubleday & Company, 1971), p. 84.
  3. James Blish, Black Easter and The Day After Judgement (London: Arrow Books, 1981), p. 208.
  4. James Blish and Norman L. Knight, A Torrent Of Faces (London: Arrow Books, 1978), p. 270.
  5. James Blish, “We All Die Naked” in Silverberg, Zelazny, Blish, Three For Tomorrow (New York: Meredith Press, 1969), p. 204.
  6. James Blish, They Shall Have Stars in Cities In Flight, p. 129.
 

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Email address: paulshackley@gmail.com