James Blish

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James Benjamin Blish (May 23, 1921July 30, 1975) was an American author of fantasy and science fiction. Blish also wrote literary criticism of science fiction using the pen-name William Atheling Jr.



Short fiction


Giants in the Earth (1952)

Originally published in Future Tense in 1952, with the title Beanstalk. All page numbers from the reprint in Science Fiction Stories (January 1956)
  • High intelligence did not imply superior ability to come to terms with one’s social environment; indeed, there seemed to be some sort of rough correlation between high intelligence and the accumulation of aberrations.
    • p. 13
  • Of course a sense of guilt has a threshold; at a certain level of intensity it begins to confirm the habit-pattern rather than inhibit it—
    • p. 32
  • You may as well go, Maurice. You can’t undo what you’ve done in any case, nor can I expect to talk to you out of whatever it is you’re planning. But I will tell you this: Your sanity is dubious.
    • p. 38
  • All but a small percentage of Americans live out of their lives without ever coming closer to murder than the daily tabloid can bring them, though magazine fiction and video confer spurious intimacy with the subject.
    • p. 46
  • Sam was too good a scientist to let that hope creep into his hypothesizing.
    • p. 61
  • The subject was complex enough to nurture family splits as rancorous and as final as the theological hairsplitting which had been the bane of other ages.
    • p. 72

A Style in Treason (1970)

Originally published in Galaxy Science Fiction (May 1970). All page numbers from the collection Midsummer Century published by Daw Books (UQ1094)
  • In his opinion, neither justice nor mercy were very closely related to love, let alone being identical with it—otherwise, why have three words instead of one? A metaphor is not a tautology.
    • Chapter 5 (p. 144)
  • I suppose you burned the library—barbarians always do.
    • Chapter 9 (p. 154)

Midsummer Century (1972)

Originally published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (April 1972). All page numbers from the collection Midsummer Century published by Daw Books (UQ1094)
  • The tribesmen understand this very well, although they would not describe it in the same terms I have. It is simply a working part of their lives. Do you think they would continue to consult me if they found that the advice that I gave them did not work? They are uncivilized, but they are not insane.
    • Chapter 3 (p. 21)
  • “We hear you, Father,” he said surprisingly. “Yet we sense that though what you say is the truth, it is not the whole truth.”
    • Chapter 9 (p. 61)
  • Never assume that any fact is useless until it is so proven.
    • Chapter 9 (p. 62)
  • Martel still did not want to believe in it, but brute experience of it forced him to, whatever his preferences.
    • Chapter 9 (p. 63)
  • Telepathy and intelligence appear to be incompatible from the evolutionary point of view—if you’ve got one, you don’t seem to need the other, and they may even be evolutionary enemies.
    • Chapter 10 (p. 78)
  • Yet the closer he came to it, the more alert he felt; it was as though he were paying more and more attention to fewer and fewer things, so that at the heart of the mystery he would paradoxically be totally intent upon nothing at all.
    • Chapter 11 (p. 80)
Won the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1959
All page numbers from the trade paperback edition published by Del Ray Impact Books
  • “Your concept is a tremendous network of inconsistencies.”
    “In what way?” the countess said, not very much interested.
    “It seems to be based on reverence for the young, and an extremely patient and protective attitude toward their physical and mental welfare. Yet you make them live in these huge caves, utterly out of contact with the natural world, and you teach them to be afraid of death—which of course makes them a little insane, because there is nothing anybody can do about death. It is like teaching them to be afraid of the second law of thermodynamics, just because living matter sets that law aside for a very brief period.
    • Chapter 12 (pp. 149-150)
  • In retrospect, each of the steps toward this abyss seemed irrevocable, and yet they had all been so small!
    • Chapter 13 (p. 158)
  • The express pulled into the Stazione Termini in Rome five minutes ahead of schedule with a feminine shriek. Ruiz found a porter with no difficulty, tipped him the standard 100 lire for his two pieces of luggage, and gave directions. The priest’s Italian was adequate, but hardly standard; it made the facchino grin with delight every time Ruiz opened his mouth. He had learned it by reading, partly in Dante, mostly in opera libretti, and consequently what he lacked in accent he made up for in flowery phrases; he was unable to ask the way to the nearest fruit stall without sounding as though he would throw himself into the Tiber unless he got an answer.
    • Chapter 14 (p. 171)
  • Now that I'm a free agent I mean to make my own choices, and explain them to nobody if that’s what pleases me.
    • Chapter 17 (p. 206)
  • But now the shots began—not many, but one shot is a fusillade if there have been no shots before.
    • Chapter 18 (p. 213)
Nominated the Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1969
All page numbers from the hardcover omnibus edition Black Easter/The Day After Judgment published by Gregg Press, ISBN 0-8398-2644-3, (first printing, September 1980)
  • Munitions and magic are circles that don’t intersect very effectively.
    • Chapter 2 (p. 36)
  • He had been greatly talented once, but the loss of gifted experimenters to administrative posts was the curse of all research organizations.
    • Chapter 3 (p. 43)
  • “Look at it this way for a moment, Dr. Ware. Very roughly, there are only two general kinds of men who go into the munitions business—those without consciences, who see the business as an avenue to a great fortune, eventually to be used for something else, like Jack here—and of course there’s a subclass of those, people who do have consciences but can’t resist the money anyhow, or the knowledge, rather like Dr. Hess.”
    Both men stirred, but apparently both decided not to dispute their portraits.
    “The second kind is made up of people like me—people who actually take pleasure in the controlled production of chaos and destruction. Not sadists primarily, except in the sense that every dedicated artist is something of a sadist, willing to countenance a little or a lot of suffering—not only his own, but other people’s—for the sake of the end product.”
    “A familiar type, to be sure,” Ware said with a lopsided grin. “I think it was the saintly Robert Frost who said that a painting by Whistler was worth any number of old ladies.”
    “Engineers are like this too,” Baines said.
    • Chapter 12 (pp. 109-110)
  • A common thief with a gun in his hand isn’t half as dangerous as an engineer with a stick of dynamite.
    • Chapter 12 (p. 110)
  • You’ll remember I told you I was interested in the history of science. That involves trying to understand why there wasn’t any science for so long, and why it went into eclipse almost every time it was rediscovered. I think I know why now. I think the human mind goes through a sort of cycle of fear. It can only take so much accumulated knowledge, and then it panics, and starts inventing reasons to throw everything over and go back to a Dark Age…every time with a new, invented mystical reason.
    • Chapter 16 (pp. 155-156)
  • “Impossible!” Father Domenico cried, though choking with the dust of the exploded crucifix. “It is written that in that war you will at last nature conquered and chained!”
    Of course, but what does that prove? Each of the opposing sides in any war always predicts victory. They cannot both be right. It is the final battle that counts, not the propaganda.
    • Chapter 17 (pp. 164-165)
All page numbers from the hardcover omnibus edition Black Easter/The Day After Judgment published by Gregg Press, ISBN 0-8398-2644-3, (first printing, September 1980)
  • They had all been things, not people, to each other, which after all is the only sensible and fruitful attitude in a thing-dominated world. (Except, of course, for Father Domenico, whose desire to prevent anybody from accomplishing anything, chiefly by wringing his hands, had to be written off as the typical, incomprehensible attitude of the mystic—a howling anachronism in the modern world, and predictably ineffectual.) And in point of fact none of them—not even Father Domenico—could fairly be said to have failed. Instead, they had all been betrayed. Their plans and operations had all depended implicitly upon the existence of God—even Jack, who had entered Positano as an atheist, had been reluctantly forced to grant that—and in the final pinch, He had turned out to have been not around any more after all. If this shambles was anyone’s fault, it was His.
    • Introductory section The Wrath-Bearing Tree (p. 23)
  • “Though the wicked may hide, the claws of crabs are dangerous people in bridges,” Father Selahny intoned abruptly. As was the case with all his utterances, the group would doubtless find out what this one meant only after sorting out its mixed mythologies and folklores, and long after it was too late to do anything about it.
    • Chapter 5 (p. 72)
  • He wore the expression of a man who has heard all this before, and is not enjoying it any better the second time.
    • Chapter 8 (p. 108)
  • The Venetians had never been more than formally and outwardly allegiant to the Church from at least their second treaty with Islam in the mid-fifteenth century. The highest pinnacle of their ethics was that of dealing fairly with each other, and since there was at the same time no sweeter music to Venetian ears than the scream of outrage from the outsider who had discovered too late that he had been cheated, this left them little that they felt they ought to say in the confessional. Most of them seem to regard the now obvious downfall of almost all of human civilization as a plot to divert the tourist trade to some other town—probably Istanbul, which they still referred to as Constantinople.
    • Chapter 9 (p. 115)
  • This senseless advance of expensively trained and equipped men to certain and complete slaughter—men who as usual not only had no idea of what they were dying for, but had been actively misled about it—made about as much military sense as the Siege of Sevastopol or the Battle of the Marne. Certainly it was spectacular, but intellectually it was not even very interesting.
    • Chapter 10 (p. 130)
  • One thing you learn fast in the munitions business is that it’s a very good idea to stay off battlefields.
    • Chapter 11 (p. 145)
  • Perhaps indeed Jehovah is not dead,
    But mere retir’d, withdrawn or otherwise
    Contracted hath, as Zohar subtle saith,
    His Essence Infinite; and, Epicurean, waits
    The outcome vast with vast indifference.
    • Chapter 13 (p. 161)

…And All the Stars a Stage (1971; [serialized in 1960])

All page numbers from the mass market paperback edition published by Avon (#27177)
  • The first thing a psychologist learns is to keep her mouth shut around laymen.
    • Chapter 13 (p. 180)
  • One death is as good as another, if death is what you are courting.
    • Chapter 14 (p. 186)
  • It is written:
    That given any one of a thousand million possible paths, life will take them all;
    That worlds which will support life will give birth to it;
    That worlds which cannot support intelligent life will be colonized;
    And that where both can take place, both will take place.
    It is written that this is what the vast, unknowing interstellar stage is for: To be given consciousness and purpose while its gift of existence lasts.
    It is written:
    That this is a random process;
    That in the end all will be darkness and silence again;
    But that while it lasts, life spreads through it, to make it aware of its own vastness and beauty, which otherwise it can never have known.
    This is a gift; but the Giver is unknown.
    That too is written.
    • Epilogue (p. 190)
All page numbers from the mass market paperback first edition published by Dell (#7244)
  • He was getting to be a little old for combat or for princesses, but what was worse, he had become a lot more cynical without having become even slightly the wiser.
    • Prologue, “A Frame on Randolph” (p. 18)
  • The technicians thought I was crazy. Now, five months later, I’ve proved it.
    • Chapter 7, “A Few Cosmic Jokes” (p. 72)
  • “The motto of the bureau,” Weinbaum said, “is, ‘sometimes something works.’”
    • Chapter 7, “A Few Cosmic Jokes” (p. 75)
  • “Something tells me that this isn’t going to be as simple as it looks.”
    “What is?” Wald said, raising his eyebrows.
    “Nothing, of course. But hope springs eternal in the human spleen.”
    • Chapter 7, “A Few Cosmic Jokes” (p. 77)
  • Actually, there are never motives behind actions. All actions are fixed. What we call motives evidently are rationalizations by the helpless observing consciousness, which is intelligent enough to smell an event coming—and, since it cannot avert the event, instead cooks up reasons for wanting it to happen...or ascribes it to the malice of God or man.
    • Chapter 8, “The Courtship of Posi and Nega” (p. 84; ellipsis in the original)
  • I’ve already given you the whole explanation of how that came about. It happened because it was going to happen. All other explanations for anything are superfluous. All other explanations for anything.
    • Chapter 8, “The Courtship of Posi and Nega” (p. 89)
  • We cannot count upon the secret being kept. It’s a fact of nature, and as somebody or other remarked long ago, Nature is a blabbermouth; ask the right question, and you’ll always get the answer.
    • Chapter 9, “A Comity of Futures” (p. 105)
  • We often resort to something called Hilbert space, which is described as n-dimensional—it’s like modern sex, any number may be played with.
    • Chapter 10, “Weinbaum on Sinai” (p. 116)
  • No exercise of will can make any of us other than what we are, or more than marginally better than who we are.
    • Chapter 10, “Weinbaum on Sinai” (pp. 118-119)
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