Box Of Paperbacks Book Club: The Seedling Stars by James Blish (1957)
(Not long ago, A.V. Club editor Keith Phipps purchased a large box containing over 75 vintage science fiction, crime, and adventure paperbacks. He is reading all of them. This is book number 24.)
This going to be a shorter entry and I'll explain why. As I mentioned before, this began as a project on my personal blog. (And, as I cautioned before, it's really boring and rarely updated so seek it out at your own peril.) I wrote a handful of entries for it and then brought it over here because I thought it might appeal to an audience beyond my friends, family, and dental hygienist. And, it seems to have caught on a bit. (Thanks guys!) Anyway, I considered the entries I had before banked for future use when I wanted a little break in the schedule. This is, I think, the next-to-last of those. I also remember it being a lot longer. It's kind of a dull book so I don't mind going a little shorter on it. But I'll attach some bonus material at the end so you all don't feel cheated. ---- Before reading The Seeedling Stars I only knew James Blish's name from the covers of all those Star Trek paperbacks I'd see at the library growing up, the ones with names like Star Trek 4 and Star Trek 7 and so on. They adapted episodes into prose stories and apparently provided Blish with a nice income in his waning years. He was writing number 11 when he died in 1975. His wife finished it for him.
Blish won a Hugo in 1959 for A Case Of Conscience and found a following with his four Cities In Flight novels. I know little about either but I think I might be hitting some of them further down the line in this project. He also apparently coined the phrase gas giant, unintentionally amusing schoolkids for decades to come.
But back to the book at hand: The Seedling Stars is less a novel than a series of short stories, some of them quite long, that build off one another. All concern "pantropy"–presumably another Blish coinage–the practice of adapting the human body to live in alien environments. One story deals with tree-dwelling descendents who fear the ground, another with humans reduced to cellular size who live, and war, with single-celled organisms underwater. Conceptually it's all quite strong. Narratively, it's all a bit too protracted. The ideas in the stories are more interesting than the stories themselves. Which, I guess, is one of the main complaints people who don't read science fiction make about science fiction in general. I guess sometimes it's true.
----- And there you go. Sorry for the brevity. But, now that we're about a third of the way into this project, it might be a good time to talk about its future. A couple of readers have written asking for a complete list of books so they could follow along. I was intentionally keeping this to myself in the interest of keeping a little mystique but that seems a little silly. So why don't we do this: Here is a link. Click on it and you'll be taken to a page with every forthcoming title, listed in alphabetical order by author. If you want to be surprised, don't click. I'll continue to list the next two books at the end of each post. But while we're talking, let's talk about the rules. You've got the list so I can't cheat. But should I be allowed to? Let me point you to a couple of possible for instances: There are two novelizations of Avengers episodes in there. I love the show but is there anything to be gained from reading this? How about old scripts from Sgt. Bilko, a show I've never even seen? (I did just watch Phil Silvers in Summer Stock, however. He's really funny.) And there are a lot of books in here from the Lensman series, which could very well be brilliant but is it several entries worth of brilliant? And given that I have, I think, the second, fifth, and sixth entries in the series, should I be forced to read the ones not in the box to fill in the gap? As readers, is it worth it to you for me to pursue some of the less interesting looking titles? (And I'm really only talking about the five or so mentioned above. I'm ready for crap in the name of science.) Would it spoil the purity of the experiment? Are you mostly reading this out of sadistic fascination or a desire to read about interesting books? I'll let democracy choose my course of action here. In the meantime Next: The Bridges At Toko-Ri by James Michener Then: Down In The Black Gang by Philip Jose Farmer