For many years, in my early days as a science fiction reader, James Blish was known to me for one thing only: he was the writer of the Star Trek novelisations I went through a phase of reading. I recall them being pretty good adaptations of classic Star Trek episodes, but certainly nothing exceptional enough to make me want to look up this Blish fellow and see what else he’d done.
Imagine my surprise when I picked up a discounted paperback, attracted by some typically arresting Chris Foss artwork and the very science fiction-ie title The Testament of Andros, and found a familiar name at the top of the cover. It seemed this James Blish character wrote proper SF as well as tie-ins. Curious, I embarked on the collection – seeing as it was emblazoned with a flash proclaiming it ‘the best science fiction stories of James Blish’, I figured it should be interesting. And it certainly was!
To be honest, I don’t really remember the first story. This shouldn’t be seen as a fault inherent in the book – just a reflection of the fact that I read it in my early teens (which are longer ago than I care to admit) and time and many other novels and stories since have overwritten those memories. By rights, I probably shouldn’t remember any of the stories, so the fact that I remember two is a testament (pardon the pun) to Blish’s skill as a writer. Both ‘Surface Tension’ and the title story have stayed with me to this day – indeed, I voted for them both in the Best 20th Century Novelette category of the recent Locus poll.
Unfortunately, it’s not really possible to explain what each is about without some degree of spoiler, and I’d rather not do that; I’ll simply say urge you to seek them out. ‘Surface Tension’ is included in The Seedling Stars, and while ‘The Testament of Andros’ is not available from SF Gateway (yet!), it should be possible to track down a second-hand copy of the paperback.