Saturday, June 9, 2012

"How Beautiful With Banners" by James Blish

            When it comes to James Blish, he seems to be an excellent writer, if sometimes difficult to understand at times. I had only read “Surface Tension” before reading this story, and I loved it, and saw why it was voted by the Science Fiction Writers of America as one of the greatest short stories written before the founding of the Nebula awards. Because I, too, loved “Surface Tension”, I wanted to read more of his stories, and managed to find this little short piece.
            I honestly wasn't enthralled with this story as much as “Surface Tension”, which was disappointing. This story makes the same mistake that Neuromancer makes: style over substance. Makes me wonder if “Surface Tension” was just a fluke.
            However, I will not completely deride this story. Frankly, it's quite short. Had it been novel-length, and been like it was the whole way through, I wouldn't have finished it. Being less than twenty pages makes the story more bearable. Because of this, it can be considered a practice piece. Seems to me, because of the concentration on style, James Blish was showing off his skills, and I will admit, despite the story not really existing much here, his skill in creative writing and symbolism is truly admirable, if at times ridiculous as well.
            It is an interesting little puzzle to configure to be sure, but Blish I guess couldn't help but put in a bit of strangeness, particularly involving the cloak described within. Hello surrealism, thy name is science fiction. If, however, all of the strangeness is pieced together, you essentially get a moving characterization in the form of an emotionally torn woman trapped in her own personal bubble.
            If I said much more, I would be revealing too much for those who want to dig their grubby little fingers into the confection and seek to unravel the mystery (likely with their own interpretation) for themselves. For this story, I cannot do that. You will simply have to read it, and for a good example of purely symbolic literature, I recommend you do, especially if you'd like to practice your analytical skills. If you expect anything other than that, you will likely hate this story, so if you want to read something purely for entertainment value, stay away from this one. If you want to seek out what is pretty much mindless science fiction, look to some of the pulps or A. E. van Vogt or something like that.


  1. Yup. I found this one excruciatingly overwritten, just like "Neuromancer." I was SO hoping that this one would be as good as "Surface Tension."

  2. I know, less than ten pages is just too much. It could've totally been just a paragraph.