James Benjamin Blish was born in New Jersey on May 23, 1921, and died on July 30, 1975, at his home in England. He wrote his first science fiction story at the age of nine, a document executed in careful pencil and now residing in the Blish Collection archive of the Bodleian Library at Oxford, along with his first editions, manuscripts and other documents.
After his graduation from the University of Rutgers in biology, he served in the United States Army as a lab technician (and informally as German translator for POWs) and then went back to graduate school. Deciding that since he was already selling stories to the science fiction magazines of the time, he thought he'd do better as a writer than as a scientist. He devoted himself to science fiction as a career—although he continued for many years at his day job writing reports and articles on scientific subject for various corporations.
He published 20 novels and well over 150 short stories. Some early ones appeared in Western and Sports markets as well as science fiction, and his work was represented in the magazines Astounding, Amazing Stories, Weird Tales, Fantasy and Science Fiction, Startling Stories, Thrilling Wonder Stories, Galaxy, Thrilling Wonder Stories, Stirring Science Stories. and others still known— or long forgotten—as well as Crack Detective Stories and The Complete Cowboy.
In the late 1960s he was invited to "novelize" the scripts from the original Star Trek series, which was the beginning of the flood of Trekbooks that never ends. One of the series was an original novel called Spock Must Die.
He also originated serious SF criticism, in a series of articles later collected as The Issue at Hand and More Issues at Hand, and The Tale That Wags the God, published by Advent Publishers, and many other articles on both pro and fan magazines. He contributed to the James Joyce Quarterly and Kalki, the journal of the James Branch Cabell Society. A substantial number of his poems were published in literary magazines and were finally collected under the title With All of Love, published in 1995 by Anamnesis Press.
In 1959 he won the Hugo Award for his novel A Case of Conscience, a part of a loose tetralogy called "After Such Knowledge" which includes Doctor Mirabilis, a biography of the medieval scientist Roger Bacon, and the connected novels Black Easter and The Day after Judgment. The Seedling Stars was a series of stories about the adaptation of man to live in exotic environments and includes what may be his best known short story, "Surface Tension." He was a founding member of The Science Fiction Writers of America.
Critic Damon Knight has pointed out that all his work deals with the theme of "breaking through" into something new, whether physical or mental, a kind of metaphor of birth. Cities in Flight, a series of four related novels, describes the effects of autonomy and self-containment on the people of a large city torn up by its roots as it encounters the greater universe, and beyond. The novels are regarded as classics in the field since their first publication in the 1950s.
He understood and loved classical music—Bach, Mozart, Mahler, Richard Strauss—and Duke Ellington. He was very partial to cats, enjoyed an occasional dabble in amateur theatre, but his main preoccupation was always the world of books.