The novel “Jack of Eagles” by James Blish was published for the first time in 1952.
Danny Caiden is a journalist who always had the special gift of being able to tell people who lost an object where it could be found. One day he publishes a rather burning article about a company’s speculation but he can provide no proof of his claims so he gets fired.
Having all the time he wants, Danny starts exploring his predicting ability and realizes that he has exceptional mental powers. Because of his predictions however he starts being wanted by the FBI, organized crime and other people who want to exploit him but mainly from a group of people with psychic powers whose only interest is a much more material power.
James Blish started his writing career in the early ’40s but only in the ’50s he started writing novels as well. “Jack of Eagles” is one of his first attempts at long fiction and shows typical elements of this author.
In fact in James Blish stories characters are faced with new situations that lead them to question the completeness of their knowledge of the universe. The exploration of new elements and their consequences lead to the expansion of knowledge in sometimes unexpected ways.
In “Jack of Eagles” the protagonist Danny Caiden has a particular mental potential but only at a certain point of his adult life he starts wondering what’s its origin and if it’s possible to develop it. At that point he starts looking for information about this subject and together with a researcher he starts some experiments that allow him to develop various psychic faculties.
Put that way it might look like the plot of a story by A.E. van Vogt but James Blish develops it in a much more rigorous way. There are twists but they don’t bring chaos in the story as sometimes it happens in van Vogt stories. Blish can give an idea of rationality in the protagonist’s research so every step forward he makes seems to have a sense. Under this point of view Blish is much closer to Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke, with whom he shares a science background because he studied biology at the university.
Despite the massive presence of pseudo-scientific speculation, “Jack of Eagles” is also an action novel and considering that it’s less than two hundred pages long the pace that comes out is very quick. James Blish is good in adding speculation in the middle of the action without breaking its pace having the two elements intertwined so that it’s impossible to separate them.
Because of the development of his powers, Danny Caiden gets into trouble because many people want to know the source of his predictions and some haven’t very good intentions. The parts of the novel in which Danny has to face these people are a bit over the top and have a tone that’s almost comedic in contrast with the rest of the novel, which tends to be more dramatic as the story unfolds. I think the result is a bit inconsistent: in particular I found the lighthearted moments not brilliant enough to have a good balance between drama and comedy and the love story is honestly totally superficial.
Overall, “Jack of Eagles” is a good novel but inevitably it’s in many ways outdated due to the fact that the subject has been treated in every possible way. It remains an interesting reading especially for fans of stories like this and for those who want to learn more about the works of James Blish.