Saturday, May 14, 2016

Infinity Science Fiction - June 1958

Recently a trip to Half-Price Books resulted in a sweet find for me. Two stacks of various vintage science fiction magazines. Among them are Satellite Science Fiction, Infinity Science Fiction, and If Worlds of Science Fiction, all from the 1950s. They were bundled and wrapped in plastic, and I could only see the spines of each issue but I liked the titles and the price was too good to pass up. I figured that at the worst I’d have some cool covers to admire. Getting home and opening the bundle I was delighted to find stories by Robert Silverberg, James Blish, Algis Budrys, Philip K. Dick and Arthur C. Clarke among many other names new to me. All of the magazines were in fine reading condition and most had that wonderful old-paper smell that’s like a drug to book addicts like me. Here is a look at the first one that I sampled.

Vol. 3, No. 5, June 1958. Cover by Ed Emsh

Recalled to Life – Robert Silverberg
Robert Silverberg has become one of my favorite (Science Fiction) writers purely because he makes his novels and stories seem effortless. That comes only with millions of words pounded into a typewriter and years of dedication. I know I’m several decades late to the party but it’s a real treat to read his novels now. I’ve had some personal hangups with a lot of Sci-Fi which I may or may not get to here. Silverberg has surmounted those and made reading Sci-Fi both fun and thought provoking. The first part of “Recalled to Life” is no exception. Former governor turned attorney, James Harker, (a nod to Jonathan Harker from Dracula?) is approached by one Dr. Lurie on behalf of Beller Research Laboratories seeking a legal advisor. For the past 8 years Beller Labs has been working on a method for resuscitating the recently dead. Of course this research has been undertaken in the utmost secrecy. Now, having achieved successful results, Beller Labs is ready to announce their achievement to the public. Harker’s job is to maneuver through the inevitable political and religious fallout that will ensue upon the announcement. Harker takes the job, with misgivings, and soon learns that Beller Laboratories is undergoing something of an internal power struggle of its own. Part One of the novel ends on a cliff-hanger as Harker learns that not all resuscitations are achieved with ideal results. Questions of the mind, the soul and the role of science as God abound. Luckily, I have the next issue of Infinity that concludes “Recalled to Life”, so I can find out how it all ends.

But Who Can Replace a Man? – Brian W. Aldiss
I’d heard of this story from a Brian Aldiss collection by the same name. I’m pretty sure I had that same collection way back when, but never read this story until now. It’s a cool little story about the delemna faced by robots after man’s extinction. The robots only know service to man, and have developed, or had been programmed with, a caste system of their own, mandating a pecking order among them. There are no “Three Laws of Robotics” hampering anyone in this cynical story. I’m looking forward to reading more Brian Aldiss in the future.

Pangborn’s Paradox – David Mason
This short story is a riff on the time travel paradox about traveling back in time and killing one’s grandfather. A group of eggheads debate the theory, and as luck would have it, one of them has actually invented a time machine to play the experiment out. It has a nice twist at the end.

The Way Out – Richard R. Smith
This one is a cool “military” sci-fi story about a conflict between man and a race of lizard-like aliens named Antarians.  It seems that men who’ve been captured by the Antarians have been giving up military secrets under psychic and physical torture. A certain Colonel Donovan has been tasked to oversee a project that will enable soldiers to withstand any torture without divulging classified information. There are “Catch-22” motifs that soldiers must abide, madness and the nature of reality and fantasy that make this story the best one in the issue, not counting Silverberg’s novel.

The High Ones – Poul Anderson
And lastly we come to Poul Anderson’s contribution. Anderson had a huge hurdle to cross with me after reading his stinker novel Virgin Planet. This story did nothing to elevate his stuff for me. Every attempt at reading Anderson reminds me what I hate about some vintage (and recent) Science Fiction. I don’t know if he’s popular or not among fans anymore, but I do know that scads of his books can be found in any used bookstore in any state.  This story is no different from the Virgin Planet experience. The first page in was like trying to read a first draft of prose too cute with whole paragraphs missing from it. Jarring shifts in scenes, characters chattering between themselves without propelling the story, too many exclamation points!, 8th grade nerd dialog and...I shitcanned it without going any further.

The departments are the standard letters to the editor, in this case Larry T. Shaw, fanfare poetry, current science fiction news by Larry Shaw, and reviews by Damon Knight of recent publications. Apparently Damon Knight kicked up a lot of response from readers, at least from the sampling of letters printed in this issue. There is also an announcement of the death of Henry Kuttner who died of a heart attack on February 4th, 1958 at the age of 43. 

So, in summing up, this early issue of Infinity was a nice read. I have a fondness for vintage, mid-century takes on genre fiction, clearly, and these pieces totally lived up to my expectations. I’m eagerly looking forward to reading the other issues I’ve got. 


  1. I grew up reading the digests in the '50s, and I always liked Infinity. Some wonderful stories in those issues.

  2. I love INFINITY and I still remember buying the first issue off the newsstand. And I love that old paper smell also! Each pulp title had a distinct scent different from every other title. The digests really smelled good, especially GALAXY.

  3. Thanks for the comments! Yes, I am very happy with finding these old digests. Granted that even if some of the stories may be dated it takes nothing away from the fun of reading them. That's funny about the smell of Galaxy. Unfortunately I didn't get any of those old issues in these collections.

  4. I prefer the digest magazines to the old pulp SF, and collect them with pleasure. Because I live hundreds of miles from any bookstores that handle the older magazines, I pick up duplicates when I can in order to trade with other collectors. That means I end up with thousands of duplicates along the way (LOL), but finding other collectors has been extremely difficult (sigh).

    1. Tom, I'm a novice to reading this digest magazines. I have a few pulps from the 30's and 40's (Astounding and Amazing) but I'm inclined to agree with you. I can't imagine having hundreds of them, but it would be awesome if I did! I will definitely keep an I out for more of the 50's and 60's digests from now on. Thanks for the comment!

  5. GALAXY was, from early on, published by its printer, so might've had an even more "fresh" from the presses scent than the others...particularly when the KromeKote cover stock was factored in.

  6. INFINITY averaged the best of those three magazines in the '50s, even when Shaw was editing IF...which by the end of the '50s had been bought by the GALAXY folks and would be a sibling magazine till the end of 1974, and absorption.

  7. And, fwiw, that's a Late issue of INFINITY as well...INFINITY didn't last too long; Larry Shaw moved on to Lancer Books, where Robert Hoskins was allowed to start a short original-fiction anthology series called INFINITY in the early '70s, as a sort of continuation of the magazine. I should double-check, but I think it had four volumes and it was done, as well.

  8. Between INFINITY (and SCIENCE FICTION ADVENTURES, its of several distinct magazines with that title) and Lancer Books (where Shaw helped get Conan the Barbarian's general-public popularity going), Shaw edited and largely wrote some amiable imitations of FAMOUS MONSTERS with such titles as MONSTERS AND THINGS...

  9. Todd, Thanks for the info on Infinity and Galaxy. I'd heard of Infinity and Larry Shaw but really new nothing of their history. I appreciate you stopping by and providing background.