Sunday, February 12, 2017

Infinity Science Fiction - November 1957

After a year of being stationed on the Lunatron, Jim Britten had the feeling of being fed up. Lunatics they call us, he thought. Real crazy.  - From "Formula for Murder" by Lee Gregor

November 1957 - Cover by Ed Emsh
Digging back into the stack of 1950's Science Fiction mags I picked up last year for this one. The line-up of writers in this issue includes: Gordon R. Dickson, Robert Silverberg, Lee Gregor, James Blish, Algis Budrys, Allen K. Long and David Mason. Clearly you have a selection of Science Fiction heavyweights represented here. Also, not a single woman writer in the bunch. Something I just now noticed. Which may explain somewhat the reason this issue came off as just a tad dry for me.

I've read Silverberg, Blish and Budrys before tapping into this digest. All of the others, including Dickson, were new to me. Yes, I've seen Dickson's name on tons of science fiction racks in used bookstores, but I've never been tempted to read anything by him. His story here, "The General and the Axe" didn't do anything to change that. The plot concerns a settlement of pioneers on an Earth-like planet after the destruction of our own Earth. It seems that, although all of their needs and comforts are provided for, they have no desire to populate their new home with a new race of Earthlings. General Tully, an Earthling himself, is assigned to motivate the pioneers into action. It's understood that our home planet has been decimated in what is assumed to be a nuclear holocaust of some type. The other planets in the solar system are populated, and interstellar travel has been conquered. Given all that, the concern of these pioneers makes no sense. So Earthlings take to their new planet with a malaise, and don't seem to care about their pending extinction. I just wasn't hooked on the premise with this one.

"One Way Journey" by Robert Silverberg was a lot more interesting. In this story, we have a planet, Kollidor, which is essentially a military outpost wherein one of Earth's soldiers falls in love with a native and desires to remain after his tour of duty is up. The "problem" is that the natives are considered so unattractive and appealing that there is no clear reason why an Earthling could ever fall in love with one and want to remain. In fact he's so adamant on remaining on Kollidor that he's willing to become a deserter. The story is a study in psychology and motherhood as his reasons are discovered. It was decent, but one expects that in a Robert Silverberg story.

"The Skirmisher" by Algis Budrys is the best in the magazine in my opinion. It's also the shortest. This story could have been at home in a crime digest of the time. That's probably why it appealed to me so much. In it, a cop named Hoyt investigates the seeming random deaths of a number of people across the U.S., all of which are connected to one single man named Albert Madigan. Hoyt attempts to interrogate Madigan as he is performing target practice with a rifle. Through a tense exchange between the two we learn that there is nothing random to a man who controls time.

"The Long Question" by David Mason is about a strange, really strange, televised game show where the lone contestant, in this case an accountant named Don Gerson, is sent to an isolated island for 2 months. The island has all the creature comforts Gerson could want; food, shelter, books, music, everything except companionship. At the end of two months Gerson will be retrieved from the island and have to answer a quiz in the hopes of winning $100,000. If he loses...well, we don't know what happens. Because two months go by and no one returns for Gerson. It's a weird story, hinting at an end-of-the-world scenario and what the last man left can create for future history. I liked this one a lot also.

"Nor Iron Bars" by James Blish involves interstellar travel on a microcosmic level. It didn't engage me at all. I was never once pulled into the story in spite of some sort of cool settings. This is where I might as well admit that my taste in Science Fiction is probably not very mature by some people's standards. I look for escapist entertainment in my Science Fiction, or at the least characters I can relate to. A lot of Science Fiction I've encountered seems to present what could be intriguing ideas played out by bland characters who use bad dialog (calling out Poul Anderson and Robert Heinlein here!). That's what happens in this story. Same thing with "The Railhead at Krystl Khoto" by Allen K. Long. It's just people talking about stuff, in this case, building a rocket to the moon before the Soviets do until "the end" is typed.

"Formula For Murder" by Lee Gregor is more like it when it comes to escapist Sci-Fi. It involves espionage, brainwashing and murder on a satellite orbiting the Earth. It's a lot of fun and the only fault I had with it is an ending that is rushed.

This issue of Infinity also contains a column by Damon Knight reviewing Big Planet by Jack Vance, The Green Odyssey by Philip Jose Farmer, and Eye in the Sky by Philip K. Dick. He liked Big Planet and Eye in the Sky. As for The Green Odyssey, not so much.

And that's that for Infinity Science Fiction in November of 1957. Old fashioned, square-jawed entertainment for less than a dollar! Some good stuff, some not so good stuff.

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