Review: Journey to Infinity

Martin Greenberg, editor
1951

The tag-line on the cover reads “Arranged as a Story of the Imaginative History of Mankind”  I like the concept.  The editor, Martin Greenberg came up with a great idea.  I don’t know if this had been done in literature before (probably), but certainly I hadn’t encountered it prior to my Gnome Press experience.  What he has done in this anthology is collect disparate stories from different authors and arranged them in a kind of timeline to illustrate that ‘imaginative history of mankind’ that is mentioned on the cover.  Brilliant.  He had done this previously apparently with the collections Men Against the Stars and Travellers of Space and also subsequently in The Robot and the Man, which collectively are known as the ‘Adventures in Science Fiction Series’.  To highlight this, in the foreword Greenberg makes a point of repeating the opening paragraph of the foreword in the first book of the series.

“This book was planned from the very beginning to be more than just a collection of interesting adventure stories.  It was organized around a central idea, one theme which moves logically from story to story.  By building upon this unifying theme, we who prepared this book sincerely believe, a new idea in science fiction anthologies has been developed – a science fiction anthology which, taken in its entirety, tells a complete story.”

As I mentioned, I like this idea a lot.  If you have been reading this blog, you know I have read Robot & Man.  The arrangement worked well in that book – tracing the development of robots from their conception to their ultimate destiny.

This collection boasts an impressive array of well known and quality authors, but I’m not going to dwell upon them or the stories too much.

The first story by A. Bertram Chandler is called “False Dawn” and is set in a pre-modern ‘human’ society that is technologically advance though in a slightly eccentric fashion – dirigibles and balloons are popular for air transport for example.  It somewhat brings to mind Fritz Lang’s vision for Metropolis, but without the tall buildings.  Also there is an accepted but mysterious civilization on the moon which is where the problems begin.  The earth-dwellers notice the city lights gradually disappearing from the moon.  A refugee rocket from the moon attempts to land in an area containing many natural volatiles and sets off a apparently world-wide conflagration culminating in a global flood.  You can see where this is going.  After rescuing what they could, the survivors eventually ground on land they call ‘Mount Arrak’.  That’s not the only near-homophone in the story.  The names of the characters are eerily familiar too.

This story set the book up nicely.  We then have the predictable Atlantis story, an all-too-brief retrospective interlude with a near-immortal character in the 1950s who has seen the rise and fall of humanity over thousands of years, and a 20th-century-man-battles-his-warlike-nature story before heading into more traditional SF fare.

In the final story, “Metamorphosite” by Eric Frank Russell, man has come full circle.  We’ve colonized the galaxy, incorporated other species into our galactic civilization and forgotten about our homeworld.  Meanwhile, the original Terrans back on Earth have evolved powers of telepathy and mind control and moved on from the war-like, militaristic and paranoid state of mind we know so well.  Mankind unknowingly discovers his ancestors and after a brief pursuit on man’s capital world, the Terran representative convinces the powers-that-be that they would be outmatched by the Terrans in any conflict by a demonstration of how different the by now two species are.

The common theme throughout the book is disaster and rebirth.  For mankind to avoid stagnation and decay, and to keep progressing, some kind of crisis needs to occur.  In story after story this is the case.  From the intercontinental war that destroys “Atlantis”, to the workers uprising that results in ill-prepared refugees blasting off for the stars in Jack Williamson’s “Breakdown”, to man rediscovering fear itself after generations of total domination during galactic conquest in “Barrier of Dread” by Judith Merril, mankind faces, overcomes and moves on from these setbacks.

These stories were all written in the ’40s and ’50s.  Once again the bugbear of now-outdated technological thinking raises it’s head.  Why an entrance would be described as “…heavy enough to withstand a howitzer…” at a time 1.5 million years in the future is a little hard to fathom these days.  However, this brings me back to the introduction.

Written by Fletcher Pratt, he raises a couple of good points before the stories get underway.  Regarding technology, he reminds us that H.G. Wells had air war being fought in hydrogen-filled balloons and points out that the precise details aren’t really important (the general idea and effects described by Mr Wells were apparently very accurate).  The awry extrapolation of the future existence or use of a certain technology shouldn’t be the focus, but instead the idea or concept behind it.  After all, the stories in the book are extrapolations of what might exist or what might come to pass, and are not meant to be accurate predictions.  For me, that’s where the fun and adventure are – in those ideas – not in the technical details that are so often derided by the critical modern reader.

In summary, the stories are good.  An enjoyable read that kept me wanting to move on to the next tale wondering to where mankind had progressed next.  I’m certainly looking forward to obtaining and reading the remaining books in this series.

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