Going for Infinity : A Literary Journey
by Poul Anderson
List Price: $25.95
Hardcover: 400 pages (June 2002)
Publisher: Forge; ISBN: 0765303590
Review by
Ernest Lilley
Check out this book at: Amazon US / Amazon UK

Coming next year....For Love and Glory by Poul Anderson

Going for Infinity, the author warns us, is not an autobiography, though it contains autobiographical elements. I think of it more as a self portrait, a collection of his most popular stories interspersed with the author's comments.

Poul Anderson died last year after six decades of writing some of the best SF ever created. I didn't realize how much that mattered to me until I stopped by a memorial held at the Worldcon last year in Philly. Much of the Poul Anderson I read was long ago, and as such it snuck under my conscious radar to influence a number of the ideas I have about honor, adventure, and even the place of trade in the exploration of the universe.

My personal favorites were his stories of the Psoleotechnic League, a trading federation out exploring the galaxy and determined to make a profit at it. That pragmatism always seemed like a good thing to me, and if his traders were likeable folks with a lust for life...all the better. Thankfully he's included one such story, "The Master Key", which features none other than master trader Nicholas Van Rijn. The author acknowledges Van Rijn in his comments before the story, acknowledging too that not every reader loved the crass saptialist with bad manners and worse English, but those that did made him one of Anderson's most popular characters.

There were a few stories in here that I hadn't read before, and a few that I'd forgotten Poul Anderson wrote. To find them here, and to have the author frame them for me against his career, the march of science, and the larger field of SF was to rediscover them anew, and to enjoy and appreciate them as much as when I first read them.

I hadn't read "Sam Hall", for some reason, and if I was putting together a post 9/11 collection of stories, I'd definitely want to include this tale of the downward spiral of an America that mistakes security for safety by issuing an id number to every citizen and tracking their every movement...and most of their thoughts. Ironically, I'm not necessarily against this sort of thing, but it's fraught with peril, as Poul pointed out.

My absolute favorite story in here is "Epilouge", which I had completely forgotten the Anderson had written. Now after having read a bit more than I had when I first enjoyed it, I see the many classic Anderson elements. The crew of a damaged starship finally returns to Earth after billenia to find that while it may have been the planet of their birth, you can't go home again.

The collection starts off with "The Saturn Game" which was never my favorite, but then I'm not a big gaming fan, and the notion that explorers would travel to the outer reaches of the solar system and pay more attention to fantasy role playing games than where they were putting their feet always bothered me. Probably because I suspect it of being prophetic.

There's a lot of prophetic stuff in this collection, though I doubt that it was chosen for it. There was a time when we regularly debated whether SF had predictive utility for scoping out the future, and in general it was decided that it didn't, with the exception of Clarke's geosynchronous satellites and a few other examples. Looking back at early SF now, I think we were too hard on it. The future we inhabit shows a lot of similarities to those the author imagined. Read "Sam Hill" and think about it when you use your credit card, or read "Windmill", one of his Maurai chronicles (a particular favorite series of mine) and think about sustainable resources and unsustainable ambitions.

The stories in here are great, but you can get them, mostly, in other places. What you can't get it the introductions that come before each one, as often telling us about his life, friendships and adventures as the story to come. Raising a houseboat with gunnysacks full of styro foam with Frank Herbert and Jack Vance, meeting his future wife Karen at the 1952 World SF Convention, the friends he made in the late 40s through the Minneapolis Fantasy society, Clifford Simack and Gordon R. Dickson among them...and through it all a litany of the editors that SF short stories owe so much to, John Campbell, Anthony Boucher, Ben Bova, Stan Schmidt, Avram Davidson, and Edward Ferman, showing us something of the relationship between writers and editors.

If you already have a bookcase lined with Anderson titles like Brainwave, The Trouble Twisters, Maurai and Kith, The High Crusade, Queen of Air and Darkness and more, then you need this to complete your collection. If you haven't started reading Poul Anderson, then you need it even more to give yourself a taste of his writing, and a sense of the man.

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Coming in 2003 from Tor: For Love and Glory by Poul Anderson
Before he died, Poul Anderson left us with one final novel. Tor will be bringing it out next year, but in the meantime, here's their press advance to whet your appetites.

"Mystery, discovery and wonder on a cosmic scale are the core of Anderson’s latest novel.  Lissa, a human Earth woman, and her partner, “Karl,” a giant alien academic who resembles a Tyranosauras—are interstellar archaeologists investigating the remote and uncharted planet Jonna.  There, they seem to have hit the jackpot.  For on that distant world they’ve discovered an immense artifact which may have been left by the mysterious beings called the Forerunners.  This race predated all the known cultures in the starfaring galaxy, and had vanished long before any other intelligent species had taken to the stars.

But Lissa and Karl aren’t the first to have made the discovery.  On the far-off world, the archaeologists cross paths with the two freebooters whose motives towards the arcane object are not purely scientific.  Their discovery on Jonna may be the best preserved relic of the ancient beings yet found.  Other artifacts from The Forerunners—once reverse engineers—have revolutionized entire fields of technology, reaping huge financial rewards.  If the same holds true for this newest discovery, Lissa realizes, only she and Karl stand between the seemingly friendly freebooters and what could be the treasure of a lifetime."

© 2002 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu