Going for Infinity is more than a collection of science fiction and fantasy stories covering six decades of the author's writing life. Poul Anderson introduces each of his stories himself, thereby allowing the reader access to his imagination, genious, and intent -- a must-read anthology. At the publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management software (DRM) applied.
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May 13, 2003
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Excerpt from Going for Infinity by Poul Anderson
There are times when somehow the spirit opens up to the awe and mystery of the universe. Afterward dailiness returns; but those minutes or hours live on, not only as memories. They become a part of life itself, giving it much of its meaning and even its direction.
They have come to me when I have been camped out under skies wholly clear and dark, more full of stars than of night. Once it happened when I held a primitive hand ax, a piece of flint chipped into shape in the Middle Acheulean period, perhaps a hundred thousand years ago, by a hunter -- Homo erectus, not yet Neandertal -- and saw a tiny fossil embedded in it, left by a mollusc in a sea that drained and dried away perhaps a hundred million years ago. And others -- but surely you too have had your moments.
My earliest that I recall goes back to childhood, age six or seven or thereabouts. We lived in a new suburb, with plenty of vacant lots for boys to romp in and no streetlights. Nor did anybody anywhere have air conditioning. One evening after a hot summer day we went outside to enjoy the cool. Twilight gathered, purple and quiet. Stars began to blink forth. "That red one," said my mother. "Is that Mars?"
"I believe so," answered my father. He had made a few voyages with his own father, a sea captain, when navigation was mainly celestial.
"Do you think there's life on it?"
Wonder struck through me like lightning. I'd learned a little about the planets, of course. Now suddenly it came fully home to me, that I was looking at a whole other world, as real as the ground beneath my feet but millions of miles remote and altogether strange.
Thereafter I could not read enough astronomy books. We had a fourteenth-edition Encyclopaedia Britannica. Again and again I went back to its articles on the planets, and I can still see the blurry telescopic photographs, as if they lay here before me, and none of their glamour has faded. Mars was foremost -- were those markings regions of growth amidst ruddy deserts and canals that watered them? -- but what had made the craters and rays on the Moon, what did the clouds of Venus hide, what were the belts and zones and Great Red Spot of Jupiter?
Saturn of the jewelwork rings had a magic all its own. To this day, the sight of it through a telescope brings the same enchantment as did the very first such viewing; beauty never grows wearisome.
The years passed, until late in 1980 my wife Karen and I found ourselves at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena to witness Voyager One's flyby of this very planet. We'd been there for earlier events of the series, and would return for later ones, with press credentials to admit us. A number of science fiction writers did likewise; their kind of work had made its slow way from pulpish disrepute to respectability, many working scientists were openly among their readers, and they themselves were often interviewed. Those were great reunions of the old gang. But the purpose was always to experience the achievement and discoveries at first hand -- to share, in however small a way, in yet another fulfillment of a lifelong dream, and find that the reality was more wondrous than any of our imaginings.
Now, as revelation after revelation unfolded, I couldn't help feeling a little extra excitement, even tension. I'd lately written a story set on Iapetus. It would see magazine publication in a couple of months. Voyager was going to scan that enigmatic Saturnian moon. Would my speculations prove completely mistaken? It's a risk that science fiction always takes, a risk that in the long run becomes an inevitability. But would this piece of mine have any run of might-be-so at all?