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Against Infinity
Gregory Benford
Avon EOS Books, 243 pages

Against Infinity
Gregory Benford
Gregory Benford is a physicist and astronomer at the University of California, Irvine. He is the author of a series of hard SF novels, beginning with In the Ocean of Night (1978) and following quickly with works such as Timescape (1980) and the popular Galactic Center series, including Across the Sea of Suns, Great Sky River (1987), Tides of Light (1989) and Furious Gulf (1994). A recent work is Cosm.

Gregory Benford Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Artifact
SF Site Review: Cosm
SF Site Review: Foundation's Fear

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Chris Donner

In a world where liquid ammonia flows in icy streams and a man's body parts can freeze so quickly that the cells split and pop with the suddenness of the cold, there is little time for uncertainty or hesitation. Actions must be taken quickly and decisively, or eternal death -- death beyond the reach of mankind's ability to repair and rebuild itself with machines and plastic -- may result. This is the world called Ganymede that Gregory Benford has constructed, quite convincingly, in Against Infinity.

Ganymede is the biggest moon in the solar system, about the size of Earth, but it is much less hospitable to human life and endeavor than Earth is. As a 13-year-old boy, Manuel Lopez travels for the first time out into the wastes of Ganymede with his father and a group of other men. Their job is to hunt "muties" -- mutations of the bio-designed creatures set free on Ganymede's surface to change the environment and make it more like Earth's. The original creatures -- scooters, crawlies, rockjaws -- were designed by scientists to eat the harmful or unwanted compounds on Ganymede and, through the process of digestion and excretion, change them into something more useful to humans. Muties, on the other hand, received mutated DNA strands, and they end up being either useless or even harmful to the process of redesigning the moon.

Soon, however, there is a new beast to face -- the real reason that Manuel's father and the men with him keep coming out to hunt, day after life-threatening day. Aleph is what the settlers have named the creature that roams the moon freely, burrowing through mountains of rock and ice as easily as an earthworm burrows into a loose pile of dirt. It seems not to notice the human attempts to tame the planet, and when its path takes it through human settlements, it neither slows down nor changes its course. Death and destruction surround its arrival in the settled areas, and the men hunt it like our ancestors must have hunted the mammoth -- with a single-mindedness that is born of a combined vengeance and admiration.

Yet Aleph is impervious to the lasers and other weaponry of the settlers, and it is equally unaffected by the attempts of scientists to study it. So each time they go out, the men try something new -- some new trap or device that they hope will even make a mark on the Aleph's impenetrable shell. What follows is an exciting study of the hunt in the cold wastes of a futuristic world.

Bedford's characters live in a harsh world, where the muties they kill and the Aleph they pursue are better equipped for survival than the characters themselves. Like the builders of the Tower of Babel, these men reach for what might very well exceed their grasp. As I said in the opening paragraph, there is little room here for uncertainty.

And yet in the end, Benford's book leaves me uncertain. The images and situations are vividly real, but I felt a kind of hollowness in the latter half of the story, as Manuel moves from the excitement and boldness of youth into the uncertainty and nostalgia of adulthood. Certainly, Manuel must deal with his own uncertain situation, but events often seemed to be placed conveniently, instead of convincingly, and the story consisted of two distinct, almost unrelated, parts. The first part -- frigid, vigorous, exciting -- pulls the reader in and makes him/her share in the actions. The second part is less sure, and perhaps somewhat of a letdown after the stronger opening.

When politics and morality enter into Against Infinity, the effect is not one of tension, but rather more of distraction. Benford's writing reminded me greatly of Jack London's, but it seemed to lose some of its force and honesty when it stepped out of the wild and into the halls of men. Overall, there is a good story here, but one comes away feeling that it could have been noticeably better.

Copyright © 1999 by Chris Donner

Chris Donner is a freelance writer and magazine editor living in Manhattan and working in Connecticut. He will read almost anything once, as it makes the train ride go faster. He is currently writing a screenplay, a novel, several short stories, a collection of poems, and a letter to his mother. The letter will probably be done first.

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