Against Infinity Critical Essays

Gregory Benford


(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

More than any other writer of hard science fiction, Benford consciously has sought to bring the resources of his own literary and cultural background to bear on the futuristic settings of his work. A Southerner like Faulkner, he is equally concerned with language, with the loss of the past, with the lessons of youth and age, and with archetypal rituals such as the hunt. Against Infinity is by far the most successful of his attempts to adapt Faulknerian techniques to science fiction, and it is one of the most direct. The novel displays direct allusions to Faulkner’s Ike McCaslin in Manuel, to the bear Old Ben in the Aleph, to the Indian guide Sam Fathers in Matt Bohles, and to the hunting dog Lion in Eagle. Like part 4 of Faulkner’s novella, part 4 of Benford’s novel is set some years later than the beginning, and in it the protagonist reflects on what was lost in his experience of conquering nature.

The novel is far from a simple transcription of Faulkner’s story into science-fictional terms. Benford fills the book with futuristic products of his invention, including terraforming, mechanically reinforced animals with enhanced intelligence, alien artifacts, space colonies, an overpopulated Earth, and new concepts in physics revealed by the Aleph. These inventions are worked out with an extrapolative rigor that matches the best hard science fiction. Benford realizes the novel must work purely on its own terms as a science-fiction narrative,...

(The entire section is 549 words.)