Journey to Infinity

Journey to Infinity contains the best prank in the history of our in-bred field, chock full of in-jokes, generation-long feuds, and literary hatreds though it might be. The joke carries a special subversion because it’s played on the boss, the man who ran the company, and whose name is on the cover. I can’t improve on ESHBACH, the first to reveal the story, so I’ll just quote him in full.

As mentioned earlier, probably the most successful ventures of Gnome Press were its theme anthologies. They were credited to Marty Greenberg, who unquestionably was an idea man, but it is my opinion that the collections were actually the work of Greenberg and [David] Kyle. Marty disputes this, insisting that he and he alone was responsible for the concepts and the story selections. Be that as it may, it is fact that the material signed by Greenberg was written originally by him, and then rewritten by Kyle to make the copy suitable for publication. Marty never professed to be a writer. All of the other material which might be designated editorial comment was Kyle’s work. Lest this seem to be a claim which cannot be substantiated, a careful examination of the second anthology, Journey to Infinity, will prove the assertion.

Each story in the collection begins with a comment by the editor tying the pieces together. There are twelve stories in the book – just enough to spell out “D-A-V-I-D-A-K-Y-L-E-E-D,” or “David A. Kyle, Ed.” without the punctuation, using the first letter in each introductory paragraph to form an acrostic. When Marty Greenberg read the first draft of this chapter [in 1983] it was his first knowledge of Kyle’s long-concealed trick – and I don’t think he was overjoyed at the revelation!

Only someone with one foot out the proverbial door pulls a prank of this magnitude, even given the unlikelihood of its being discovered. (How many more are out there that will never come to light?) Kyle, 32 and a WWII veteran, used the GI Bill to get a degree from Columbia earlier in 1951. Though Kyle officially stayed part of the business until 1954, the fact that Greenberg hired the first of a series of assistants in 1952 indicates that he could no longer depend on Kyle to do all the grunt work. The parting seemingly was amicable, though it demonstrated the universal truth that small presses couldn’t generate sufficient income for two at the top.

Now comes another Gnome Press mystery, one of the deepest. Starting with Men Against the Stars, Greenberg put out five anthologies in the Adventures in Science Fiction Series. ESHBACH says, above, that this was the second anthology. That’s easy to confirm. Greenberg’s [Kyle’s] Foreword calls it “this second book” in the series. The pre-title page lists only Men Against the Stars and Journey to Infinity. Moreover, the Foreword to Travelers of Space states conclusively that it is “the third volume in our Adventures in Science Fiction series,” and lists all three volumes on page 14. For further proof, the back cover on the first printing of Travelers of Space includes Journey to Infinity and Foundation, which was the last title to be published in 1951. Journey to Infinity, in stark contrast, does not list Travelers of Space or Foundation, substituting older titles.

Few things in the entire history of Gnome are as clearly and multiply sourced as the order of the Adventures in Science Fiction Series anthologies. So why did ESHBACH himself put Travelers in Space ahead of Journey to Infinity in publication order? Why was this copied by CHALKER? And by KEMP?

Gnome was a shoestring operation. Greenberg and Kyle learned on the job and made mistakes, often quite odd ones, as they did so. Even so, is it conceivably possible that they put out the boss’s personal pet project titles in the wrong order? I think not. And I have a theory that might explain this oddity of oddities.

Mark Owens and Jack L. Chalker, bookdealers, published The Index to the Science-Fantasy Publishers in 1966, out of a need to provide information barely available anywhere else, much less in one spot anywhere else, about the small specialty f&sf presses. This is so long ago, in such a different collecting environment, that Chalker’s condemnation, in his Introduction, of unscrupulous book dealers charging $12 or more for the 1946 Arkham House book West India Lights makes no sense until he reveals that the press was still selling the book new at the original cover price of $3.00. The Outsider and Others, Arkham’s first book, from a press created to republish H. P. Lovecraft’s work, was already out of print, though, and selling for the “gigantic” price of $100. The cheapest price I find today is $2500, and a copy in excellent condition will run $10,000 or more. Nobody had a clue in those days how valuable these odd, few, easily-tossed titles would become. Nobody could have thought that the most minute points of publication would be worth thousands in value. This wasn’t a scholarly work, but a fan publication, a mimeographed text limited to a small number of copies to aid friends and collectors. Owens did the original; when it got spoiled in printing Chalker stepped in to rush it out, helping to correct errors that had slipped through and already found in that short period. (We’re already deep in a bibliographic quagmire. Other than the owners’ copies and two to the Library of Congress, the first edition doesn’t exist. The reprinting is called the Second Edition, although you’ll see that nowhere except on the copyright page. The hugely expanded revision in 1991 is called the Third Edition and has Chalker’s name first, hence my referring to it as CHALKER. But there are only two variants nevertheless.) In the grand tradition of first drafts, this was both a worthy effort and miles away from a finished product. Owens may have talked directly to the founders, yet their memories were often vague. Print runs are admitted guesses; reprintings and variants are unmentioned, points are nowhere to be found. Mistakes were made. Hubbard’s Typewriter in the Sky/Fear is listed as 1950 instead of 1951. Publication order for some presses apparently was determined by year of copyright  without a good knowledge of the books’ order within a year. Gnome’s books are arranged this way, and the within year order does not match any later chronology, including the revised listing in CHALKER. Both Travelers of Space and Journey to Infinity were published in 1951. They are listed adjacent and in that order, but I see no reason why that should mean anything more than coincidence based on the shared year of copyright, just as I see no reason that their positions of 17th and 18th are definitive. They could have wound up 13th and 16th and still fall within the pattern.

ESHBACH strove to correct many of these problems. He talked again to founders and got them to pull out better records. His lists were in true publication order, had corrected print runs, and listed known reprintings. His information on Gnome came directly from Greenberg. ESHBACH calls it “the first really authoritative list ever published.” Unfortunately, some facts were lost to time and he was capable of mistakes like every other list maker, without the Internet bestowing upon him the gift of infinite incremental revisions. One major mistake is that he omits mention of the third Gnome book, Pattern for Conquest. That simple copying error, in a world before cut and paste, is understandable.

So when he lists Travelers of Space just ahead of Journey to Infinity, I normally, like every other bibliographer since, would simply copy that order myself. They would be title number 16 and title number 17, if Pattern for Conquest is added back in. Yet everything in the books themselves tells us that the numbering should be reversed. I can’t come to any other conclusion that somewhere along the way, maybe in Greenberg’s memory, maybe because of the way Owens and Chalker allocated the distribution, the titles got switched in order.

I’m switching them back. Travelers was designed to be released after Journey. A screw-up of the proportion that would have allowed it out the door first would be talked about in the close-knit f&sf community from the day it happened, let alone years afterward when everyone was either driving deeper the blades on old battles or coming to terms with ancient history. Every Gnome Press mess is public history. For a humiliating error to go uncommented upon is unlikely; for one to be covered up is absurd; for everyone to stay silent on a situation regarding this particular book, the one whose actual hidden and heart-piercing secret was long ago revealed, is inconceivable. It never happened. Let it come to an end.

Groff Conklin reviewed the anthology for the April 1951 Galaxy:

Despite too skeletal a form [i.e. too few stories], Journey to Infinity is a good buy for anyone who likes top-grade science fiction.

Contents and original publication:

• “Foreword,” by Martin Greenberg (original to this volume)
• “Introduction,” by Fletcher Pratt (original to this volume)
• “False Dawn,” by A. Bertram Chandler (Astounding Science Fiction, October 1946)
• “Atlantis,” by Edward E. Smith, Ph.D. (Amazing Stories, January 1934)
• “Letter to a Phoenix,” by Fredric Brown (Astounding Science Fiction, August 1949)
• “Unite and Conquer,” by Theodore Sturgeon (Astounding Science Fiction, October 1948)
• “Breakdown,” by Jack Williamson (Astounding Science Fiction, January 1942)
• “Dance of a New World,” by John D. MacDonald (Astounding Science Fiction, September 1948)
• “Mother Earth,” by Isaac Asimov (Astounding Science Fiction, May 1949)
• “There Shall be Darkness,” by C. L. Moore (Astounding Science Fiction, February 1942)
• “Taboo,” by Fritz Leiber (Astounding Science Fiction, February 1944)
• “Overthrow,” by Cleve Cartmill (Astounding Science Fiction, November 1942)
• “Barrier of Dread,” by Judith Merril (Future Fiction, July-August 1950)
• “Metamorphosite,” by Eric Frank Russell (Astounding Science Fiction, December 1946)

Journey to Infinity, Edited by Martin Greenberg, Adventures in Science Fiction series 2, 1951, title #16, 381 pages, $3.50, 5000 copies printed 1951; 2500 printed 1953?

Hardback, dark green cloth-backed spine with fawn cloth and silver lettering. Man reaching toward star embossed into front cloth. Jacket illustration by Edd Cartier. “FIRST EDITION” on copyright page. Colonial Press, Inc. Printers. David Kyle, Book Designer. Foreword by Martin Greenberg; Introduction by Fletcher Pratt. Gnome Press address is given as 80 East 11th St., N. Y. 3

1. DJ Spine: Gnome “spaceman” 27 mm; Back cover: 10 titles, prose intro, Gnome address ends New York 3
2. DJ Spine: Gnome “spaceman” 18 mm; Back cover: 30 titles, no intro, Gnome address ends N. Y. 3

Journey to Infinity jacket cover
Journey to Infinity first state back cover

Journey to Infinity second state cover

Journey to Infinity second state jacket coverJourney to Infinity fawn cloth

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