Divided by Infinity by Robert Charles Wilson
“Divided by Infinity” by Robert Charles Wilson. Tor.com, 2010. Originally published in Starlight 2, edited by Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Tor Books, 1998.
Earlier this year, I read Robert Charles Wilson’s short story “Utriusque Cosmi“—and I loved it. It’s one of my favorite two short stories. (The other is “The Crack” by Mikel Jollett, the lead singer for The Airborne Toxic Event.) Wilson has a great talent for taking a large, crazy, mind-bending science fiction concept and weaving it around an intimate, personal story. He does this both in “Utrisque Cosmi” and “Divided by Infinity,” and they are both fantastic. (I definitely preferred “Utrisque Cosmi,” although both stories are fantastic.)
Remembering how much I enjoyed “Utriusque Cosmi,” I went out and searched for another Robert Charles Wilson short story to read, and I found “Divided by Infinity” up on Tor.com. I read it and was delighted by it. The story really starts moving when the protagonist gets a handful of books, old books written by the masters of science fiction. But there’s something strange about the books: the protagonist, who read science fiction with the passion of a devout when he was younger, recognizes none of the titles. The books are old, they weren’t recently printed, but they’re titles which the authors are supposed to have never written, much less published. It’s a fabulous conceit. Imagine holding an Issac Asimov mass market paperback in your hands. According to the copyright page, the book was published in 1952, and the book certainly looks and feels like it was published back then. But the title isn’t one you recognize. Your friends haven’t heard of it. It’s not listed on Wikipedia. It’s not listed anywhere on the Internet. It’s a haunting, brilliant idea, and, from there, the story speeds up and raises the stakes on a massive scale.
Having read two fabulous Robert Charles Wilson short stories this year, I think it’s soon time that I start reading Spin, Wilson’s much-acclaimed Hugo Award winning novel.
Posted on 16 June 2016.