Thanks to Galaxy‘s new oversized format, we can read serials over just two issues rather than seeing them spread across three or four. Of course, there’s a longer gap between installments now that Galaxy has gone bi-monthly.
As a result, I’d completely forgotten that Fred Pohl had left Drunkard’s Walk half-finished as of the end of the June 1960 issue. It’s a good thing magazines provide synopses!
Actually, it all came back to me reasonably quickly. Drunkard’s Walk is a good read, like much of what issues from Pohl’s pen. Here’s the skinny:
About a century from now, Earth has become comfortably overcrowded. College-level education courses are universally available, via television programming, but only a very few may actually attend universities and subsequently apply their knowledge in any meaningful way. Outside the rarefied campus setting, the average person lives in relative squalor, though free from significant wants. Disease and hunger have been eradicated. Space is at a premium, on the other hand, with significant populations inhabiting artificial off-shore platforms called “texases.”
That’s the backdrop. The story is a fairly straightforward thriller. A brilliant professor, by name of Cornut, finds his life in great peril as, whenever he is on the verge of waking, he is compelled to attempt suicide. Since there is nothing wrong with Cornut’s life (quite the opposite), he comes to the conclusion that someone or some group wants him dead. It turns out that Cornut is just one of many under insidious attack.
Who would want Cornut dead? How is the compulsion conveyed? And why are there reported outliers to the normally flawless “Wolgren Equation,” which determines the maximum possible age of the members of any given group of people?
Well, I certainly won’t spoil it for you…
I will say that Pohl spotlights a lot of interesting questions, but he doesn’t quite explore them fully, preferring to focus on the page-turning aspects of his story. Also, there seems to be a gap of some 20-30 pages about two thirds through the story, perhaps edited for space. Maybe we’ll see them again if the story is novelized. Still, Drunkard’s Walk kept me interested, through both of its parts.
Four stars (of five).