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Destiny Times Three / Riding the Torch (Binary Star, No. 1) Mass Market Paperback – August, 1978
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"Destiny Times Three" is undoubtedly one of the first works to explore the concept of multiple universes, differentiated by decision points. The source of these different universes is the misuse of some alien technology called the Probability Engine. The people using the device are attempting to create the best possible world, and are unaware that their cast off worlds are not destroyed, but instead continue on. The story follows a few of the characters who exist on multiple worlds and the attempts by one world to invade the best possible world.
Leiber does provide some interesting insight into this story in his Afterword to "Riding the Torch". This was originally intended to be a much longer work following a larger cast of characters, including some women who are notably absent from this version of the story. However, John W. Campbell Jr. who was the editor of "Astounding" at the time, suggested that he keep it down to no more than two parts, because a large number of servicemen who read the magazine sometimes had difficulty in getting the issues and thus preferred that the stories not be serials. The ultimate result of this is that the longer work has now been lost, but one can definitely get a feel for what might have been in the edited version which was published.
Norman Spinrad's Afterword also provides some interesting perspective on the story, and the three versions of Earth which it contains. He discusses the influence the war had on the formation of the story, as well as more general insight into Leiber and his writing. His insights added to my appreciation of the story.
"Riding the Torch" is a post apocalyptic story of mankind traveling in space in search of a world to replace the now dead Earth. The hero is Jofe D'mahl, an artist of sorts whose work takes the form of sensos, an art form which allows the audience to experience the artist's experiences. When an announcement of the finding of a planet with a lot of potential interferes with the debut of his latest work, it leads to him going along with the scout pilots (called voidsuckers). There he learns the terrible secret which they have been hiding for so long, and their desire that he use his art to deliver the news to humanity.
Many consider this to be one of Spinrad's best works, as he blends a space journey story with the story of the Flying Dutchman with the story of Job. It is a great look at the psychology of how things are perceived, and how the spirit of humanity can prevail even in the darkest of times.