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Pangborn, Edgar

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

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(1909-1976) US composer and author, son of Georgia Wood Pangborn (1872-1958) and the brother of Mary Pangborn (1907-2003), who were both authors specializing in supernatural fiction; his publishing career began with A-100: A Mystery Story (1930) as by Bruce Harrison, and other non-genre work under various names in various magazines. Only many years later did he publish his first sf story, the famous "Angel's Egg", in Galaxy for June 1951, about a man's touching friendship with a tiny winged "angel", one of a team of Aliens who have travelled to Earth from their ancient benignly Utopian world, knowing that Homo sapiens is on the brink of suicide due to the gap between our wisdom and our tools – "intelligence [being] a cheap commodity" – but hoping to Uplift us. The human protagonist is given the chance of being "saved", which is to say recorded as an educative emblem for posterity; though he himself will die, the saved version will repeat his talismanic tale endlessly, rather like Rush That Speaks in John Crowley's Engine Summer (1979). The proleptic melancholy evoked by this tale permeates the author's work in general, sometimes chokingly, as in the tales of the similarly conflicted Thomas Burnett Swann, but often to memorable effect, as in The Music Master of Babylon (November 1954 Galaxy; vt "A Master of Babylon" in Beyond Armageddon, anth 1985, ed Walter M Miller Jr and Martin H Greenberg; 2016 ebook), which could easily be read as a shuffling of the narrative deck of Stephen Vincent Benét's "By the Waters of Babylon" (31 July 1937 Saturday Evening Post) [see his entry for title details]: in Pangborn's tale the Last Man figure is still alive in his museum fastness in Ruined-Earth New York, an ageing pianist (see Music) who inadvertently drives emissaries from a survivor tribe back up the Hudson.

In Pangborn's first sf novel, West of the Sun (1953), six shipwrecked humans found a Utopian colony on the planet Lucifer in association with two native species (see Colonization of Other Worlds). When the rescue ship eventually arrives, they decide to stick with the society they have constructed. The reflective conclusion of this novel was typical of Pangborn's longer work. In A Mirror for Observers (1954), which won the 1955 International Fantasy Award, Mars has been guiding humanity into the light of civilization for thousands of years, but matters approach crisis in the twentieth century when two Martian observers contest for control over a human boy genius, a potential ethical innovator; the good Martian wins. In both novels – but not always in his career – Pangborn's gracious literacy usually overcomes a tendency towards the sententious.

After two fine non-genre tales – Wilderness of Spring (1958), an historical novel, and The Trial of Callista Blake (1961), a moving courtroom drama – Pangborn then created his most successful and sustained work, the Davy sequence, comprising, by rough internal chronology, The Company of Glory (August-October 1974 Galaxy; 1975), a loosely-constructed tale some of whose contents were re-assembled as stories in Still I Persist in Wondering (coll 1978), the loosely related The Judgment of Eve (1966), and Davy (fixup 1964). The initial Post-Holocaust sequence is set in a USA devastated by a nuclear Holocaust, whose immediate consequences dominate – at times harshly – the first volumes. By the time of Davy's birth, 250 years later, the land has long been balkanized into Ruined-Earth feudal enclaves, rather romantically conceived, and Davy's picaresque adventures (which he recounts in retirement) generate what might be called a kind of nostalgia for a livable, Pastoral future, though at the same time it is clear that Davy, and those he inspires, will out of necessity begin to rebuild a more complex world. Set earlier in the same universe, just after World War Three, The Judgment of Eve is less convincingly constructed in mythopoeic terms, as Eve tries to choose among the lifestyles of her disparate male suitors (see Adam and Eve). The trek on which she consequently sends them, in order to find out the meaning of love, probably represents the deepest of Pangborn's not infrequent descents into uneasy bombast. When, however, he was able to control himself – the early novels, most of Davy, and most of the stories in Good Neighbors and Other Strangers (coll 1972) generally sidestep these pitfalls – the inherent though sometimes selfconsciously rural decency of his view of life won through.

Pangborn was posthumously given the Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery Award for 2003. [JC]

see also: Arts; Children in SF; Galaxy Science Fiction; Mutants.

Edgar Pangborn

born New York: 25 February 1909

died Bearsville, New York: 1 February 1976




individual titles (some nonfantastic)

collections and stories

about the author


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