Edgar Pangborn, Winner of the Third Annual
Cordwainer Smith "Rediscovery" Award (2003)
Edgar Pangborn was awarded the Third Annual Cordwainer
Smith Rediscovery Award at Worldcon in Toronto.
He joined Olaf
Stapledon (2001) and R. A.
Lafferty (2002) in receiving this award, given to a
"science fiction or fantasy writer whose work displays
unusual originality, embodies the spirit of Cordwainer
Smith's fiction, and deserves renewed attention or
Jurors for the award were four of the most
distinguished and encyclopedic minds in contemporary
science fiction, all Hugo winners themselves: Robert
Silverberg, Gardner Dozois, John Clute, and Scott
Edelman. They were free to choose any writer, living or
dead, for the Award.
What did Edgar Pangborn write?
His best-known science fiction is West of
the Sun, A Mirror for Observers, and the Davy
books. There's a list of everything he wrote at the
Fantastic Fiction website.
West of the Sun
West of the Sun, Pangborn's first
science fiction novel, came out in 1953. Happily, Old Earth Books brought West of the
Sun back into print in 2001, and they intend to
republish all the Pangborn science fiction.
Here is how they describe West of the
A spaceship crash-lands on the planet the
crew names Lucifer — Son of the Morning. Full of hope
and excitement, the six explorers encounter an alien
world full of bat-winged monsters, painted witches,
and armies of pygmy cannibals. But for each threat,
objects of great beauty await them, blue fireflies,
red-green forest, vast mountains, and deep seas. With
ever-dwindling supplies, and a war in the making,
these adventurers embark on one of the most
fascinating journeys of survival in science
fiction... somewhere West of the Sun. (Cover art by
I read West of the Sun after learning
that Pangborn was going to be awarded the Rediscovery
Award for 2003. I enjoyed its reflective qualities
especially. The characters became real to me, and I cared
about what happened to them even though the war part went
on a bit long for my taste. I found the ending quietly
hopeful in a way that I could resonate to. There is a lot
of love in Pangborn, along with a keen awareness of human
stupidity. Resonated with that, too!
As the explorers land on a planet that has not
one but two races of men who soon learn English, I
mutter, "Yeah, right." But as Pangborn wonders about
human nature, I am right there, loving how he expresses
some of my own deepest feelings.
What Reviewers Say about West of the
"From the 21st century, we look back at the
20th, and we find Edgar Pangborn, who was always there,
with his sad, serene, contemplative gaze. But his was not
a vision that ever really properly belonged to the SF of
1950, and he maybe never got his full due back then.
Today, maybe, the time has come to read him with proper
joy. West of the Sun is exciting and
professional and good SF through and through; but it is
also calm and wise and wry, and it takes us away to a
better world, where it leaves us. Today, we need this." –
John Clute, from the dust jacket of the Old Earth
"Edgar Pangborn was one of the greatest
American science fiction writers, who established along
with Bradbury, Sturgeon, Miller, and Cordwainer Smith a
poetic, beautifully human style of science fiction.
Pangborn's evocative landscapes and intense emotional
situations combine to give all his novels a mysterious
and powerful beauty. He was a true artist and bringing
his work back into print in this way is a great moment
for American literature." —Kim Stanley Robinson,
on the front cover of the Old Earth edition.
West of the Sun is available at Amazon.com.
A Mirror for Observers
Pangborn's second novel, A Mirror for
Observers, won the International Fantasy Award in
1954. Many consider it his greatest novel. As I haven't
read it, I won't try to summarize its plot.
A Mirror for Observers is available at Amazon.com, and there are some
thoughtful reviews there.
The Davy Series
In Davy, Edgar Pangborn tells the story
of the central character's life in retrospect, skipping
around from one phase to another. The story reminded me
of my father's writings in that way -- both Pangborn and
Cordwainer Smith will tell you things near the beginning
that most writers would save for the end. I enjoyed Davy
a lot, though at times the stupidity of society was a bit
much. But then, it is a bit much out here in this
Set in a post-holocaust northeastern former
United States, Davy tells a tale that is full of
human foibles and love. Again, the characters were more
compelling to me than the plot.
Davy was nominated for a Nebula Award in
1964 and for a Hugo Award the following year.
Davy is at Amazon.com. For information on the others in
the series -- which appear to be short story collections
-- see Fantastic Fiction or the link about
Pangborn's life in the next paragraph.
Who was Edgar Pangborn?
Pangborn was born in New York City in 1909, and
later attended Harvard and the New England Conservatory
of Music. He became a farmer, served in the Medical Corps
during World War II, and published his first science
fiction short story in 1951. He died in 1976. For more
about the life of Edgar Pangborn, click the