Edgar Pangborn

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Edgar Pangborn (February 25, 1909 – February 1, 1976) was an American writer of mystery, historical, and science fiction.


A Mirror for Observers (1954)[edit]

Winner of the 1955 International Fantasy Award
All page numbers are from the mass market paperback edition published by W. H. Allen & Co. (Star Books), ISBN 0-352-39501-X
  • Patience is a narcotic for the weak.
    • Prelude (p. 14)
  • I’ve watched human beings fool around with love. Love of self mostly, but also love of place, work, ideas; love of friends, of male and female, parent and child. I can’t think of any human illusions more comic than those of love.
    • Prelude (p. 15)
  • One would think that the mere shortness of life would be a reminder that to destroy beauty is to destroy one’s own self too.
    • Part One, Chapter 1 (p. 30)
  • One doesn’t look for the small promises of an ethical revolution in the headlines: the ocean’s currents do not derive from the ocean’s tempests.
    • Chapter 2 (p. 34)
  • They never seemed to want to teach her anything except how to be like everybody else. When she finished—bright, you know, nothing stupid about Clara—she could add a column of figures after a fashion, read a little if she had to. Hated books, still does. Always been a heavy reader myself, be lost nowadays if I wasn’t. Damned if I know what she did learn. Self-expression before she could have anything to express. Social consciousness, whatever that is, when even now she hasn’t enough command of language to tell you what she thinks society is. Scraps of this and that, no logic to hold ’em together. Everything made easy—and how are you going to make education easy? You might as well try to build an athlete by keeping him in a hammock with cream puffs and beer.
    • Chapter 2 (p. 38)
  • Maybe the schools have come to regard education as a sort of by-product, something it would be nice to have if it isn’t too much trouble.
    • Chapter 2 (p. 38)
  • “And where is your guarantee against war in that, Miles?”
    “There can’t be any except in human ethical maturity. A sensible political structure would help enormously, but there’s going to be risk of war so long as men think they can justify hating strangers and grabbing for power. Human hearts and minds are basic—the rest is mechanics.”
    • Chapter 4 (p. 53)
  • In politics, wishful thinking just gives the wolves a license to howl.
    • Chapter 4 (p. 53)
  • A justifiable expense, Drozma, if only to let Angelo discover the woods—at any rate I have been in most of the temples and cathedrals of the world, and the peace I sometimes found in them was never more than a small substitute for what there is under the arches of the leaves.
    • Chapter 5 (p. 64)
  • In intelligent life, human or Martian, maybe there has always been a genuine division between those who honor the individuality of others and those who are driven to control and pervert it.
    • Chapter 5 (p. 64)
  • Namir would know all the uses of scandal and innuendo and half-truths. Strange weapons, so easy to take up, the stain indelible on user and victim.
    • Chapter 5 (p. 69)
  • Human beings have never been very adult about cleaning up after themselves.
    • Chapter 6 (p. 75)
  • I notice men themselves have never invented a god capable of understanding them.
    • Chapter 7 (p. 79)
  • “You have to fight back. Can’t afford not to, with your intelligence. People hate intelligence, didn’t you know?”
    “Depends on what it does to ’em, doesn’t it?”
    “Not so much, Angelo. Dream up a new gadget, they’ll be grateful for a while,” said Feuermann’s voice. “It’ll be only the gadget they love, not the brain that made it—that they fear. They may have enough superstitious dread to worship it—devil-worship—but never will they respect it except superstitiously.”
    • Chapter 7 (p. 80)
  • Faith,” she said gently. “But, Will darling, I just never have seen any of the mountains they say it moved.”
    • Part Two, Chapter 1 (p. 123)
  • They measure rank as Mussolini did, by the amount of carpet between door and desk.
    • Chapter 2 (p. 133)
  • I already knew that Max’s type of messianic enterprise is a gold mine. The legions of the lonely, the mentally and emotionally starved, the bewildered and resentful, the angry daydreamers—who of them wouldn’t chip in five or ten dollars to buy a substitute for God, or Mom, or Big Brother, or the New Jerusalem?
    • Chapter 2 (p. 133)
  • You never meet anything mean or cruel in music. I’d like to be able to play Bach before they they blow up the world. I’d like to be at the keyboard when they do it.
    • Chapter 3 (p. 147)
  • After three and a half centuries I have found, for an empirical ethics, no better starting axiom than this: cruelty and evil are virtually synonyms. Human ethical teachers have insisted over the ages that a cruel act is an evil act, and men on the whole endorse the doctrine no matter how repeatedly they violate it. There is inevitable revulsion against any blatant attempt to make cruelty a law of behavior.
    • Chapter 4 (p. 148)
  • Yet good is the drink, evil only a poison that is sometimes in the dregs: in the course of living we are likely to shake the glass—no fault of the wine. It is good to sit quiet in the sun: there is no nicely balanced opposing evil to that. Where is there any matching evil to a hearing of the G Minor Fugue? As absurd as asking, What is the opposite of a tree?
    • Chapter 4 (p. 149)
  • “I wonder,” said Abraham, “if I’d ever think I knew enough to act.”
    “If you don’t, then study all your life and talk a little when you believe you have something to say.”
    • Chapter 6 (p. 176)
  • Propaganda is bad art.”
    “Aren’t you thinking in terms of music, though?”
    “No. In music the problem just doesn’t exist. You don’t even start looking for propaganda in music unless your head’s already addled.”
    “Yes, but in art—well, Daumier, Goya, Hogarth—”
    “They live,” said Sharon, “because they were good artists. If their social ideas had been the kind we don’t happen to like in the twentieth century, their work would last just the same. Cellini was a louse. The piety of Blake and El Greco almost doesn’t exist nowadays. Their work does.”
    • Chapter 6 (pp. 176-177)
  • If you’re interested in ethics, you could do worse than think in terms of geological time.
    • Chapter 6 (p. 178)
  • I learned some years back that human nature is volatile stuff in a world full of lighted matches.
    • Chapter 6 (p. 178)
  • I see them as they are. There’s no truth in them. They project the wishes of a little greedy ape against the blank of eternity, and call it truth—there’s triviality if you like. They invent a larger ape somewhat beyond the clouds,—or somewhat beyond the Galaxy, which is the same thing—and call it God; they use this invention as an authority, to justify every vice of cruelty or greed or vanity or lust that their small minds can imagine. They talk of justice, and say that their laws derive from a sense of justice (which they have never defined); but no human law ever derived from anything except fear—fear of the unknown, the different, the difficult, fear of man’s own self. They make war, not for any of the noisy noble reasons they produce, but simply because they hate themselves almost as much as they hate their neighbors. They gibber of love, love, but human love is merely one more projection of the ape-self, superimposed on the invented image of another person.
    • Chapter 8 (p. 200)
  • The three billion crawl about, all over the helpless earth, destroying and defiling, killing the forests, polluting the air with smoke and radioactive dust and the torturing noises of the machine. In place of meadows, filling stations. The lakes are puddles of human filth. Two years ago the whole area of San Francisco Harbor was covered with dead fish: even the ocean is sick from the human taint, and this they call progress.
    • Chapter 8 (p. 201)
  • I admit almost every charge of the indictment. The only thing wrong with it is that it’s too partial, too trivial. You’ve spent your life hunting for counterfeit money in a pile of treasure. You looked for evil all your life, to prove your case—naturally you found it, and where it was absent you created it. Any fool can do that. I’ve looked for good in human nature and elsewhere, and found it, heaped up and flowing over. Anyone can do that too, though good may be a little harder to see, because it’s all around you, no further away than the nearest leaf, the nearest smile or pleasant word, no further away than every breath of air. You say there’s no truth in men. Do you know what truth is, any more than Pilate did? Human beings are in the early stages of trying to accept and understand empirical truth.
    • Chapter 8 (pp. 201-202)
  • Haven’t you stopped to wonder why men want a scapegoat? What is it, what was it ever, but a device to help them avoid looking at themselves?
    • Chapter 9 (p. 214)
  • If there must be blame, then all citizens—you, I, everyone—are responsible for letting it be that kind of world, for not placing ethical development ahead of every other kind. We understand ethical necessities quite well; we’ve been capable of understanding them for several thousand years; but we haven’t been willing to let them rule our actions—it’s that simple.
    • Chapter 9 (pp. 214-215)
  • The ocean, forever changing and the same, was awake with deep music tonight; I was alone and not alone at all. Not alone, looking down some hours from the moving bow, seeing the flash and lingering subsidence of the noctilucae, those living diamonds of the sea, their light as transient as the sea foam and eternal as life, if life is eternal. Everything goes with me, the cherished faces, the words that endure although no embodied voice is near my body but only the great continuing voice of the sea and of a westerly wind out of the open regions of the world. I am not alone.
    • Chapter 10 (pp. 215-216)
  • Never, beautiful Earth, never even at the height of the human storms have I forgotten you, my planet Earth, your forests and your fields, your oceans, the serenity of your mountains; the meadows, the continuing rivers, the incorruptible promise of returning spring.
    • Chapter 10 (p. 222)

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