Selected Stories of Alexei Panshin

DeltaV

Well-Known Member
Joined
Nov 5, 2019
Messages
163
In the April issue of Analog 1969, Miller in the Reference Library reviewed Rite of Passage by Alexei Panshin (which won a Nebula award). I had always thought that this story was a novelette (published as Down to the Worlds of Men (1963; and which has featured over the years in various 'Best Of' collections) and did not realize that it was part of a larger novel (there are minor differences between the two stories about Mia's time on the planet).

In the June 1969 issue, Miller also discussed Panshin's Star Well, and recommended it.

Based on Miller's comments, I decided to read Rite of Passage, the three books of Anthony Villier's adventures, and Panshin's collection of short stories. These appear to be his main works of fiction.


In the collection of short stories, there are three that deal with the same setting as Rite of Passage:

The Sons of Prometheus (1966), A Sense of Direction (1969), and Arpad (1971). Frankly, as the other short stories were not to my taste, I'm going to concentrate my remarks on these three, the Rite of Passage, and Villier's stories.


Rite of Passage provides more background to the setting, covers the previous couple of years of Mia's life, and reveals more about the former colony ships. There is a ongoing debate about how the ships should interact with the colonies (which are all at a much reduced level of technology ... in some cases only at a subsistence level). Prejudice, distrust and hate between the ships and the colonies is the order of the day. Mia initially is prejudiced against the 'Mudeaters', and the novel deals with her evolving attitudes along with her preparations for her 'rite of passage'.

(the rite of passage refers to the 30 day period that all 14 year olds must spend on a colony world ... and live to talk about it; the rate of success appears to be about 75%. After the trial, the survivors are considered adults and may vote in the Ship assembly.

A Sense of Direction features Arpad, a 13 year old boy taken years earlier from a colony world, and now on a 3-day survival course on a primitive colony world (the colony has regressed to almost the stone age). This story reveals the level of prejudice that many on the ships have against the colonists.

In The Sons of Prometheus, some 'shipeens' are trying to help the colonies improve by providing clandestine technical advice. On most worlds exposure means death at the hands of the colonists

Arpad takes place roughly 30 years after the events of Rite of Passage, and both Mia and Jimmy have a cameo appearance. They are now both involved in the Sons of Prometheus movement. Arpad, though, has other ideas and is now out to drastically change Ship culture. The only question he has is whether it will be as Shakespeare or as Napoleon.


I must say that, although it makes a good story, the purpose of the rite of passage doesn't make a lot of sense to me. It appears that most of the danger to the kids comes from the colonists and not from the local wildlife. Bad circumstances and poor timing could mean that you're dead ... or in jail and left behind ... but your buddy makes it out.

Although the debate about how much to interact with the colonies is an ongoing thread throughout the novel, I was quite surprised by the ending: the Ship apparently preemptively destroys the colony as it is considered to be a possible threat years in the future. Gosh. Guess they didn't learn anything from the great destruction of 2041.

Perhaps that explains the poem at the beginning of the novel, which ends thus:

The summer’s flower is to the summer sweet, Though to itself it only live and die, But if that flower with base infection meet, The basest weed outbraves his dignity: For sweetest things turn sourest by their deeds; Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds. WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE, Sonnet XCIV

On to Anthony Villier's adventures: Star Well, The Thurb Revolution, and Masque World.

I agree with Miller: I quite liked Star Well, and in the descriptions of this far-future society I thought I detected a faint echo of Jane Austin and Pride and Prejudice. There is a slightly different method of writing as occasionally the author directly addresses the reader. And the beginning of each chapter explains some facet of the plot, setting or characters. But interesting nevertheless. And I found that both the character of Villiers and that of Louisa Parini were well drawn.

However I'm afraid that neither of the sequels live up to Star Well. Both, to me, are a little surreal and lack a solid plot. The stories had a whiff of Alice in Wonderland rather than a (relatively) more serious SF story. Disappointing.

And now we get into a bit of a real-life mystery. The ending of Masque World refers to a fourth volume of the adventures of Villiers, The Universal Pantograph, where he travels to the Empire's home world and meets up again with Louisa. That book was never written. And in a case of Internet serendipity, a search revealed the possible reasons. Here is the link for the curious:

Bleg: The Universal Pantograph – The Reality-Based Community

(What I found interesting is that the author of this article is Mark Kleiman, an esteemed criminologist who wrote the well-regarded book When Brute Force Fails of which a copy is in my bookcase. Unfortunately he passed away in 2019. Mr Kleiman quite liked all three of the Villier novels so perhaps je suis dans les patates...).

(If you check out Alexei Panshin's website, you can read more about his controversial dealings with Robert Heinlein.)



Now, circling back to Rite of Passage, it seems odd that Panshin didn't write more in this setting as well. We're left hanging with a lot of unresolved issues that would have provided a lot of fodder for further stories. But, as with the Villier stories, perhaps the muse had fled and he just couldn't do any more with it.

In any case, I do recommend both Rite of Passage, and Star Well (for something a little different).
 

psikeyhackr

Physics is Phutile, Fiziks is Fundamental
Joined
Jul 17, 2013
Messages
2,134
A Sense of Direction features Arpad, a 13 year old boy taken years earlier from a colony world, and now on a 3-day survival course on a primitive colony world (the colony has regressed to almost the stone age). This story reveals the level of prejudice that many on the ships have against the colonists.

In The Sons of Prometheus, some 'shipeens' are trying to help the colonies improve by providing clandestine technical advice. On most worlds exposure means death at the hands of the colonists

Arpad takes place roughly 30 years after the events of Rite of Passage, and both Mia and Jimmy have a cameo appearance. They are now both involved in the Sons of Prometheus movement. Arpad, though, has other ideas and is now out to drastically change Ship culture. The only question he has is whether it will be as Shakespeare or as Napoleon.

Thanks for the info. I have probably read Rite of Passage half-a-dozen times since the 60s. I have always thought it raised the question of who owns knowledge.

I think we should have had a K-12 National Recommend Reading for decades. Plenty of kids want to learn things but end up with crappy teachers or not taught the subject they want to learn.

We are far from doing what could be done with tablets and artificial intelligence for teaching kids.
 

psikeyhackr

Physics is Phutile, Fiziks is Fundamental
Joined
Jul 17, 2013
Messages
2,134
I just started Rite of Passage again.

It has been announced that the world population has reached 8 billion. Panshin put the date at 2041.
 

Orcadian

Lover of hard science fiction
Joined
Apr 3, 2022
Messages
336
Location
NW Europe
I re-read Rite of Passage in 2020, having first read it in the 1970s or 80s and found it interesting though implausible.

But I really didn't enjoy it on a second reading. I cannot fathom why judges thought it merited a prestigious prize. An award for Young Adult fiction, perhaps - but a Nebula Award? The premise is interesting but in my opinion the characters are poorly drawn and their lives lack credibility. Jimmy Dentremont is a nice lad who is clearly going to make a fine man. But I found Mia Havero to be arrogant, self-absorbed, stroppy and selfish; one of the least-likeable kids I have ever encountered in or out of fiction. Then there is the supposed love between her and Jimmy. At 13 / 14? That is the age of pimples, lank hair, flat chests and embarrassing stiffies - when just the thought of talking to a member of the opposite sex is enough to rob you of speech.

The 'pioneering' expedition to a planet (the Rite itself), where a magnificent animal is needlessly dispatched, sickened me. The Bond-esque adventure towards the end where the intrepid teenagers escape the bumbling bad guys left me thinking 'puh-lease'. But the thing that really killed any admiration I might have had was the final moral dilemma (no spoilers), and the decision the ship's residents make after just two hours of debate. Frankly, the last 30% of the book reminded me of events in Europe in the 1930s and 40s.
 

psikeyhackr

Physics is Phutile, Fiziks is Fundamental
Joined
Jul 17, 2013
Messages
2,134
I re-read Rite of Passage in 2020, having first read it in the 1970s or 80s and found it interesting though implausible.

. But I found Mia Havero to be arrogant, self-absorbed, stroppy and selfish; one of the least-likeable kids I have ever encountered in or out of fiction. Then there is the supposed love between her and Jimmy. At 13 / 14? That is the age of pimples, lank hair, flat chests and embarrassing stiffies - when just the thought of talking to a member of the opposite sex is enough to rob you of speech.

The 'pioneering' expedition to a planet (the Rite itself), where a magnificent animal is needlessly dispatched, sickened me. The
What was civilization like when life expectancy was 25 years? I think we have created a culture that encourages kids to be childish too long.

The Rite of Passage of the story was interesting to me in that the culture of the the ship had suffered a trauma of Earth being destroyed. Since we now have 8 billion people 19 years early one has to wonder if Panshin was paranoid but that leaves the possibility of the destruction being more gradual and absurd. What is happening with fish stocks in the ocean and China overfishing the coasts of any country not strong enough to stop them.

"Magnificent animal"? It was something they captured from some planet so presumably it is not endangered. How would you train children given the premise of the story? My grammar school years were pretty stupid by comparison. Spell ANTIDISESTABLISHMENTARIANISM! Yeah we actually had to do that.

We didn't do FISSION or FUSION because that would be ungodly SCIENCE.
 

Orcadian

Lover of hard science fiction
Joined
Apr 3, 2022
Messages
336
Location
NW Europe
What was civilization like when life expectancy was 25 years? I think we have created a culture that encourages kids to be childish too long.
Sorry, Psikey? The Ship inhabitants live to be 100 years old, IIRC. If you mean the planetary colonists live to be 25, that sounds like the figure often quoted for lifespan in historical populations and 'primitive' peoples today. I think it comes from the high infant mortality and childhood death rate in such societies. If you made it to adulthood (say 16?), though, there was a good chance you'd live the Biblical 'three score years and ten'.
I agree with you that childhood and freedom from responsibility are too extended in today's rich cultures.
 

Similar threads


Top