Thursday, 20 August 2015

"The Good Neighbors" by Edgar Pangborn

Hey guys! Did you realize that the Gutenberg Project has old science fiction? It does! (I don't know why this surprised me, but it did.) So, hey, why not read some of them and review them? Not to poke fun at the old science fiction, although there might be a little of that. No, I'm more interested in looking at what this old science fiction tells us about the worlds that were being imagined at the time. What did they think about science? Gender? Race? The eventual fate of the world?

From: Galaxy, June 1960

This story was a very pleasant surprise. I'd heard of Edgar Pangborn, but other than that he was a science fiction author, knew very little about him. Now I sort of think I should read more, because this was a very short story that had all the things I like.  It's not, however, a character-heavy story - there's really only one human character, and he's only in it briefly.

But it's witty and snarky and entertaining. A huge creature (imagined above, which seems to have been the accompanying illustration) appears in the sky over the West Coast of the U.S., in distress, and clearly not of terrestrial origin. It flies, crying, lost and lonely, across the country, where they dare not shoot it down lest it crush a good portion of a city.

It doesn't attack anyone, it just cries and flies, and the government sends up airplanes to see what it is and is made of. The descriptions are not too purple. They are evocative without being over the top, and given the general quality of many of the stories I've read, I was impressed.

When it gets near the Atlantic, there are plans to shoot it down over the ocean, but one trigger happy guy (the only named character) lets loose before it's quite past New York. That's not great.

The punchline of the story is that the aliens responsible for having one of their livestock get out and do this leave a note of apology and what they hope is suitable recompense for the damage, before flying off to other parts.

It's not deep, but it's got that short short story knack of being interesting and giving a bit of a twist of the knife at the end. The lack of almost all human characters means I won't pick on the fact that there aren't any female characters in it.

All in all, probably one of my favourite short stories I've read so far from this project.

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