Still I Persist in Wondering - Edgar Pangborn I don’t know when or why I picked up Edgar Pangborn. I think this collection of short stories was the first works of his I read, and I think that’s largely because – at the time – my gaming buddies and I were heavily “into” post-holocaust RPGs (Gamma World, Aftermath, The Morrow Project, and lesser knowns). Of course, Pangborn’s sensibility is as far removed from the often violent, survival-of-the-fittest ethos of the usual RPG as it’s possible to be. All of the heroes of these stories are people striving to be human in the face of pathological violence and near willful ignorance.

The first story, “The Children’s Crusade,” takes place a short generation after the Twenty-Minute War and the Red Plague, which have brought 20th Century civilization crashing down. Also, presciently, Pangborn recounts how Mankind’s abuse of the environment has caused climate change, drowning much of the East Coast and New England and turning the region into a subtropical zone. But that’s secondary to the story, which tells of the ministry of a new prophet, Abraham, through the eyes of an old, resigned survivor of the war and those of a young, idealistic boy. I don’t want to use the word “cynical” to describe Malachi, the old man, because he isn’t. He’s too old, however, to believe that Abraham’s message of love, peace and brotherhood is going to fundamentally change humans. No more so than that of his immediate predecessor Jesus. But when Abraham’s troupe of followers passes through the village and takes up Jesse, the boy, in its wake, Malachi follows out of love for the youth.

The story ends before the ultimately tragic (and fatal) destiny of Abraham plays out. But the point of the tale is not that humanity needs another savior but that “Human love is greater than divine love…divine love is at worst an illusion, at best a dream for some imaginary future time. Human love is here and now.” (p. 75) And, “The old grim story so many times enacted – for the poor human race has always longed for a Redeemer to take up the burdens that human people themselves alone must carry…. And maybe we learn a little, century by century; or sometimes we forget too much.” (p. 75)

There’s always the chance that fondly remembered childhood reads will prove – well, not all that great when revisited. In this instance, I was happy to rediscover a great writer and one of the formative influences in my life.