Alexei Panshin, August 14, 1940 — August 21, 2022
The Anthony Villiers by Alexei Panshin: Star Well, The Thurb Revolution,
and Masque World (Ace Books, 1968-1969). Covers by Kelly Freas
Alexei Panshin has died. He was one of the first SF critics I read — I read both Heinlein in Dimension and SF in Dimension as a teen. At the time I took his words as Gospel — in times since I have learned to question a lot of what he said, but what he said was well considered and an advance in understanding science fiction.
He was also a novelist of considerable ability. I don’t like his Nebula winner Rite of Passage as much as many, in part for the petty reason that I felt its Nebula undeserved in the presence of novels like the Hugo winner Stand on Zanzibar, Joanna Russ’ Picnic on Paradise, and above all one of my favorite novels ever, Samuel R. Delany’s Nova. But as I said that’s petty — Rite of Passage is an accomplished and enjoyable novel, a triumph as a first novel; and if I would argue with it that’s OK — I think it was arguing with itself (something I failed to perceive when reading it as a young teen.)
But for me his prime achievement is the three novels about Anthony Villiers: Star Well, The Thurb Revolution, and Masque World. These are not perhaps deathless fictional masterpieces, but they are supremely entertaining.
[Click images for bigger versions.]
Back covers of Star Well, The Thurb Revolution, and Masque World (Ace Books, 1968-1969)
It is a damned shame that Alexei never finished the series (which was apparently planned for seven volumes.) Samuel R. Delany compared them to one of my favorite 20th Century novel sequences, Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time, and while I think that’s overblown (Dance actually is a deathless fictional masterpiece) it does hint at the compulsive readability of both works.
Panshin’s later work was limited to his critical works with his wife Cory (SF in Dimension and The World Beyond the Hill), a novel with Cory (Earth Magic) and a smattering of short fiction, the last of which appeared in 1982. But the work he did for the time he did it was lovely and I am glad to have seen it.
The Vincent Di Fate covers on the re-issued Anthony Villiers novels (Ace Books, 1978), which centered Trove the Torg
He will be missed, is missed already.
Rich Horton’s last article for us was a review of Aspects by John M. Ford. His website is Strange at Ecbatan. Rich has written over a hundred articles for Black Gate, see them all here.
I was very impressed with Rite of Passage when I read it ten or twelve years ago. I think it comes off even better if you compare it to a wildly successful but much less accomplished book that it shares some similarities with, The Hunger Games.
As you say, this is a real loss to us all.
I am inclined to think that it’s a book I need to reread — that I failed to give it credit for asking a question and not insisting on the answer the book seemed to give.
You mentioned the Dance! Always happy to hear someone talk about it outside of my head.
I, too, learned about ADttMoT through some SF being compared to it (though am not sure it wasn’t something else – but what, Bujold?), and general praise heaped on it by worthy fans and writers. I tried to read it, oh, some 2 decades ago, but bounced off very fast, unable to see what people liked about it. I guess I should try again and harder, but time is too short…
However, Panshin saying that Villiers was inspired by Georgette Heyer’s (specifically The Grand Sophy) makes me want to try her finally. And even Charteris…
I still haven’t read anything by Panshin. I really should! Which short fictions should I start with Rich? I have a collection of his hanging out somewhere on my shelves..