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A Mirror for Observers Hardcover – November 1, 2004
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This is the very attractive Old Earth Books re-issue (2004). Originally published in 1954, Pangborn's novel won the International Fantasy Award in 1955.
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In the first part of the book, Namir attempts to use Angelo, age 12 at this point, for his own purposes. He tries to make him hate humanity, but Elmis consistently thwarts his attempts with the help of Sharon, a young girl who likes Angelo. Namir does manage to force Angelo to run away, and thus separate him from Elmis.
In the second section of the book, time has moved forward 9 years, and we see the end of Elmis' search for Angelo, who now goes by the name Abraham Brown. Once again Namir is attempting to use Angelo, and once again Elmis works to stop him. Namir does manage to release a disease which threatens to depopulate the Earth.
This is a solid book, and the potential use of biological weapons to depopulate the planet, is certainly one of the concerns in today's environment of terrorism. While "Davy" is probably Pangborn's best known work, "A Mirror for Observers" is certainly a worthy runner-up
I give it a lower rating than some people would, because (a) I read it for the first time just now, in the 21st century, not in its proper context, and (b) I personally prefer happier stories.
I noticed quite a few typos in the Kindle edition; apparently the book wasn't thoroughly proof-read after scanning. This is merely an annoyance that doesn't really interfere with understanding the text. However, the free books in Project Gutenberg generally seem to have been better checked than this one was. Need I comment further?
The story is set in the 1960s-70s (the "future" back in 1954!); it's a morality tale focused on a young man, named Angelo who has the potential for greatness, if he doesn't turn to the "dark side" first:) Angelo is mentored by a kindly, avuncular man ("Elmis"), who's really a Martian in human disguise. He's also being influenced by another Martian ("Namir"), who's out to destroy humanity. Eventually Angelo runs away from home, and the book concerns Elmis' long quest to find him, and bring him back to the fold.
The premise and plot of Observers is compelling; however, the writing and characterization are very flawed, so I have to take two stars off: The book's writing is rather quaint and "precious" at times, and the dialogue is just plain awful at points. The characterization of the Martian narrator is just unbelieveable- he's stricken with an intense "love for humanity" and his various digressions on culture and music, etc are annoying. He's obviously just a stand-in for Pangborn himself. (The book would have worked better as a fantasy- if Elmis and Namir were an angel and demon instead of being aliens.) Also bad is the characterization of Angelo's love interest, Sharon, who Pangborn puts on a very high pedestal...
Pangborn was born in 1909, so he was old enough to remember the 1918 Influenza pandemic in which 20-50 million people died worldwide. Perhaps that explains why the plot includes another devastating pandemic as it's climax.
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The idea of aliens from outer space clandestinely living among us, and...Read more