Millennial Review VI: The Judgment of Eve by Edgar Pangborn (1966)
Judgment of Eve
By Edgar Pangborn
The Judgment of Eve
159 pageI’m cheating: depending on how you take the evidence, The Judgment of Eve could be set anywhere from around 2000 to 2020 and the narrator is living centuries in the future.
Synopsis: Eve lives with her mother and an idiot named Caleb in the New England woods twenty years after a small nuclear war and a plague have destroyed civilization and reduced the human population to the bare edge of sustainability. Eve is 28 when the first visitors arrive: Kenneth, who is near-blind, old Claudius, whose arm was crippled when a building fell on him and Ethan, friend of Kenneth. There is some friction over Eve. The solution, arrived at by her mother reading fairy tales, is that Eve will set a quest. She tells the three to leave and return in the fall to tell her what love is.
In the next few centuries, this story will become to the post-WWIII folks what Arthur is to us: the story is narrated by an academic of the future when civilization has recovered to the point that infradepartmental sniping has been re-invented. He is kind enough to give us footnotes and commentary which more often is aimed at showing what idiots his colleagues are.
Kenneth and Claudius set off together. They part after Claudius finds Kenneth some glasses. Kenneth meets a mad woman pretending the war never happened, sleeps with her and inadvertantly causes her suicide. He sees a young tiger, descended perhaps from tigers escaped from a zoo and shoots it in the paw. Lucky fellow, he is not ripped from limb to limb at this point. He spends the rest of the year in the town library, which has survived.
Claudius meets a madman of his own, alone in the woods. New England must be well supplied with them. Dr Stuyvesant appears to have been the least talented teacher in New England before the war: time has not improved him. At one point, he tries to teach Claudius how to play the violin “properly”, never realizing that Claudius was in his day a virtuoso violinist. Claudius also meets the tiger and tries to kill it, unsuccessfully. The tiger escapes, no doubt regretting the inconvenience of being in the tale at all.
Ethan, who is the strongest and best looking of the three, meets the Governor of the Hampshire Heights, who is like a dark reflection of Ethan. The Governor more or less runs the local town, Lebanon, although his claims are much wider. During the course of the conversation, a fight breaks out between the Governor and one of his friends. It ends when Ethan intervenes and the Governor dies. Ethan spends the rest of the year in the town of Lebanon.
The three return to Eve, tell their tales and Eve makes her choice. The reader is not told what the choice was. She have picked one or all, we can’t tell, although I suspect the second choice.
This is not my favourite Pangborn. It’s a bit overwrought in spots and I seem to recall it was mangled by a hostile editor. I think 159 pages may not have been enough room, actually. Some of the scenes seem to me a little rushed and sketchy. OTOH despite the setting, it is miles more optimistic about the long term prospects of humanity than The Year of the Quiet Sun: things are hard now but we know because of the narrator there will be a recovery.
Once again, let me just say that I am happy not to have lived, or perhaps not lived through WWIII and you can throw the Red Plague in there as well.