Alexei Panshin’s 1975 Farewell to Yesterday’s Tomorrow is a collection of science fiction short stories. Except as noted, all essays and stories are by Alexei Panshin.
Preface (Farewell to Yesterday’s Tomorrow) • (1975) • essay
A short preface that (very conveniently for my purposes) contains a line that serves as the collection’s mission statement:
If we could change ourselves, what might we not become?
Of note to readers: the announcement that all further Panshin works would be co-authored by Cory Panshin. Subsequent works included the novel Earth Magic (1976), SF in Dimension: A Book of Explorations (1976) and The World Beyond the Hill: Science Fiction and the Quest for Transcendence (1989). That said, Panshin did publish some solo works after 1975.
I discovered two things reading this: first, that while I was correct to assert that there’s a connection between Rite of Passage and the Anthony Villiers books, I was mistaken as to which story that was. Second, I know now there is a long out-of-print Panshin collection titled Transmutations: A Book of Personal Alchemy that I’ve never seen, let along read, one I will track down if only to read the essay John Campbell’s Vision. Although the collection is forty years old and was a limited print edition, I see that copies are available on Abebooks.
For the most part the stories in this collection are short and skillfully done. Those few that did not intrigue were only momentary impediments. On the plus side, the book is in print and will deliver a solid evening of entertainment. On the minus side, you may well be left wanting more Panshin fiction, of which there is much less than one might wish: four novels, two collections, and a small but solid body of science fiction criticism.
Now for the details:
“What’s Your Excuse?” • (1969) • short story
Mean-spirited bullying in the name of research and personal growth. Either mundane SF or not-SF, but enjoyable either way.
The Sons of Prometheus • (1966) • novelette
Having belatedly discovered liberal guilt, a minority aboard the Ships that had heretofore hoarded Earth’s advanced science and technology to the detriment of the colonies now struggle to uplift their backward cousins by means of covert programs. Tansman is no soft-hearted do-gooder but is convinced to do his part on Zebulon despite the significant risk of a violent death if the colonists discover he is from a Ship. His experiences are transformative.
Readers may note that this was published before the only Ship-related novel, Rite of Passage. A portion of Rite of Passage appeared in 1963 as “Down to the Worlds of Men.”
“The Destiny of Milton Gomrath” • (1967) • short story
A humble garbageman discovers that his true destiny awaits him in the fantasy universe where he was born.
How long have stories parodying the Chosen One been around? Not long enough to rid us of the trope of the Chosen One.
“A Sense of Direction” • (1969) • short story
Fathered by an exiled man of the Ships, a teenaged Arpad is kidnapped and forcibly educated in Ship ways. This is intended as compensation for Arpad’s late father’s excessive punishment; from Arpad’s perspective, the compensation is indistinguishable from punishment. When the opportunity to escape on unfamiliar colony world presents itself, he takes it, only to discover he should have done due diligence first.
“How Georges Duchamps Discovered a Plot to Take Over the World” • (1971) • short story
A romantic assignation is briefly interrupted by a most unexpected development.
“One Sunday in Neptune” • (1969) • short story
Man’s first exploration into the ice giant Neptune earns one man a place in the history books, at the cost of his embittered co-worker’s enmity.
“Now I’m Watching Roger” • (1972) • short story
A stressed but innovative astronaut embarks on a bold program to address a co-worker’s shortcomings.
“Arpad” • (1971) • short story
Having decided to remain on the Ship, Arpad (previously seen in The Sons of Prometheus) resolves to return the Ship’s unwanted favour. Just as the Ships tried to remake Arpad in their image, so too will the ingenious trickster transform the Ships in his own image.
How Can We Sink When We Can Fly? • (1971) • novelette by Alexei Panshin
A rambling tale of creative block driven by the fact the author finds the premise he has been handed unconvincing. In the end, Panshin delivers a short piece about a boy of the future baffled at the folly of the people of the past.
Sky Blue • (1972) • short story by Alexei Panshin and Cory Panshin
Offered refuge by a kindly alien, castaways abuse their new-found world. They assign their unhappy child the task of murdering their landlord lest he protest their poor behavior.
There are a lot of terrible parents in SF. On the plus side, the story takes the kid’s side.
“When the Vertical World Becomes Horizontal” • (1974) • short story
An eccentric father sets his dutiful son a nearly impossible task, one the father cannot do.
Lady Sunshine and the Magoon of Beatus • (1975) • novella by Alexei Panshin and Cory Panshin
Dissatisfied with the worlds settled following Earth’s destruction, convinced that said worlds were not the best but merely the best available at the time, Lady Sunshine sets out to find planets more suitable for human occupation.
In a discussion online, I asserted that “Sky Blue” connects the Ship stories with the Anthony Villiers novel. Not so! This is the connection. Or at least I think it could be: the term Shipdoes not appear but the number of colony worlds lines up.
Assuming the two sequences are connected, the rocks on which interstellar exploration crashed were first, that during their monopoly of space travel the Ships did not vary from their given courses, and second, that the colonists did not want to learn that they were stuck where they were out of simple expediency.
Farewell to Yesterday’s Tomorrow • (1975) • essay
Ruminations on SF’s past and its future.