The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

In Edgar Pangborn’s A Mirror for Observers, the inhabitants of Earth are watched by Martians who came to the planet eons ago and live in underground cities scattered throughout North America, Asia, and Africa. Blessed with enormously long lives and an elastic bone structure that enables them to radically alter their appearance, the Salvayans, as they call themselves, look forward to the day when humanity has advanced enough to merit union with the hidden space travelers.

Elmis, an observing Salvayan, leaves his city (246 feet below the tundra of northernmost Canada) to prevent Namir, a renegade, from corrupting a small Earth boy and, if the situation warrants, to assassinate the malefactor. A musician turned historian, Elmis finds the boy, Angelo Pontevecchio, and develops a friendship of sorts with him. They are both, essentially, outsiders. As is often the case with young and avid readers, the boy is brilliant, with a deep interest in Platonic philosophy. In his paintings and his thoughts, Angelo also shows a deep sensitivity for nature that manifests itself in kindly acts toward his ailing mother.

Namir kills and takes the place of a kindly old man who lives in the same boarding house as Angelo. The Salvayans wage a war of wits to direct the boy’s mind. Despite Elmis’ best efforts, Namir and his son convince Angelo to join a gang and rumble with a rival gang. When Angelo is brought home by the police after the fight, his...

(The entire section is 475 words.)