“Angel’s Egg,” Edgar Pangborn, 1951 — Opens with an exchange of letters expressing concern for the contents of the journal of Dr. David Bannerman, a retired naturalist, recently deceased. In it, Bannerman chronicles his adoption of an alien “angel,” born from a hen’s egg, which appears to be a miniature woman, with a down of feathers and tiny wings. Although he admires her beauty, his interest is not prurient; he seeks to nurse both the angel and her injured father back to good health after a botched landing on Earth. Temporarily relieved of an oppressive loneliness, he’s also humbled by her telepathic abilities and generous spirit, and in a sense becomes her pupil. When she questions him about his repeated use of the word “angel,” he explains that an angel is a vision of humanity as something better than itself, something it cannot be.
One of her species’s remarkable gifts is the ability to absorb (a kind of upload) memories so that a dying being is “saved” forever in the collective or virtual memory. She demonstrates on a dying pet, and on her father, whose injuries cannot be repaired. However, the process erases any memories that have been transferred, and the process must be completed before the being dies; thus, for a sentient being who gives consent, the transfer could be viewed as suicide. He consents to be transferred in order to allow her to continue her research on his species, but it is not clear whether his personality will survive, intact, in the collective memory. His journal entries reflect that the process was completed in stages, such that he recorded the experience of first losing his childhood, then his adult years.
Comments: Considered a classic sf novelette. The epistolary frame does not seem to serve this sensitive and unusual story, except perhaps as evidence of the callous and petty world of humans Bannerman eventually eschews. Read in A Century of Science Fiction, with an introduction by Damon Knight. Knight states, “Here is an…eloquent argument for the Eastern values of humility, love, self-sacrifice, embodied in an unforgettable story.” He contrasts it with “Day of Succession” and “The First Days of May,” in Century, which can be seen as arguments for Western values–“efficiency, decisiveness, ruthless self-interest.” For one possible approach to this text, see the review of this and other Pangborn stories at This is So Gay, in which the commenter observes that this text is indicative of some of “Pangborn’s characteristic themes and devices: sentimentality; contempt for humanity and other “lower” species, including women; an older bachelor who befriends a superior, much younger superbeing.” He goes on to note that Pangborn’s fiction has been read to support queer readings.
Author: Wikipedia: “Edgar Pangborn (February 25, 1909 – February 1, 1976) was an American mystery, historical, and science fiction author.”