Bleg: The Universal Pantograph

Just finished re-reading (for the nth time) Masque World, the third volume of Alexei Panshin’s Anthony Villiers tetralogy (starting with Star Well and The Thurb Revolution). Looking forward to reading the concluding volume, The Universal Pantograph.

Problem is, that book has never been published. Panshin is still alive and writing. According to Wikipedia, The Universal Pantograph was held up by “conflicts between the writer and his publisher.” The publisher was Ace, the same outfit that pirated The Lord of the Rings, so it’s easy to imagine that they tried to cheat Panshin somehow and he put his foot down.

It’s also easy to believe that Panshin found he couldn’t deliver on the tremendous promises he’d effectively made in the first three volumes. (Cf. Roger Zelazny, whose reputation would be higher if he’d dropped the Amber series after Nine Princes. “Better to remain silent …” .) But if the book exists in any form, there would have to be a substantial market for it, and of course the cost of on-line publication is epsilon. Now that Ace is part of Penguin, perhaps the instinct to chisel has subsided.

Surely there’s a back-story here. Does any reader know what it is?

Update Answered. See comments. The series was outlined at seven books. There’s a manuscript of the fourth, but apparently it’s not much good, and Panshin gave up. Too bad!


  1. toby says

    I can’t answer the question but I have another one.

    Will George Martin ever get to the end of the War of Ice and Fire sequence? The Mean Time Between Books has been gradually lengthening.

  2. joel hanes says

    I’ve long owned the other two, but just last month finally found and read Star Well.
    (If there’s ever a fourth, I’ll buy it.)

    Rite of Passage is a best-of-genre treat, because of Panshin’s voice.

    • valuethinker says

      Seconded on Rite of Passage.

      Heinlein squared. All the charm of Heinlein, but with far more rounded characters and moral complexity.

      • valuethinker says

        And Michael Kurland ‘Princes of Earth’ which could have been a series, but didn’t.

        Never made it to paperback. But if you liked Rite of Passage, well worth hunting out (Kurland wrote several novels ‘about juveniles’ which ring strongly– Psi Hunt and Pluribus come to mind).

  3. says

    “It’s also easy to believe that Panshin found he couldn’t deliver on the tremendous promises he’d effectively made in the first three volumes.”

    Only tangentially related, but *SPOILER ALERT* note that Philip Pullman solved this particular problem in the “His Dark Materials” trilogy by concluding the narrative with his protagonists KILLING GOD.

    That is all.

  4. mike shupp says

    I don’t know, but I’ll offer four semi-plausible suggestions:

    1. Panshin brought out HEINLEIN IN DIMENSION in 1968, about the time the first four of his novels (including three of the Villers books) came out. Heinlein, it might be recalled, took extreme umbrage and was snarling about lawsuits against Panshin and his publishers for a year or two. It’s conceivable that Ace Books took a bit of fright and decided to postpone publishing more of Panshin’s fiction, for a shorter or longer period. (I concede this sounds a bit extreme, but Ace took a lot of criticism in the mid 1960s for its unauthorized publication of the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, and the possibility that RAH might try to promote a fanish boycott of the publisher was bot to be overlooked.)

    2. Panshin may have tired of the series. Alternately his editors may have decided the 4th book was weak. This happens.

    3. At about this time (1971) two top editors, Donald Wolheim and Terry Carr, left Ace for other ventures. There’s a good chance that the editors, from acquisition to copy editing, who took over didb;t care the much for Panshin’s fiction and took the opportunity to kill it. This also happens.

    4. Most likely is that a slump in the early 1970′s publishing world led to very large cutbacks in most genre paperback lines. A number of “prestige” writers at the time were demoted to mid-list ranks; mid-list authors got dropped or were pushed into writing for genre audiences; a number of low-quality or low-selling genre authors got dropped. Panshin’s RITE OF PASSAGE had serious impressed people; the Villers books were generally seen as mindless enertainment — precisely the sort of thing publishers were trying to eliminate at the time.

    So, my guess is, some combination of all of these were involved. But you’d have to ask Panshin or someone at Ace to get an actual answer.

    • valuethinker says

      Irony is ‘Heinlein in Dimension’ more or less played out.

      Heinlein got didactic, and the quality of his novels just fell of the earth. After Stranger in a Strange Land, I can’t think of anything he wrote that I managed to finish.

      Flashes of the old RAH. Bits in Time Enough for Love. Some of the chapters in Number of the Beast. Friday is unsatisfying (Stross’ Saturday’s Children, or Willis’ ‘Light Raid’ does it better). Funny how Heinlein managed to like anti-libertarian *Canada* at the end of his life. I’ve always argued Canada is more or less the small c conservative’s dream (‘Peace, order and good government’ rather than ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’).

      But generally it was straight down (I didn’t like Glory Road that much, either). If you draw a line through your reading of Heinlein with Stranger, you’ve had the best of him.

      I think Panshin more or less predicted that?

  5. Anderson says

    Uh, what? The next 4 Amber books were good, even if #5 was spotty. I thought it was the last 5 books that were regarded as better left unwritten.

  6. Mark Kleiman says

    The question in my mind isn’t why the book wasn’t published forty years ago; the question is why it hasn’t been published since.

    As to the Amber series, to my eye some of the sequels were competent, but the first was magical.

    • Anonymous says

      The first book has no ending to speak of! I finished it, threw it against the far wall, and went to buy books 2-5.

      Anyway Zelazny has more to stand upon. “Lord of Light”is still pretty amazing, and 2d-rate Zelazny still beats most of his fellows.

      • valuethinker says

        The first novel in particular is really only half a novel.

        Nowadays the economics would say write a 450 page novel. Zelazny, never a verbose writer, made 5 x 225 page novels– which I suspect was the publishing economics of the time: 9 Princes in Amber is half of the first novel.

        I can still remember the raw thrill, home sick from school one day, of discovering it, and spent the next few days devouring the 3 or 4 then in print, and the months waiting for the 5th. Probably the 5th is getting to the weak point. And yes, the series should not have been revived, but the commercial pressure was probably irresistable.

  7. MobiusKlein says

    OT: previous thread comments still disabled, at least for anon folks like myself.

    • says

      A check of Amazon shows that the three books have “reprinted” in electronic, Kindle form and are available for less than $7.

      Unfortunately, the L.A. Public Library doesn’t list any copies in its catalog.