Design a site like this with
Get started

A Wonderful Mystery Solved About My Favorite “Solitary” SF Story

Back in September 2020, I read a great story, “Bircher“, by A. A. Walde, an author I had never heard about of. It was originally published in Worlds of If, July 1966. I don’t own that issue, so I am pretty sure the first time I read it was in “World’s Best Science Fiction: 1967” Terry Carr & Donald A. Wollheim editors, 1967 Ace Books. My Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Fiction group on Facebook had voted to read that anthology, and I read it in September 2020. I suspect I picked up “World’s Best Science Fiction: 1967” in 2020, but I could have equally well bought it in the 1970s. I don’t know.

I found “Bircher” to a fascinating, future, partly outer space detective story, with a protagonist in a detective-like role. My initial thoughts about “Bircher” were, “Wow. Great, great story, rather implacable and matter of fact. I never did figure out why the protagonist hates himself, but I do suspect he was a reformed antisocial or criminal perhaps. Reminded me a bit of Mickey Spillane. Looking in ISFDB, this was the only story published by A.A. Walde.” My rating for “Bircher” was 4.3/5, or “Superlative”, and just a step below “A Classic”. (see here for my rating scheme)

I also enjoyed the story illustrations by Jack Gaughan in If, one of my favorite illustrators of speculative fiction from that era.

This was not the best story in the anthology. Carr and Wollheim had included several classics (IMHO), including Bob Shaw’s “Light of Other Days“, Frederik Pohl’s “Day Million“, and Philip K. Dick’s “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale“. These were all better than “Bircher”.

Still, this was one hell of a story for someone I had never heard of. I’ve been reading speculative fiction, more science fiction than anything else, for almost 55 years. I’m very capable of forgetting stories and authors from long ago that I have not encountered recently, but I don’t think that is the case here.

The Internet Speculative Fiction Database (ISFDB) is one of my favorite, go-to sources for information about books, stories and authors of speculative fiction. I’ve written about these kinds of resources here. I found very little information. “Bircher” is the only title given for author “A. A. Walde”. There was no other information on Walde there or at most other typical speculative fiction information sources such as the Science Fiction Encyclopedia (SFE).

This set me attempting to find more information about A. A. Walde and “Bircher”. Since I’d kind of struck out at ISFDB and SFE, I just Googled them.

I did discover that there had been more than a few speculations over a long time that “A. A. Walde” was a pseudonym of some other well known SF author. This has not been uncommon in the speculative fiction field, especially in that era. There are typically three reasons for this: 1) the editor does not want it to look like there are two or more stories by one author in a magazine; 2) the author does not want to be known as a writer of speculative fiction or has some other reason to remain anonymous (think William Tenn, Cordwainer Smith and James Tiptree, Jr., for instance); and 3) some authors and publishers like to use a pseudonym for branding a different kind of fiction than the author is typically known for. Occasionally, a pair of authors will collaborate under a joint name, such as the “James S. A. Corey” name used by Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck for their “Expanse” works.

I immediately struck paydirt with a pair of 2019 posts by columnist Mark E. Flanagan at the website of The Sun Chronicle, the daily newspaper from Attleboro, Massachusetts. There was first “Catching up on an overdue piece of reading“, Jan 4, 2019, and then “Column settles mystery“, April 5, 2019.

Mark E. Flanagan is the nephew of the writer of “Bircher”. Mark graduated high school about the time “Bircher” was published. He knew that his uncle had published a science fiction story, but had not really thought anything more about it or read it. He was not a particular fan of SF and had other things to do with his life.

Life went on for Flanagan. To quote his January 4, 2019 column, “The story came to mind several times over the next 52 years, but I couldn’t be bothered tracking it down in a used book store. I did finally in the 2018 Christmas shopping season — not too long a wait, I hope, to tell the local-man-makes-good story represented by Warren Lindgren.” That established that “A. A. Walde” was a pseudonym for his uncle Warren Lindgren.

A little research online and at confirmed a number of things about Warren Lindgren. His full name was “Warren Bertil Lindgren”. He was born on July 26, 1933, in Attleboro, Massachusetts. He died on November 18, 1995. “Bircher” was his only published fiction.

Flanagan’s April 5, 2019 column recounts the story of how Welsh fan Greg Pickersgill reached out to Flanagan, and noted himself as one of the fans who had wondered for decades who “A. A. Walde” was. Flanagan was pleased that his uncle might finally get recognition he was due.

After reading these columns, I updated the “A. A. Walde” entry at ISFDB to give his real name and the other main facts of life. I had several questions, and Mark Flanagan was very gracious at answering them via email and provided me with an additional family photo.

Warren B. Lindgren HS Yearbook

Mr. Lindgren graduated from Attleboro High School in 1951. The nickname under his yearbook photo was “the professor”, which was probably not meant to be complementary. He was a member of the Video Club, responsible for school audio video.

He hoped to go to Atlantic Union College in nearby Lancaster MA. However, Flanagan told me that he instead “spent two years at the University of Rhode Island before the money ran out.” US Department of Military Affairs records showed service in the US Army between March and August 1953, perhaps when the Korean War was winding down.

Flanagan mentioned that his uncle purchased monthly copies of “Analog” and “Fantasy and Science Fiction” SF magazines and books from local stores, Cooper’s, Densmore’s, and Blackburn’s. His interest in science fiction probably started in the 1940s, and certainly endured through the 1960s.

Flanagan writes about his uncle, “Walde never published another story. It’s easy for me to imagine that he proved his point — he could call himself a published sci fi author — and moved on. But the depiction of the narrator/homicide commissioner as a depressed man battling with his own will to live while solving a crime reminds me of the circumstances of Lindgren’s life at the time he wrote ‘Bircher.’

His mother, my grandmother, had become seriously ill in 1963. Keeping her out of the nursing home forced him to take a lower-paying job to be closer to home and tend to her needs. He had little life to call his own for the next several years. Writing ‘Bircher’ gave him means to work out his own despair.”

Flanagan also writes about how the sense of place found in “Bircher” and some of the conflicts in it were Lindgren writing what he knew.

Here is a photo of Warren Bertil Lindgren from about the same time as “Bircher” was published, in the mid-1960s. My thanks to Mark Flanagan for this photo and all of his help and information. Any errors and mistakes are my responsibility.

I don’t have any better thoughts than these about Lindgren and his writing a single, great story, “Bircher”. I agree with Flanagan that perhaps Lindgren wanted to show he could do it, and he did it, and that was enough for him.

According to Flanagan, Warren Bertil Lindgren was active in the Masons and was employed by the Internal Revenue Service.

Updated content starts: Flanagan was also able to fill me in on the place of science fiction in Warren Lindgren’s later life. He was sure that Lindgren remained a faithful reader of Analog and science fiction paperbacks through at least 1986, and probably longer. Also, and this is very telling about Lindgren, Flanagan mentioned that Lindgren was a big fan of both Philip K. Dick and of Ursula K. Le Guin. There were probably many other authors Lindgren was a fan of, but this was not a common subject of conversation between Flanagan and his uncle.

It’s very possible that Lindgren encountered Philip K. Dick‘s work before he published “Bircher” in 1966, given the fairly substantial published work by Dick in both magazines and novels by then. Dick had also won the Hugo Award for the 1962 novel “The Man in the High Castle“. Even in that era, this did make Dick more visible and well known. Given the arc of Dick’s career, Lindgren could have known of him before publishing “Bircher” and become more enamored of him after.

Although Ursula K. Le Guin had started publishing speculative fiction and SF with “April in Paris” in Fantastic Stories of Imagination, September 1962, “The Masters” in the Fantastic Stories of Imagination, February 1963, and her first Hainish SF story in “The Dowry of Angyar” (AKA “Semley’s Necklace”) in Amazing Stories, September 1964 (along with other short fiction), her first novels (“Rocannon’s World ” and “Planet of Exile“) were published in 1966 at about the same time as “Bircher” was published. While I am fond of “Rocannon’s World” and “Planet of Exile”, I believe Warren Lindgren’s admiration for Ursula K. Le Guin and her fiction flowered after 1966. End of updated content.

He died in 1995. I have not found an obituary so far; Flanagan thought he did one for the Sun Chronicle, but I have not located a copy. Sometimes obituaries can be very insightful about both a person and their life. If one ever turns up, I might update this post further.

For me, this is a classic case of “What might have been?” While not a perfect story, “Bircher” was one hell of a story, especially when you consider it as the only story by Lindgren. After reprints in “World’s Best Science Fiction: 1967”, If (UK) May 1967, and the German SF magazine “Science Fiction Stories 27”, it has become obscure, and undeservedly so for me. We can only wonder what other stories Lindgren might have written? I would have liked to have found out.

Bircher” by A. A. Walde (Warren Bertil Lindgren) is my favorite “solitary” SF story, where the author has not published any other fiction. Other solitary stories that I love include “A Subway Named Moebius“, a short story by A. J. Deutch, Astounding December 1950 (in the same issue as “Bindlestiff” by James Blish!) , and “The Albian Message“, a short story by Oliver Morton, from Nature, December 1, 2005. All three of them are recommended. Please let me know if you have other favorite “solitary” stories!

Because they are solitary science fiction stories (i.e., the only story of published fiction by an author), they also qualify as first published stories for me. I’ve written about two of them in “Dave’s Favorite First Stories of Science Fiction“. I probably would have included “The Albian Message”, but I read it well after I wrote that post.

Finally, thanks to James Wallace Harris, one of those operating the very useful “Classics of Science Fiction” website. He nominated “World’s Best Science Fiction: 1967” for a group read which led to me reading “Bircher”. Jim was pretty complementary about “Bircher” when we read it, stating “‘Bircher’ is an impressive story, especially considering it was A. A. Walde’s first and last story. It’s a shame he didn’t write more. I expected it to be a dud after I saw on ISFDB that it hasn’t been reprinted since this collection and one German translation. It does have some problems. For a mystery, it doesn’t give the reader the clues to solve the case. Walde does give us enough clues so I was able to guess the culprit, but not how or why. All the details were there, but I don’t think any way to put them together. On the other hand, there is a damn lot of speculation about the future American society that’s quite fascinating. By the way, I had that issue of IF as a kid because I remember loving the James Blish serial, ‘The Hour Before Earthrise,’ and the serial ‘Earthblood’ by Keith Laumer and Rosel George Brown.”

I’m fond of “Earthblood” (we lost Rosel George Brown way too soon), so Jim’s citing that was an added bonus. Jim did have a further or question thought about “Bircher” and did some Google searching. He discovered that he had written a 2016 blog post that discussed and considered reading “Bircher” as non-essential before he had ever read it, in “The Calculus of Collecting Science Fiction Short Stories“. It’s a great essay, and typical of what I expect from him. This kind of thing could happen to any of us.


2 responses to “A Wonderful Mystery Solved About My Favorite “Solitary” SF Story”

  1. Dave — this is a very cool story, and sad in its way. I know I read “Bircher” in that WORLD’S BEST SF long ago, and the title has stuck with me, but I don’t remember any more. I need to reread it.
    I think I can come up with more “Solitary” stories but I’ll have to ponder for a while. A good example of “Dual” stories is “Raphael Carter” — who published an exceptional novel, THE FORTUNATE FALL, and an impressive short story, “Congenital Agenesis of Gender Ideation”, back in the ’90s, then fell silent. But perhaps this won’t be a “Dual” story for long — “Carter” is now Cameron Reed, and is apparently working on more fiction.


    1. Rich, thanks. I’ll be looking forward to your “solitary” stories. I know there are more out there.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: