The Falling Torch
Pyramid, New York, 1972
To Richard McKenna and Theodore Thomas
dedication: To Richard McKenna and Theodore Thomas
The blurb on the back:
Their mission was simple - and suicidal
Let's do alternative history: imagine that Germany had invaded Britain in 1940, occupied the country for twenty-odd years while the British government had gone into exile in America. That's essentially the situation here, but set in the 25th century. Humanity has colonised Cheiron, a planet four light years away, with the colonists then establishing their own empire; still human in origin, they have long drifted from their cultural roots on Earth. So when Earth is invaded by aliens, the government flees into exile on Cheiron and impotently plans a return home, hoping against hope that the administration on this foreign planet will actively intervene to assist their cause.
The story concerns the fate of the son of the last President of Earth, now in his late-twenties, who volunteers to take a consignment of arms back to the planet he left as a baby, to arm the resistance and lead them in a revolt against the alien occupiers. But, as with Who?, Algis Budrys isn't really over-concerned with the science fiction elements of the tale at all. The real core of the book is the passage of a young man into adulthood, the finding of his own character and direction in life, and ultimately his break with the legacy of his father. Set against that deliberate evocation of Nazi occupation, the primary theme is one of generational identity: linking, in other words, the immediate past of the Second World War with the dawning of the Sixties.
And it's very good indeed. Our hero, Michael Wireman, is a misfit, an outsider in classic beat tradition, unable to find a place for himself on his adopted planet, or in the resistance or in the society created by the Invaders on Earth. It's not until he can piece together his own understanding of what it means to be a leader - and a leader in a new style, not that of his father's generation - that he can establish where he fits.
Along the way, there is a whole heap of good sense talked, and some sharp observations of and insights into humanity and human society. Here, for example, is Budrys reflecting on an Invader soldier:
Somewhere along the way in the last few years, we seem to have lost sight of this truth.
As I understand it, Mr Budrys is regarded as one of the great science fiction writers. I'm hardly in a position to comment on that, but it does seem to me that - like the best creators of SF - he is more concerned with human beings than with technology or hardware, and certainly reveals more about the present than the future. Intelligent and entertaining - a fine combination.
ENTERTAINMENT VALUE: 4/5
HIPNESS QUOTIENT: 3/5