Badger, London, 1960
The blurb on the back:
Dead or alive - Martino was dynamite!
In the near future, with the Cold War having now engulfed the world, an explosion at an Allied laboratory near the frontier sees a leading research scientist 'rescued' by the Soviets and taken into safe-keeping. Following lengthy negotiations, he is returned to the Allies, which is where we join the story. And the Allied security service has a serious problem straight away. Because Lucas Martino has suffered such serious injuries that the Soviets had to perform some rather radical surgery: his left arm has been replaced by a metal one, whilst his entire head has been replaced by a metal ovoid. He can still speak, eat and smoke, he can see and hear, and his brain is intact, but he is to all intents and purposes half-machine.
And the question arises: what about the other half? Is he still safe, or has Martino gone over to the Soviets whilst in their custody? More worrying still, how can one tell that he actually is Martino? The fingerprints on his surviving right hand match, but any medical team that can do a head-replacement is perfectly capable of an arm-transplant - all the fingerprints prove is that this is Martino's right arm. What about the rest of him?
And essentially that's the book. It's a philosophical piece about the nature of human identity, and how bound up it is in the existence of a face. Does a man lose his past if he (literally) loses face? Can you trust such a man? Is human interaction possible if one party can't read the facial expressions of the other?
There's an echoing here, of course, of HG Well's Invisible Man, and Budrys makes the debt explicit, but he goes deeper in his ruminations on the subject. Not really science fiction then? No, not really. But a very nice book, and full of insights into the foibles of human society. Here he is on the fatal flaw at the heart of the security services and their practice of recruiting traitors:
I have to admit I only read this because the cover was so trashy; turned out that the book was anything but.
ENTERTAINMENT VALUE: 4/5
HIPNESS QUOTIENT: 3/5
The Falling Torch