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Who? Paperback – 1964
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Continuing with my recently acquired collection of old(er) scifi and finally a real treasure. A book that has completely lived up to its propitious reviews. Originally published in 1958 and yes it is dated, but only insomuch as conflict between Soviets and Allies (USA) is and really, have you read the news lately...So mainly it's the language that's aged, the writing itself though is terrific. Genuinely literary and reflective meditation on the nature of identity. Martino is a well drawn, interesting, genuinely sympathetic character trapped in a nightmarish situation. The book moved along at a terrific pace with plenty of drama and thriller elements and even some surprises. Great read, well written, exciting, intelligent, engaging, fun...all the things you'd want in a story. Enthusiastically recommended.
Budrys alternates chapters that address Rogers' investigation with chapters that take the reader through Dr. Martino's life. That technique enhances the story as the reader wonders whether the man we're coming to know and understand is actually the man behind behind the mask. If he is the masked man, we feel sorry for him, because the "good guys" don't trust him and won't let him resume work on K-88, the job for which he is best suited. The novel's satisfying ending lets us in on the secret of what happened while Martino was with the Soviets. In all, this is a well-structured novel that allows Budrys to explore interesting questions of trust and the meaning of identity: what is it, finally, that makes a man? That's a question with which Martino (or is it Martino?) must wrestle as he resumes his life.
WHO? is perhaps less technically satisfying than Michaelmas, which benefits from a stronger writing style, but I think it is a more intriguing novel, and the best of this fine writer's work.
Now, the flashbacks are absolutely brilliant. If one tries to read the book, skipping the "now" parts (and to be honest, the "now" is by far the inferior part of the novel) the story of Lucas Martino, physicist and owner of a Supermensa brain, unfolds in an engrossing, poignant and vivid narration. Just the part of the 18 year old Lucas Martino having a clumsy first date, will stay with you, long after you`ve read the book. Personally, I was reminded of Stephen King's more exceptional passages (and this is of course praise for King and not for Budrys).
On the downside, the western head of intelligence is quite clichéd, a man who is a chain smoker, does not sleep, etc and the same thing applies for his Soviet counterpart.