Friday, June 13, 2008

Aaron's Book of the Week :: Who? by Algis Budrys

Who?The Book of the Week is Who? by Algis Budrys, in honor of Mr. Budrys, who passed away Monday at the age of 77. (Incidentally, it was not really my intent to use BOTW as an SF/F obituary column, but it seems there are just too many authors, editors, and artists I admire who are now in their 70s, 80s, and 90s to avoid it.)

This is the first printing, paperback original of Who?, published exactly 50 years ago, with cover art by Robert V. Engel. In Who?, an American scientist traveling behind the Iron Curtain is badly injured, and Soviet doctors use cybernetic technology to save his life. But when he returns home, no one is sure if he can still be trusted or if the Soviets have brainwashed, modified, or even entirely replaced the man they knew. In its use of cybernetics, Who? prefigured The Six Million Dollar Man, but Budrys applied the concept to craft a political thriller with some interesting commentary on the Cold War mentality. The Cold War featured prominently in much of Budrys's writing, no doubt because it profoundly affected Budrys's life. Budrys was born in Lithuania and came to the United States in 1936 when his father was consul-general. His family was then exiled in America when the Soviet Union seized control of Lithuania.

Who? was made into a film starring Elliott Gould, originally called Who? but re-released under the absurd title Robo Man. This is one of two films based on Algis Budrys works; the other is To Kill a Clown, starring Alan Alda as a Vietnam vet who goes berserk. Both films are now rather obscure -- I couldn't find either at Netflix.

Who? was a nominee for the Hugo Award for Best Novel of 1958, reflecting Budrys's rapid emergence as one of the leading authors of the science fiction field. Budrys had only a few years earlier sold his first story, appearing in next week's Magazine of the Week.

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