This novel is better than its story line might suggest, and it won the 1955 International Fantasy Award. Its interest for the contemporary reader rests on two points: its social projections and its moral level. It credibly reflects mid-1950’s anxieties about nuclear war, Communist aggression, and that most troubling of modern ailments, alienation from society.
One of the ironies put forth is that Salvayan society takes the nuclear destruction of its oldest and most beautiful city—an ocean city near Bikini atoll—calmly and rationally, without losing affection for humanity. Another period anxiety is reflected in the book’s fascination with aliens who are potentially everywhere, watching the people of Earth and recording their every move. This work is not, however, a sociological treatise. One might expect that a race that has kept to itself for thirty millennia would exhibit some distinctive cultural features other than a few unusual names, but Pangborn provides no consistently alien psychology, language, or even motivation.
Setting aside for a moment Namir’s insistence that he was driven to his schemes, he has clearly fallen into evil for its own sake and pursues schemes that are vicious and petty. As a renegade, he visited Tibet long enough to murder a youngster who may have been an incarnation of Buddha. Namir wants to corrupt Angelo simply because he has nothing better to do.
This makes for a fundamental flaw in the...
(The entire section is 486 words.)