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Monday, July 5, 2010

Falling Torch by Algis Budrys

  • The Earth's government, now graying and pleasantly employed on Cheiron, has been in exile from invaders for twenty years. Few are even motivated to liberate Earth any longer. Michael Wireman, son of Earth's president, joins a group of rebels to liberate Earth. The leaders, however, are self-serving (engaging in battles only to pay back a man who insulted him) instead of focusing on the job of liberation. So Wireman goes to join the Invaders, to belong within any framework of humanity. But even here there's vague dissatisfaction in that the people lack freedom and power to do what they would like with their lives. Moreover, the invader society lacks a place for Wireman, so Wireman is forced to foment his own rebellion.
  • This is a fun, rollicking one: Young man learns he has more to him than he thought. Events lead him to self-discovery.
  • This reads almost like a prescription for how to overthrow your invaders in a cold-war world.
  • John Clute in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction calls this discursive and that it "asks of its generic structure rather more significance than generic structures of this kind have perhaps been designed to bear." It has moments of discursiveness, but they all flow out of the narrative, making them interesting to read. Contrast Heinlein's Starship Troopers to Stranger in a Strange Land, where the former's discursiveness is interesting due to its narrative and the latter is interesting as a philosophical tract or as a cultural document of the 60s). Falling Torch falls into the Starship Troopers camp. The speculation is perhaps more subtle and psychological/sociological (who is a man? what is his potential? where does he belong in society?) than futuristic science and technology, but the plot is quite a ride, making the second read enjoyable, not to mention worth plundering for thought.
  • Steven Silver writes, "most of [Michael Silverman's] growth is either behind the scenes or only comes into play when it is needed." True, but this struck me as part of the novel's point: We learn and grow as we go. You have to do it on the fly. We have the information we need to succeed: We just have to put together who we are for ourselves when it's needed, reminescent of the notions presented in Malcolm Gladwell's Blink.
  • As a critique of the Cold War era, it's objective and relentless. The invaders are much kinder than expected but destroy freedom through prescribed occupations (what if you want a different occupation than the one they tell you you're best suited for?). The Centaurian leaders are well-meaning but self-serving. And the rebel leaders are corrupt.
  • History: 20th Century, Eastern European, Cold War, etc.
  • It might prove fruitful to compare this to Milan Kundera's Unbearable Lightness of Being--although these have different perspective (Kundera's view of life on the inside).

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