Who? (novel)

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Cover of first paperback edition
Author Algis Budrys
Country United States
Language English
Genre Science fiction novel
Publisher Pyramid Books
Publication date
Media type Print (Hardcover & Paperback)
Pages 157

Who? (1958) by Algis Budrys is an American science fiction novel set during the Cold War.

Plot summary[edit]

In the historical development leading up to the book's plot – a future history at the time of writing, which can now be considered a kind of retroactive alternate history – the Cold War led to the Eastern and Western blocs fusing into two unified super-states during the 1970s (the Western super-state is styled the "Allied Nations Government", the Eastern super-state is apparently a continuation of the Soviet Union with Chinese participation, with its capital at the fictional Novoya Moskva) and remaining locked in an endless permanent confrontation into the foreseeable future. Actual events seem to have diverged from this scenario with the Sino-Soviet rift and confrontation of the late 1950s and early 1960s, not long after the book's publication.

An explosion resulting from an experiment gone awry rocks an Allied research facility near the border with the Soviet Bloc. A Soviet team abducts Dr. Lucas Martino, a leading Allied physicist in charge of a secret, high-priority project called K-88.

Several months later, under American pressure, the Soviet officials finally hand over an individual, claiming that he is Dr. Martino. The man has undergone extensive surgery for his injuries. He has a mechanical arm advanced beyond any produced in the West. More importantly, his head is now a nearly featureless metal skull, a kind of extreme craniofacial prosthesis. A medical evaluation reveals that several of the man's internal organs are also artificial. His biological arm and its hand's fingerprints are identified as Martino's, but this may be the result of an arm and hand transplantation. The Allies are suspicious that the Soviets have sent them a technologically altered spy and are holding the real Martino for further interrogation.

Modern cover for the novel

The struggle to determine the man's true identity is the novel's central conflict. In the end, Shawn Rogers, the agent given the task, is unable to reach a conclusion. The man is released, but kept under surveillance and barred from working on physics projects. Later, when progress bogs down on the K-88 project, Rogers is sent to ask him to come back to work. The man refuses to go, and when finally asked directly if he is Lucas Martino, denies it. It is implied that his experiences have led to an existential crisis and loss of identity.

Budrys tells the story in alternating chapters. Every second chapter relates part of Lucas Martino's life, highlighting his family, his struggle to support a career in physics, and his dalliances in romance. The young man spent his formative years in an Italian American New Jersey farm community (with English as his second language), then works his way through the City College of New York, and graduate studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The last part of the novel tells what happened on the Soviet side. It takes many weeks for doctors to save Martino's life. Soviet interrogator Anastas Azarin has little time to work with and is thrown off by the prisoner's expressionless appearance. An attempt was actually made to replace Martino with a Soviet agent (his former MIT roommate, who knew him well enough to take on the role), and who was to disappear in a staged air crash, but this fails.

Characters in Who?[edit]

  • Dr. Lucas Martino, a kidnapped physicist
  • Shawn Rogers, the Allied intelligence agent assigned to determine the identity of the released man
  • Anastas Azarin, the Soviet agent who interrogates Martino

Film adaptation[edit]

Directed by Jack Gold
Produced by Barry Levinson
Kurt Berthold (co-producer)
Written by Algis Budrys (novel)
John Gould
Distributed by British Lion Films
Release dates
Running time
93 minutes
Country US
Language English

The novel was turned into a 1973 film with the same title (aka The Man in the Steel Mask or Roboman in some video releases), directed by Jack Gold, starring Elliott Gould as Sean Rogers, Trevor Howard as Colonel Azarin and Joseph Bova as Lucas Martino.


External links[edit]