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|Genre||Science fiction novel|
|Media type||Print (hardback & paperback)|
The novel is set in the near future (at least at the time of writing, now actually in past time).
The public image of the eponymous protagonist, Laurent Michaelmas, is that of a world-renowned newsman. In fact, Michaelmas controls world events just as much as he reports them. His means of influence is an immensely powerful self-aware artificial intelligence called Domino, which originated as a modest telephony appliance in Michaelmas' youth. Over the years, Domino has evolved into a digital omnipresence that can penetrate and control any electronic or computerized equipment, most notably communication networks of all kinds. Domino was created by Michaelmas, and its existence is known only to him.
Domino is also the confidante and intellectual sparring partner of Michelmas, compensating in part for the loss that Michaelmas suffered when his wife was killed in an accident many years ago.
By the time of the novel, Laurent Michaelmas has successfully used his power to create and sustain world peace. One of his achievements is the success of UNAC (the fictitious United Nations Astronautics Commission). Organizing space travel as a joint international project, UNAC is important to Michaelmas as a symbol of a more united world. When an astronaut believed to have been killed in a failed mission turns up miraculously saved, a threatening scenario starts to unfold. As the novel progresses, Michaelmas slowly learns that a possible extraterrestrial presence may be interfering with the new world he has worked so hard to create.
The novel is not only a fast-paced political/sci-fi thriller, but is also remarkable for its prescience, because it appeared less than a decade into the Internet era, long before its current prominence and ubiquity. The technical descriptions of near future technologies are very convincing and apparently well researched. Its description of journalism and its professional culture are likewise highly developed, mainly due to the late Budrys' residence near Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism, which appears several times in the book.
Throughout the book, many references are made to classical works of art, theater, poetry and philosophy.
The novel incorporates features of a substantially shorter and significantly different version published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction in 1976.