Sunday, May 9, 2010

Paperback 311: Who? / Algis Budrys (Pyramid G339)

Paperback 311: Pyramid G339 (1st ptg, 1958)

Title: Who?
Author: Algis Budrys
Cover artist: Robert V. Engel

Yours for: $10

Best things about this cover:
  • Hard to snark — this is one of my favorite scifi covers of all time. That creeptastic design on the robot face is fantastic. Looks like Crow from "MST3K," but way more disturbing.
  • The hands on this thing are probably the second-most striking element — they look remarkably alike; very expressive. Amazing articulation in that prosthetic hand. Looks like he might have a large sausage or loaf of bread in those clown trousers of his. Very alarming — and he's coming Right At You — into the heart of the "Allied Sphere." Searchlight + barbed wire completes the dystopic effect. Great design all around.

Best things about this back cover:

  • See, this designer knew what the real money shot was on that front cover — The Hand!
  • Seriously, I have to give it to Pyramid on this one. The blurbs are gripping and unhilarious. This book may actually go onto my "Read It Someday, You Lazy Oaf" pile.

Page 123~

"But I'll tell you something, Mr. Rogers—" He turned suddenly and faced across the barn. The light was behind him and Rogers saw only his silhouette—the body lost in the shapeless, angular drape of the coveralls, the shoulders square, and the head round and featureless. "Even so, people don't like machines. Machines don't talk and tell you their troubles. Machines don't do anything but what they're made for. They sit there, doing their jobs, and one looks like another—but it may be breaking up inside. It may be getting ready to not plow your field, or not pump your water, or throw a piston into your lap. It might be getting ready to do anything—so people are afraid of them, a little bit, and won't take the trouble to understand them, and they treat them badly. So the machines break down more quickly, and people trust them less, and mistreat them more. So the manufacturers say, 'What's the use of building good machines? The clucks'll only wreck 'em anyway,' and build flimsy stuff, so there're very few good machines being made any more. And that's a shame."

Possibly the best "Page 123" excerpt I've ever offered up. Congrats to Algis Budrys for bringing class and dignity to this blog. Next week, more boobs and bad writing, I promise!


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rwelty said...

Who? is an SF genre classic. Budrys is one of the great underrated SF writers of the late 50s and early 60s; his Rogue Moon is a touch better than Who?, but only a touch so.

Random White Guy said...

Perhaps because, as you pointed out, the face resembles Crow T. Robot is the reason this cover doesn't work for me. Rather than menacing, the robot head looks kind of silly. And the artificial hand appears to have a bad case of RA.

Mark Layton said...

My first reaction was: "Wow! Great cover and even better page 123 excerpt." My second reaction: "Domo arigato Mr. Roboto!"

Graham Powell said...

rwelty was right, this is a terrific book. MICHALMAS, which came along much later, is also pretty good.

Lisa in Oz said...

Loving this cover and the excerpt - I think I may actually need to read this one!

Frank said...

Not to dare question your metadata, Rex, but the back covers says the cover artist is Robert V. Engel, not Mort Engle.

Rex Parker said...

Robert V. Engel. Yes. Long story how I screwed that one up. I'll fix it. Thx.

Alix said...

"Algis Budrys" must be an anagram for something...

Unknown said...

Great cover! I'm wondering if the mask has been derived from Michael Rennie's first appearance in "The Day the Earth Stood Still", or whether it's the general Henry Moore style futurism of the period.

Michael Rennie be here:

The GI in the background appears remarkably relaxed, considering there's a rampaging cyborg just ten metres in front of him.

Sean Brodrick said...

Read the darned book! It's a classic!

rwelty said...

look what just turned up on Fredrick Pohl's blog (and Algis is his real first name, he's from Lithuania):

Rex Parker said...


Cool, thanks.

That story makes Heinlein sound like a *total* asshole.

rwelty said...

he probably was.
i just did some quick research, and at the least Heinlein wasn't paying attention to most other writers in the late 50s-early 60s. my evidence:
Who? by Algis Budrys, 1959 Hugo nominee for best novel
Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein, 1960 Hugo winner for best novel
Rogue Moon by Algis Budrys, 1961 Hugo nominee for best novel
Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein, 1962 Hugo winner for best novel
Evidently Heinlein wasn't aware of who was writing reviews for his buddy Fred Pohl at Galaxy, and couldn't be bothered to look into it.

Sean Brodrick said...

Rwelty, thanks very much for the link. Now I need to see what Budrys wrote about Stranger in a Strange Land. Heinlein's letter to Pohl sounds tempting, but I've read the paranoid rants of people I respected them before, and I respected them less afterward. So, I'll pass on Heinlein's complaint. I'd still love to read Budry's original critique of Stranger, though.

rwelty said...

hard to say where you'd find it.
i never read Budry's book reviews in Galaxy, but for a number of years he was the principal reviewer for F&SF, and became my favorite SF book reviewer. his reviews were always substantive, well thought out, thorough, and showed great familiarity with the field. he was never afraid to devote an entire column to one book if he felt it deserved it, and if he didn't like the books in hand, he'd do something about it. for example, he reviewed Gene Wolfe's The Shadow of the Torturer while it was still in galleys.