Dr Hawk is one of the world’s smartest minds, and he’s dedicated his life towards exploring a bizarre lunar structure that is millions of years old. Using a teleporter (actually a long range atomic duplicator), he can allow terrestrials to enter the structure, but no one survives for more than five minutes. For the time the victims exist inside the phenomenon they share their consciousness with their originals on Earth, but the originals are driven insane by experiencing the death of their copies. Only one man, uber-dare-devil Barker may possess the drive and bravery to undergo the mapping of the mysterious enigma.
Budrys doesn’t waste time getting to the big questions about life, death and identity and his book shines brightest when crashing the readers against the monumental scope of his ideas, emotions, locations and mysteries. This book is sure to make you think on some weighty issues and to feel the impact of the character’s quandaries.
Hawk and Barker are both intentionally larger than life, and they make good stand-ins for the extreme limits of mankind’s abilities and drives (although they don’t always materialize as fully fleshed nuanced characters). Budrys gives us occasional anecdotes from the character’s past that are, at first, somewhat off-putting due to their tangential nature, but provide some needed depth and character complexity.
Burdrys’ pacing is blindingly fast, and we hardly have time to digest the magnitude of what we’ve read before something new and important takes place. The rush continues even through the climax and the deliciously intense coda.
Minor characters are left noticeably on the wayside, especially Hawk’s girlfriend who is left without a single speck of characterization or detail although we are asked to share an emotional connection with her. Barker’s girlfriend is every 50’s/60’s sexist sci-fi cliché but at least her character provides some interesting comments on humankind. Even the main characters never let us inside their heads and the readers must content themselves with gaining insights from their actions and well-written, highly-observant speeches.
The climax is actually one of the weakest moments, feeling somewhat more drug-inspired than profound, but this is one book that isn’t short on profundity.