Have you ever stopped to wonder why the world is eternally torn by war? Why men of goodwill, seeking only peace, are driven relentlessly to further disaster? In a future society, where India rules the globe and everyone chases the mighty rupee, the First Atomic War has just ended. Already the Second is clearly building. People shrug. War is man’s nature, they think. And that’s what newspaper reporter Dake Lorin thinks, too . . . until he becomes aware of the aliens living among us and discovers their sinister purpose—as well as the strange and monstrous explanation for humankind’s seemingly limitless capacity for violence and destruction.
Features a new Introduction by Dean Koontz
Praise for John D. MacDonald
“The great entertainer of our age, and a mesmerizing storyteller.”—Stephen King
“My favorite novelist of all time.”—Dean Koontz
“To diggers a thousand years from now, the works of John D. MacDonald would be a treasure on the order of the tomb of Tutankhamen.”—Kurt Vonnegut
“A master storyteller, a masterful suspense writer . . . John D. MacDonald is a shining example for all of us in the field. Talk about the best.”—Mary Higgins Clark
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
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About the Author
Date of Birth:July 24, 1916
Date of Death:December 28, 1986
Place of Birth:Sharon, PA
Place of Death:Milwaukee, WI
Education:Syracuse University 1938; M.B. A. Harvard University, 1939
Read an Excerpt
The world, Branson thought, is like that circus act of long ago, back in the sweet-colored days of childhood, when the big top was as high as the sky, and gigantic horses marched the earth.
He remembered the act. The ragged clown teetering on the high wire, clutching his misshapen hat, reeling toward destruction, catching himself in that last throat-thickening instant to flounder some more. You believed in him then. That poor dazed clown, petrified by height, yet trying with pathetic and humble courage to please the crowd, taking from the baggy clothes the white dinner plates and, fighting his fear and his constant losses of balance, managing somehow to juggle the plates. Oh, how white they had shined in the spotlights!
You could see how the awkward body would plummet to the hard earth, and you wanted to stop looking, yet could not stop. And then suddenly his balance became sure and certain. He stripped off the baggy clothes to reveal himself, taut and muscular in the spangled tights, bowing to applause. You laughed aloud into Daddy’s eyes, knowing how close you had been to tears.
Now all the men of the world watched the humble clown on the high wire. He juggled atomics, and napalm and all the hundred ways to separate the soul from the body, either quickly or very slowly. He wavered up there in the spotlights and all the eyes watched, knowing that when at last he fell, it would all be gone—the tent and the music and the elephant girls, forever and ever. He had remained up there too long. The nerves of men were ground thin and fine. You waited for him to strip off the baggy clown clothes and bow to the applause of the world. But he never did. He was caught up there, impaled for eternity on the bright shafts of the spotlights.
Once he had seen a revival of a Harold Lloyd picture. He had seen it when he was a child, at the Museum of Modern Art, and the picture, even then, had been fifty years old. The bespectacled man had been blindfolded and he was walking about in the steel beams of a building under construction, a skyscraper, back in the days when buildings stretched upward toward the sun, rather than downward into the warm safe earth.
The comedian had not known he was a dizzy height in the air. He wandered about aimlessly, arms outstretched. When he stepped off into space a girder, being hoisted up from below, would always present itself just in time to take his weight. It had been one of those Saturday showings. He remembered how all the children had screamed at the tension of that old silent film.
Maybe it was a truer analogy, because the clown was aware of his danger, and the comedian walked in an absurd innocence.
Now the Museum of Modern Art was gone, and the dwindling radiation of the area was so slight that the lead sheaths on the buses were more to impress the tourists than from any real necessity.
That had been the time, in the early seventies, when you had been certain that the clown would fall, that the beam would not arrive in time. But they had pocked one another’s cities with the new ugliness, hurled the dwindling wealth of the planet at each other for a time. Ostensibly the democracies had won. The armies had hammered their way back and forth across Europe for the third and last time. Now, as had been predicted so many times before, Europe was wasteland, physically and spiritually incapable of rising again from her knees. Vassal states, with marginal resources, struggling for meager existence.
Somehow, insanely, the world had caught itself once more—saved itself on the very brink of destruction. Of all the industrial economies left, only Pak-India, reunited, was capable of trying again. And India wasn’t interested. The astonishing effect on her standard of living as a result of the ruthless years of compulsory sterilization had given her the vigor to absorb Burma, Thailand, Ceylon, the Malay Peninsula and a rich slice of south China. Reclamation of jungle and desert gave her the most solid basis of raw materials in the world, with the exception, perhaps, of Brazil, which had but recently moved her seat of government to Buenos Aires.
It wasn’t, Branson thought, the line-up that anyone could have guessed back in the days before the war. Communism, both as a religion and as a political theory, had failed when its pie in the sky hadn’t materialized. It had failed when it had run up against man’s peculiarly basic desire to do as he damn pleased.
Each time the world tottered on the high wire, it recovered its balance in a weird and wonderful way. Now Pak-India was the king-pin democracy, with the United States trying to assure itself that it was a full partner, rather than, as was obvious to any objective person, a junior partner. Huddled together under India’s skirts were all of the nations of Europe except Spain—all the nations, including those new nations which were the result of a partitioned Russia. Also, under the same skirt, was Australia, Canada.
But the clock had turned backward and the new enemy was the old enemy all over again. Fascism—a strong triple coalition of Brazil, which had taken over three quarters of the South American continent, marching and singing under the silver banners of Garva, and North China, singing the same songs, though with oriental dissonance, under a man called Stephen Chu, and Irania, which included Arabia, Egypt, most of North Africa marching with burnoose and iron heels under the guidance of that renegade Anglo-Egyptian, George Fahdi.
The crazy years since the war had passed, and now all the strong new lines were drawn. Don’t step over my line. Look at my armies, my bomber fleets, my missile stations. Don’t step over my line.
Malthus would have called the war a failure. It killed only seven millions. And each day, Branson knew, eighty thousand new souls and mouths were added to the world. Eighty thousand net. Nearly thirty millions a year. The old ant-heap pressure, leaning on us again. The eighty thousand increment each day was a jackstraw to be placed carefully on a precarious structure. Use steady hands, there. You aren’t building it right. Build it my way. Build it my way, or else.…
The Fourth World War coming in from the deeps, rolling up in an oily way, ready to crest and smash on what was left of the world. And now, each time, it had to be the last one. Yet, somehow, it never was.
The clown world fought for balance. The comedian stepped off into space.
Branson left his desk and walked over to the window. Rent cheaply and in fear, and you get a window to look out of. An expensive office would have a clever diorama where the window would be. The psychologists had become important to underground architecture. If a man must live and work underground, it must be made to look like above-ground, because man is not a mole.
In the bright noisy dusk of New Times Square, ten stories below, the crowds moved slowly. American cars wheezed and clattered through the streets, their turbines laboring under the low-grade fuels. Here and there he could see a long glittering Taj or a Brahma, cars whose cost and upkeep were far beyond the purse of anyone who worked for wages. The Indians made the best automobiles in the world. Tata Automotive designed cars for looks and power, while what was left of Detroit had to concentrate on substitute materials, on fuel economy, on standardization of design from year to year. Some of the foreign cars, he knew, would be driven by tourists from Pak-India. It was sometimes difficult to stomach their arrogance, their conscious certainty that everything in India was better than here in the States. Far better. They had, somehow, become the brash new nation, the young giant born in ashes, rising to strength.
But, Branson knew, they had to be dealt with delicately. Their tourist rupees were sadly needed. And their embassies were powerful. Odd how, if you didn’t speak either Hindi or Tamil, they thought they could make you understand by yelling at you. Their President, Gondohl Lahl, had that same arrogance. The only product of America which India seemed to approve of wholeheartedly was the beauty of its longlegged girls.
Some of the weariness of the past year left Darwin Branson as he thought that it was barely conceivable that now, through his own efforts, the war-tide might be halted, the drums and bugles stilled. His mission had been a secret one, entrusted to him by that wise, farsighted President of the United States, Robert Enfield. From the practical point of view, it had merely been a piece of horsetrading. Enfield, and the other leaders, had known that the economy could not stand another war. India could get nowhere by demanding, and she refused to plead. The triple coalition would not deal with India directly on these matters. The United States became the sub rosa contact between them.
What Darwin Branson had seen in Buenos Aires, in Alexandria, in Shanghai, in Bombay, had convinced him, all over again, that the nature of man is good, rather than evil. There was fear all over the world. Now, at last, the era of the man of good will could be initiated.
It had been a hole and corner affair. Meetings in furtive places, in cheap offices such as this one. Two more meetings and the deal could be made. A new mutual assistance pact for the world at large. Something, at last, with meaning. Something that would unwind the hard strands of fear and give mankind breathing space again, give him time to look around.
He looked at his watch. Another twenty minutes of thought, of solitude, and they would join him. Young Dake Lorin who had been his assistant, his husky right arm during the long year of cautious dickering. And that strange Englishman, Smith, who was empowered by his Leader, George Fahdi, to make a deal. Once all the offers were in, President Gondohl Lahl could be contacted. See the concessions the others will make? And this is all they want from you. The net result will be a bettering of the standard of living in every nation involved. And that will mean an easing of the tension. He had it on good authority that Gondohl Lahl would go along with it, and he knew that Smith would be cooperative.
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