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Every Sparrow Falling


By Algis Budrys 

18 Jun, 2023

Because My Tears Are Delicious To You


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Algis Budrys’ 1977 Michaelmas is a stand-alone near-future SF novel.

In the far-off year 2000, Laurent Michaelmas is a respected journalist, the man to whom the world turns to for facts. Laurent is also the secret master of the world, the man who creates the facts on which he reports. Credit is due to Michaelmas’ hard work, diligence, and his access to the nigh-godlike AI, Domino.

Domino is Michaelmas’ creation. It can and does infiltrate every computerized system on Earth. Through Domino, Michaelmas is nigh-omniscient. Not only that: Domino can alter electronic files as well. Therefore, Michaelmas is in many senses omnipotent. Truth is what Michaelmas wants truth to be.

The world is very fortunate that the truth Michaelmas desires is a planet becoming more peaceful, one where international rivalry may still exist but produces fewer corpses. The foremost symbol of this new hopeful era is the UN Astronautics Commission (UNAC), even now preparing a crewed mission to Jupiter itself. When events threaten UNAC, Michaelmas must act.

The crisis begins with news both unbelievable and apparently true. American astronaut Walter Norwood, the designated commander of the Jupiter expedition, perished when his shuttle disintegrated during re-entry. Now the famed doctor Hannes Limberg claims that Norwood has survived and has been nursed back to health after landing fortuitously close to the Limberg Sanatorium. This cannot be true, but all other explanations seem even less plausible than Norwood’s miraculous survival.

Norwood’s reappearance raises the question of whether he will resume his role as commander. This would be a PR blow for Russia, whose Major Papashvilly assumed command on Norwood’s death. This complication is nothing compared to the crisis that would be triggered if Norwood were to reveal why his shuttle burned up: Russian sabotage!

Michaelmas’ New World Order is threatened. Someone is acting against him. Worse, whoever or whatever the player on the other side is, they are invisible to Domino … which should be impossible. At least for any human agency.


To rip the Band-Aid off quickly, I did not care for this book in 1977 and I do not care for it now. Inordinately contrived is the kindest thing I can say about it. I am willing to grant there may be no end of subtle subtexts and literary and biblical references I am missing. None of that makes up for a book that makes little sense and ends badly.

Grant journalist Michaelmas the ability to create an omnipotent AI. After all, in SF lone inventors create antigravity devices and FTL all the time. Why not AI? How convenient that the one journalist able to do this is a paragon of virtue whose secret rule therefore raises no questions about the legitimacy of what amounts to a global autocracy.

Domino aside, there is no way a space agency would reinstall a man just emerged from months of rehabilitation (especially the secret sort, conducted in an isolated facility) as head of a space mission. Astronauts have bumped over inner ear issues; death and resurrection seem even more disqualifying than potential vertigo.

Although the plot is in some ways closer to Budrys’ Who?, which also involves questions about identity and the strong possibility of Soviet shenanigans, the delivery is reminiscent of Rogue Moon, which is to say people monologue at each other endlessly. There is a tremendous amount of wheel-spinning before the sudden revelation of what has been going on. I won’t say what the explanation is except that this mystery is exactly the sort of thing people speculated about when they asserted in the 1950s that SF mysteries were impossible.

Whenever I find myself scorning some SF classic that has remained in print for decades, I become only more convinced of my infallibility and the faults of those fools who do not worship me as their god wonder what other reviewers made of the book1. Spider Robinson concluded that he had to be missing something. Del Rey was unimpressed by the ending. Charles N. Brown was equally unimpressed. Pringle grumbled about various issues but still included Michaelmas in his Science Fiction: The 100 Best Novels2. Nevertheless, the book has remained in print for almost half a century. I blame aliens. Or possibly Atlanteans.

Michaelmas is available here (Amazon US), here (Amazon Canada), here (Amazon UK), here (Apple Books), here (Barnes & Noble), and here (Chapters-Indigo).

1: I wasn’t able to track down the relevant November 1977 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, so I don’t know what F&SF reviewer Algis Budrys made of the book.

2: How dire was the 101st Best Novel, if Michaelmas edged it out?