The novel “The Falling Torch” by Algis Budrys was published for the first time in 1959 incorporating three previously published short stories. A revised and slightly expanded version was published in 1991 under the title “Falling Torch”.
In the Alpha Centauri system, the Earth’s government in exile is having a reunion as it has for twenty years, since the Invaders have conquered their planet and some Earthlings fled to the human colony established long ago. This time, however, there’s something that goes far beyond the usual chatter because there’s a real possibility to obtain weapons to provide the resistance on Earth with a hope of victory.
Michael Wireman, the son of the President in exile Ralph Wireman, is chosen to lead the group of humans who are tasked with returning to Earth with the weapons. Upon arrival, he comes into contact with Franz Hamill, the self-appointed general of the United Terrestrial Army of Liberation, who, however, turns out to be an inept leader from a military point of view.
Algis Budrys was born in what was then East Prussia, a region that has been part of various states throughout history. The writer’s father was a diplomat who became part of Lithuania’s government-in-exile structure after his country was occupied first by the Nazis and then by the Soviets. His personal story helped create a future where Earth was invaded by a humanoid alien species and many Earthlings fled to the Alpha Centauri system, where they created a government in exile.
The first part of “The Falling Torch” shows the situation of the government in exile twenty years after it was created in the Alpha Centauri system. Many of its members have adapted well to their new life and returning to Earth to win it back is a beautiful dream for some chats among friends. When the opportunity arises to obtain weapons for a true war of liberation, very few of them really want to engage in that deed, and eventually, Michael Wireman, the President in exile’s son, is chosen to lead it.
The age of the novel is noticeable quite quickly because the weapons sent to the United Terrestrial Army of Liberation are automatic rifles and General Hamill has his base in the mountains. In short, it’s a scenario that recalls the resistance during World War II and the only science fiction element is the transport of weapons and people on a spaceship from the Alpha Centauri system. Algis Budrys himself admits that he has no explanation for the curious limitations regarding advanced technologies in the introduction to the 1991 version of the novel.
If you can get over the badly aged elements of the novel, you can appreciate the strong points of Algis Budrys’ stories. Especially in the parts set on Earth, there’s considerable psychological digging into the important characters, starting with Michael Wireman. The President in exile’s son is too young to have memories of Earth and grew up listening to the stories told by his father and other exiles but spent his entire life in the Alpha Centauri system. The consequence is that before he can lead other people he has to find himself. Dealing with a megalomaniac such as General Hamill is certainly not helping.
In the end, “The Falling Torch” is mostly Michael Wireman’s personal story, so if you’re looking for a story of war against alien invaders you will be disappointed. The basic idea has roots in Algis Budrys’ personal history but its development has nothing to do with the author’s life. Thinking about the badly aged parts, it can make sense to read it if you’re interested in the insights into important characters.