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Budrys, Algis

Entry updated 8 July 2024. Tagged: Author, Critic, Editor.

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Working name of Prussian-born Lithuanian-American author and editor Algirdas Jonas Budrys (1931-2008). He was born in East Prussia (now Russia); when his parents were exiled, he was taken with them to the US in 1936, where he remained. This experience of dislodgement and exile clearly shaped much of his fiction. He began publishing sf in 1952 with two more or less simultaneous releases, "The High Purpose" (November 1952 Astounding) and "Walk to the World" (November 1952 Space Science Fiction), and very rapidly gained a reputation as a leader of the 1950s sf generation, along with Philip K Dick, Robert Sheckley and others, all of whom brought new literacy, mordancy and grace to the field. From February 1965 to November 1971 he wrote regular, incisive book reviews for Galaxy, and from September 1975 to January 1993 he contributed 160 "Books" columns to The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction; for these reviews, and other critical work, he received a Pilgrim Award in 2007.

During his first decade as a writer Budrys used a number of pseudonyms on magazine stories: David C Hodgkins, Ivan Janvier, Paul Janvier, Robert Marner, William Scarff, John A Sentry, Albert Stroud and (in collaboration with Jerome Bixby) Alger Rome. His pseudonym Jeffries Oldmann, first used for a 1960 column on motoring in Cars, reappeared in his own magazine with "Nightingale" (December 1993 Tomorrow: Speculative Fiction). Involvement with Fandom included publication of the Fanzine dubious (two issues, May and August 1960). He wrote few series, though "The High Purpose" had two sequels: "A.I.D." (January 1954 Astounding) and "The War is Over" (February 1957 Astounding). The Gus stories, all as by Paul Janvier, include "Nobody Bothers Gus" (November 1955 Astounding), "Lost Love" (January 1957 Science Fiction Stories) and "And Then She Found Him" (July 1957 Venture), and are early examples of a story type which would haunt Budrys's work throughout, in which an Alien (or in the case of Gus a Mutant Superman with the gift or curse of psychic Invisibility) must disguise his necessary exile from the normals around him. The series is extremely loose, though the individual stories are connected by hints and revelations of the existence of a Pariah Elite of similar beings; for whatever cause, there remains a sense that the sequence was truncated well before any natural resolution.

Budrys's first novel has a complex history. As False Night (March 1954 Galaxy as "Ironclad"; much exp 1954) it was published in a form abridged from the manuscript version; this manuscript served as the basis for a reinstated text which, with additional new material, was published as Some Will Not Die (1961; rev 1978). In both versions a Post-Holocaust story is set in a Pandemic-decimated USA and, through the lives of a series of protagonists, a half century or so of upheaval and recovery is described. Some Will Not Die is a much more coherent (and rather grimmer) novel than its predecessor.

His second novel, Who? (April 1955 Fantastic Universe; exp 1958), filmed as Who? (1974), not quite successfully grafts an abstract vision of the existential extremity of mankind's condition on to an ostensibly orthodox sf plot, in which it must be determined whether or not a prosthetically rebuilt and impenetrably masked man (see Cyborgs) is in fact the Scientist, vital to the US defence effort, whom he claims to be; the ultimate indeterminacy of his Identity gives this novel a decidedly unAmerican resonance (but see Paranoia). Indeed, as Budrys is writing an existential thriller about identity (rather similar to the later work of Kōbō Abe), not an sf novel about the perils of prosthesis, some of the subsequent plot-heavy detective work seems a little misplaced; however, the seriousness of purpose is never in doubt. Similarly, The Falling Torch (1957-1959 various magazines; fixup 1959; rev vt Falling Torch 1991) presents a story which on the surface is straight sf, describing an Earth, several centuries hence, dominated by an Alien oppressor; the son of an exiled president returns to his own planet to liaise with the underground. But the novel can also be read as an allegory of the Cold War in its effects upon Eastern Europe (less awkward but more discursive in the restored text), and therefore, like Who?, asks of its generic structure rather more significance than generic structures of this kind have perhaps been designed to bear.

Much more thoroughly successful is Budrys's next novel, Rogue Moon (1960; vt The Death Machine 2001), now widely regarded as an sf classic. A good deal has been written about the highly integrated symbolic structure of this story, whose perfectly competent surface narration deals with a Hard-SF solution to the problem of an alien Labyrinth, discovered on the Moon, a Zone which kills anyone who tries to pass through it without obeying various arbitrary and incomprehensible rules. At one level, the novel's description of attempts to thread the labyrinth from Earth via Matter Transmission (which is also Matter Duplication) makes for excellent traditional sf; at another, it is a sustained rite de passage, a Doppelganger conundrum about the mind-body split, a death-paean. There is no doubt that Budrys intends that both levels of reading should register, however any interpretation might run; in this novel the two levels interact fruitfully.

His other 1960s novel is The Amsirs and the Iron Thorn (January-April 1967 If as "The Iron Thorn"; 1967; vt The Iron Thorn 1968), a deceptively lightweight narrative opening on Mars, where members of a straggling human colony hunt apparent Aliens for their meat and other bodily products. It emerges that these winged, beaked "Amsirs" are also human but adapted to Martian existence (see Colonization of Other Worlds; Pantropy); the action shifts, via long-dormant Spaceship, to a somewhat decadent Earth where the protagonist's adventures are regarded as an artistic, aesthetic experience.

After some years away from fiction, Budrys returned in the late 1970s with his most humanly complex and fully realized novel. Michaelmas (August-September 1976 F&SF; exp 1977) describes in considerable detail a Near-Future world whose information media have become prophetically sophisticated and creative of news – not merely as depicted in Sidney Lumet's film Network (1976) and as represented by such figures as CBS broadcaster Walter Cronkite, but prefiguring Internet news transmission. Like Cronkite, though to a much greater extent, the Michaelmas of the title is a moulder of news. Unusually, however, the book does not attack this condition. Michaelmas is a highly adult, responsible, complex individual, who with some cause feels himself to be the world's Chief Executive or Secret Master; beyond his own talents, he is aided in this task by an immensely sophisticated AI named Domino, with which he is in constant contact, and which itself (as in books like Alfred Bester's The Computer Connection [November 1974-January 1975 Analog as "The Indian Giver"; 1975; vt Extro 1975 UK]) accesses all the Computers in the world-net, not to mention peripheral devices including lifts, automatic doors, household electronics, etc. Decades later, in tales like Ned Beauman's Venomous Lumpsucker (2022), similar entities, similarly attached to figures of power but also adhering to autonomous agendas, would exercise similar secret governance. Although the plot – Michaelmas must confront and defeat mysterious Aliens who with human connivance are manipulating mankind from behind the scenes – is straight out of Pulp-magazine fiction, Michaelmas is a sustained, involving and peculiarly realistic novel.

Budrys's sole further novel is the short but densely compact Hard Landing (October/November 1992 F&SF; 1993), which recounts the fate of a small crew of spacefaring Aliens who have crashlanded in America in the early 1950s (see UFOs); three live surreptitious lives as humans, but one betrays his vow of secrecy and exploits his scientific knowledge to gain power and money in cahoots with an American Congressman who is never named but (Budrys makes his identity pretty clear) is almost certainly meant to be identified as Richard Nixon. The tale, complexly told, conveys a hard dry mature melancholy irony.

In the 1980s, Budrys controversially associated himself with the L Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future programme for new writers which had been initiated (or at least inspired) by L Ron Hubbard, arousing fears that Hubbard's Church of Scientology might itself be the source for the programme's apparent affluence. It was, however, evident from their willing participation in the programme that many established sf writers felt these worries to be trivial, and the workshop can indeed claim to have introduced several authors of note (such as Karen Joy Fowler and David Zindell) to the field. In pieces like Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy (Spring 1989 New Destinies; 1990 chap), composed originally for the Writers of the Future, Budrys projected a detailed sense of what it meant to be a professional. The Hubbard school absorbed most of his energies for the remainder of the decade, although in 1991 he announced his semi-retirement from Writers of the Future, and soon published Hard Landing; in 1999, however, he resumed his editorship of the annual Writers of the Future sequence of anthologies assembling stories from the workshops. The first of his eighteen anthologies for the series had been L Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future (anth 1985); the last was L Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future: Vol XXIII (anth 2007).

His sf criticism, especially that from before the mid-1980s, is almost unfailingly perceptive, and promulgates with a convert's grim élan a view of the essential nature of the genre that ferociously privileged the US magazine tradition. Non-Literary Influences on Science Fiction (An Essay) (1983 chap) eloquently represents this view, as do, more relaxedly, the Galaxy reviews collected in the first of the Benchmarks volumes of assembled reviews, Benchmarks: Galaxy Bookshelf (coll 1985), plus the F&SF "Books" columns posthumously collected in three subsequent volumes beginning with Benchmarks Continued: The F&SF "Books" Columns Volume 1: 1975-1982 (coll 2012). Outposts: Literatures of Milieux (coll 1997) assembles Non-Literary Influences and four more essays with a brief introduction; all these are incorporated into the further posthumous collection Beyond the Outposts: Essays on SF and Fantasy 1955-1996 (coll 2020), along with a great deal more previously uncollected material from throughout Budrys's writing career.

From January 1993 to February 1997 Budrys edited and wrote for the print version of Tomorrow: Speculative Fiction, continuing online to the fortieth and final issue dated August 1999. Columns on writing from nine of the first ten issues were revised and assembled with related nonfiction as Writing to the Point: A Complete Guide to Selling Fiction (coll 1994). His shrewd sense of the genre informs this didactic material, as it did the earlier sequence "On Writing", comprising seventeen instructive columns which appeared in Locus from 1977 to 1979 and are included in the above-cited Beyond the Outposts.

Budrys was that rarity, an intellectual genre writer – as is also demonstrated by his shorter work, most of which has been collected in The Unexpected Dimension (coll 1960), Budrys' Inferno (coll 1963; vt The Furious Future 1964) and Blood and Burning (coll 1978); some of his best stories from the 1950s were later assembled as Entertainment (coll 1997), which includes the entirety of the first collection above plus three stories from the second. From his genre origins stem both his strengths – incisiveness, exemplary concision of effect – and his weaknesses – mainly the habit of overloading genre material with mainstream resonances; but Hard Landing demonstrates how effective this kind of pressurized narrative can be. It is to be regretted that he wrote no more at novel length.

He was posthumously given the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Solstice Award (see SFWA Grand Master Award) for life achievement in 2009. [JC/DRL]

see also: Amnesia; Children in SF; Communications; Conceptual Breakthrough; Critical and Historical Works About SF; Disaster; Galaxy Science Fiction; Gothic SF; Invasion; The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction; Media Landscape; Metaphysics; New Wave; Optimism and Pessimism; Outer Planets; Philip K Dick Award; Psychology; Reincarnation; Robots; Statue of Liberty; Writers of the Future Contest.

Algirdas Jonas Budrys

born Königsberg, East Prussia [now Kaliningrad, Russia]: 9 January 1931

died Evanston, Illinois: 9 June 2008


collections and stories

  • The Unexpected Dimension (New York: Ballantine Books, 1960) [coll: pb/Blanchard]
    • Entertainment (Framingham, Massachusetts: The NESFA Press, 1997) [coll: exp of the above with three stories from Budrys' Inferno below, plus bibliography by Anthony R Lewis: pb/Don Maitz]
  • Budrys' Inferno (New York: Berkley Books, 1963) [coll: pb/Richard Powers]
  • Blood & Burning (New York: Berkley, 1978) [coll: pb/Richard Powers]
    • Blood & Burning (London: Gollancz, 1979) [coll: with five stories cut from above: hb/nonpictorial]
  • Cerberus (Eugene, Oregon: Pulphouse Publishing, 1989) [story: chap: first appeared December 1967 F&SF: hb/Kelly Freas]




individual titles

works as editor

L Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future

Budrys edited volumes 1 to 8 of this sequence, the last with Dave Wolverton, and returned with volume 15.

individual titles as editor

about the author

  • Chris Drumm. An Algis Budrys Checklist (Polk City, Iowa: Chris Drumm, 1983) [nonfiction: chap: pb/nonpictorial]
  • Christopher Evans, editor. Conspiracy Theories (London: privately published, 1987) [nonfiction: anth: chap: essays on the Writers of the Future/Scientology dispute at the 1987 Worldcon and on Budrys's role: pb/nonpictorial]
    • Conspiracy Theories (Reading, Berkshire: Ansible Editions, 2015) [nonfiction: anth: ebook: cut since two contributors asked for their essays to be removed: na/Conspiracy '87 Pocket Programme cover with art by Paul Stinson]


previous versions of this entry

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