As if from the pages of Von Daniken, blond bearded Burning Star plunges in his starship into the midst of pre-Columbian Aztec civilization. Wounded by the crash, the ""god"" is nursed by One Reed, the fifteen-year-old adopted son of high priest Descending Eagle, and is soon generally believed to be Quetzalcoatl returned as promised in the legendary past. But the humanistic Burning Star, who argues that the gods do not demand human blood, antagonizes the cruel, capricious young king Wild Grass, and when Wild Grass moves in his power struggle with Descending Eagle by choosing One Reed as the next year's human sacrifice, god and boy flee the city and take refuge at a sympathetic outlying court which Burning Star nudges toward democratic reform. But the execution there of the treacherous witch Queen attracts Wild Grass' attention and the fugitives are captured and returned. In the end Quetzalcoatl's legendary disgrace and exile are reenacted when the king gets Burning Star drunk on pulque; One Reed -- having experienced a vision of the impending Spanish invasion -- becomes resigned to dying on the altar for his beloved city, and the people are transfixed by a comet portending imminent disaster for all. The story, related in One Reed's somewhat stilted words, is saturated with Aztec legend and culture and effective at this level, but the relevance of Clifford's simplistic juxtaposition between the Aztecs' implacable violence and the space man's liberal humanism is illusory at best, and even that is strained in One Reed's final vision, where his people's bloodthirsty ways are blamed for the downfall that seems (to us) more directly attributable to the bloodthirsty ways of the European. conquerors.