Book One of a projected tetralogy: next-century nuclear brinkmanship plus kung-fu-style warrior-philospher kingmaking on a distant planet. In 2047, after a limited nuclear war, Pitar Ellison rules PanAmerica from an underground bunker while plotting to control the world and enforce peace by promoting yet another arms race. The fly in his ointment: Manfred Hengst, untouchable space-based industrialist and rival weapons merchant. Then the Hesikastor, a psi-gifted ancient sage, pops up with what he says is important information. Bait? Well, Ellison hooks the Hesikastor up to a machine that translates thoughts into pictures. Astonishingly, the Hesikastor tunes in on a psychic broadcast from distant planet Phrynis--where young, arrogant, brutal prince Torc of the barbaric kingdom of Gurnyac must make the traditional pilgrimage to priestly Rm before he can be crowned heir apparent. At first all sneering contempt, Torc mellows as he absorbs the psychic-based egalitarian values of Rm. Then, in a psychic vision, Torc sees his horrid brother Gar murder the king. So, using his new-found guile, Torc returns to Gurnyac and captures Gar--but now Torc, alas, is no longer ruthless enough: instead of killing Gar, Torc imprisons him. Gar's conservative allies rise up to free Gar, who thereupon murders Torc. Back on Earth, Hengst outwits Ellison and seizes the Hesikastor. Well-handled, tantalizing work, with the alien segments particularly gripping and involving. But whether the series can survive the death of the hero that Chetwin has built so painstakingly, whether the Earth-Phrynis parallelism works, and what it all adds up to remain to be seen.