Macmillan's Soviet science fiction series continues with another work by the remarkable Strugatsky brothers, authors of this spring's Roadside Picnic and The Troika (p. 248). Their hero is Maxim, a planetary reconnaissance agent gifted with unusual senses and powers, who finds himself stranded on a world of lethal paradoxes. The natives have perfected atomic warfare and mass thought control yet labor under Alice-in-Wonderland delusions about the nature of their own solar system. Maxim's first trusting attempts at communication give way to bewilderment and rage at the institutionalized insanity around him. Rashly leaping into the affairs of an oppressed underground, he blunders into successively higher and crueler levels of official intrigue. With its harsh portrayals of nuclear devastation and demented autocracy, this book is bound to spark curiosity about the political purposes of Soviet science fiction. But what really sets it apart is its unforced, unaffected seriousness of artistic purpose. It is a longer, more laboriously plotted work than the astonishing Roadside Picnic. It is also a bit thinner and more conventional. Yet it conveys the same extraordinary sense of having been written by and for responsible adults. Notwithstanding some ragged edges and some reliance on unfortunate devices of exposition, the narrative proceeds with a clarity and firmness not quite like anything in even the finest American science fiction. This is not the same sort of tour de force as Roadside Picnic, but it is a work of unmistakable stature.