Rand's freshly sculpted scenes, dialogues, and pockets of thought all read, as did those in his Firestorm debut (1969), like drifting chapters from a manuscript that's been torn out of its binder, half of the pages discarded and half thrown at the bewildered typesetter. From random hints, it can be deduced that ""the emergency"" is some sort of nuclear cataclysm, in the wake of which three survivors--much-married raconteuse Flame, misanthropic loser Wolf, and the professor, a pompous carrier of nuclear guilt--take refuge at Lucy Onstott's Samarkand Hotel in or around what used to be Mexico. Fragments of background come from each of the quartet: Lucy's carefully nursed memories of a love-deprived childhood; the glittery embers of Flame's high-heat living; the prof's grammar-school ambitions (""He would acquire knowledge so as to dispense it in great gobs like fudge from a Cape Cod lighter""); and the abortive camaraderie of Wolf's youth. And there are wisps of hostile repartee and desperate grabs for contact (""Bite me, Lucy. Bite my neck""). A picnic finale ends with the professor sinking into fatal delirium and the arrival of Smiling lack Hathaway as a sort of angel of death. Repeated readings would surely turn up recalcitrant patterns and connections, but even the more adventurous reader--suspecting that Rand is splintering his gifts for reasons other than heightened communication--will probably feel disinclined to play.