The Martians, long exiled from their home planet, have for millennia been observers of the world of men. Forbidden by their laws to interfere with human destiny, they wait for mankind to mature. From the turmoil of mid twentieth-century America, word comes to the Observers that one of their renegades is hoping to encourage humanity in its headlong rush to self-destruction through corruption of a single rare intellect. The struggle between Observer and Abdicator for the continuance of the human species is one the classic conflicts in the annuals of science fiction.
The novel is set in the Northeastern United States some centuries after an atomic war ended high-technology civilization. The novel follows its title character, Davy (who grew up a ward of the state and thus has no last name) as he grows to manhood in a pseudo-medieval society dominated by a Church that actively suppresses technology, banning “anything that may contain atoms.” Davy begins as an indentured servant in an inn, but escapes, and most of the novel is concerned with his adventures. The book is written as though Davy himself were writing his memoirs, with footnotes by people who knew him.