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Bookends: Adventures among the Stars February 6, 2013

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends.
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Bookends: Adventures among the Stars

Legions of Space copy

By Dan Davidson

November 14, 2012,     Star, Nov. 16/12

– 795 words –


Legions of Space

By Keith Laumer

Baen Books

480 pages


Keith Laumer was one of the best writers of fast-paced adventure style science fiction in the 1960s and 70s, able to write with ease as a humourist, as a serious writer and as a satirist. He is perhaps best remembered for his Retief stories and novels, which were essentially an SF spoof of the James Bond series. These were fueled by his own memories from his time with America’s Foreign Service.

A number of other writers have latched onto the ideas contained in his Bolo stories, tales of tank-like war machines guided by implanted human brains, and there have been a number of anthologies carrying this series onward since his death in 1993.

Baen Books has been doing us all a favour by putting out collected editions of works by a number of authors who were once big names for publishing imprints that no longer exist.  There are four or five Laumer collections now, and I was glad to see them, since the glue on the spines of my ancient paperbacks has gone brittle.

Legions of Space is an odd title for this book. It suggests an established space based organization of some sort, but really it’s just that all the stories take place in space in some way.

At 480 pages, the book is pretty much the size of the average paperback novel these days, but 40 years ago novels were shorter and often topped out at 50 to 60,000 words or just under 200 pages. That’s how this book can manage to contain two complete novels and four average sized short stories and still have room for a fan’s introduction to the writer and his work.

The first novel in this collection is A Trace of Memory, in which a ne’er do well drifter named Legion is hired by a strange millionaire to protect him and finds himself suddenly in charge of a younger version of the same man who has no memory of who he is. There are a number of chase and escape adventures on Earth leading to an initial plot resolution at Stonehenge.

The story picks up a few years later and ends with Legion involved in a revolution on another planet, a planet that seems to have been the source of our legends of King Arthur. From the way the story breaks in the middle I suspect this was serialized in a magazine in its original appearance. On this planet people are immortal in body but not in mind, and have developed technology that allows them to record their memories before their bodies reboot, so that their essential personalities can live on in their rejuvenated bodies, hence the title.

Planet Run is one of very few collaborations Laumer wrote, this one with Gordon R. Dickson. This is sort of a treasure hunt story but it’s also about a successful older man taking a younger fellow under his wing and turning him into someone worthy of the love of his granddaughter.

“The Choice” is a somewhat comical Star Trek like story in which the narrator manages to outthink an intruding alien intelligence and turn the tables on some fellow humans who have used him rather badly.

“Three Blind Mice” is a military SF story, but it hinges on the need to establish some means of communication between two quite different forms of intelligence.

“Mind out of Time” is also about choices, and hinges on the sacrifice that one member of an exploration team makes when an experimental star drive seriously out-performs any possible expectations. Structured like a mini-novel its 16 short scenes take us through several dimensions of reality and ends with one of the crew members in another universe.

“Message to an Alien” starts out seeming to be another war story in which an embittered veteran strives to undo years of diplomacy, but it spins on itself and reveals that this disgraced former serviceman is simply trying to prevent his own people and their alien foes from getting mired in a pointless and costly extended conflict. The protagonist is one of Laumer’s “competent man” types who gets things done in spite of the bumbling attempts by lesser minds to prevent him. In this case, he stops a war before it can begin by using a very physical style of diplomacy.

Laumer rates a Wikipedia entry and there are a number of fan sites devoted to his work. One I like is http://www.keithlaumer.com. The stories are somewhat dated in style, reading like a blend of science fiction and hard-boiled detective novels, but they’re fun and it was neat to visit them again after all these years.




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