As the title implies, this is the third part of our look at the works of Keith Laumer, an author sadly being forgotten in the wave of modern science fiction. In “Keith Laumer, Part 1,” we explored the first three books in the Baen re-issue of Laumer’s work (Retief!, Odyssey, and Keith Laumer: The Lighter Side), as well as William H. Keith, Jr.’s Retief’s Peace. This was followed up with “Keith Laumer, Part 2,” which honed in on volumes four through seven of the Baen re-issue: A Plague of Demons & Other Stories, Future Imperfect, Legions of Space, and Imperium.
In part three I had planned on finishing off the Laumer re-cap, but I swiftly ran into a problem: To give Laumer’s Bolos series its due, and really delve into the significant body of work that has grown up around Laumer’s framework since his death, I would have to feature at least seven titles that make significant contributions to the Bolos cannon. That’s tight enough as it is, which is problematic, since there are still three volumes of the Baen reissue to be looked at on top of that. So, to give everything its due, in this article we will look solely at the final three volumes of the re-issue, and next week we will feature a fourth and final part to the series, focused solely on Keith Laumer’s Bolos series.
So, without further fooling around, here are the final three volumes (so far) of the Baen Books reissue of the works of Keith Laumer!
The eighth volume of the Baen reissue is The Long Twilight and Other Stories. This volume features two novels and four shorter tales. The first novel in this edition is The Long Twilight, featuring two immortal battlers as their quest to destroy the other leads them through the entire history of the world, until their personal vendetta reaches a culmination in the modern day. However, this fight between the two doesn’t limit its effects to the two combatants, as their duel threatens the very safety of the planet. Laumer’s talent for quick action and intense situations is well on display here. The other book end is the novel Night of Delusions, which, in typical Laumer fashion, features government agents who aren’t even slightly what they seem, and a pulp crime fiction-inspired who is as hard as he needs to be, and realizes that the law and justice and frequently two separate things. He must explore the true intentions of his clients, discover where his impossible devices are coming from, and solve why it seems that he may never have existed in the first place. Night of Delusions is a thinking man’s science fiction action epic, and not to be missed. In between these two novels are the stories “Birthday Party,” “The Half Man,” “The Lawgiver,” and “The Plague.” This is another excellent collection of Laumer’s work, and does a brilliant job of showcasing his pulp sensibilities and stylings in his very science fiction trappings.
The ninth volume of the Baen reissue is Earthblood & Other Stories. This volume is unique among the reissues, in that it is split evenly between Laumer and another author, Rosel George Brown. While Brown did not have a substantial body of work, as she was far from prolific and died early on in her career, she made an impact, being nominated for a Hugo Award for best new author in 1959. Sybil Sue Blue (also published as Galactic Sybil Sue Blue) and its posthumously-published sequel, The Waters of Centaurus, were quite well received, featuring Brown’s pugnacious female detective, Sybil Sue Blue. Her only other novel is Earthblood, which Brown co-wrote with Laumer. Earthblood follows Roan, a lone human raised by aliens, as he decides to set out and discovery if there is any validity in the myths of Earth. However, to do this, he must take head on the evil Niss, of whom legend gives credit to the destruction of the human race on the fabled planet Roan seeks. Interesting, powerful, and gripping, Earthblood flows smoothly and is much more engaging than Laumer’s other collaboration (Planet Run, with Gordon R. Dickson, collected in Legions of Space). Earthblood ranks up among Laumer’s greatest novels. The rest of this volume of the reissue is split into two parts: “The Niss Stories by Keith Laumer” and “Stories by Rosel George Brown.” Laumer’s section features the stories “The Long Remembered Thunder,” “The Other Sky,” and “The Soul Buyer,” all of which are set in the same fictional universe as Laumer and Brown’s Earthblood. Each one is intelligent and exciting, although they don’t quite reach the power of the novel. Brown’s contributions are unrelated to the Niss and Laumer, but are simply a chance to include the works of another author falling into the abyss of forgotten authors in Baen’s reissue line. Her stories in this volume are “Save Your Confederate Money, Boys,” Flower Arrangement,” “Fruiting Body,” “Visiting Professor,” “Car Pool,” and “And a Tooth.” Brown’s stories are both adventurous and funny, and she handles humor better than Laumer tends to. The stories are a nice addition to the Laumer line, as the tie Brown into Laumer’s cannon, and are stories that are very friendly towards Laumer fans.
The tenth volume of the Baen reissue is The Universe Twister, featuring Laumer’s popular series character Lafayette O’Leary. This volume is an omnibus that collects the three novels The Time Bender, The World Shuffler, and The Shape Changer. These three novels each feature more-or-less standalone adventures of Lafayette O’Leary, as he discovers fantastic worlds and alternate dimensions through the power of autohypnosis. While these stories at times felt very much like L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt’s The Incomplete Enchanter (a comparison many have made), it certainly has many of Laumer’s stylistic cues interwoven, creating a very Laumer-version of the fantasy classic. Mixing de Camp and Pratt’s classic with short, punchy descriptions and pulp era narratives, these three novels are, in all honesty, rather mediocre compared to Laumer’s other works, but in their willingness to have fun, exciting adventures that cross the lines between science fiction and fantasy frequently, they have a charm all of their own that will make these the guilty pleasures of many Laumer fans.
That wraps up the Baen reissues; don’t forget to check back next week for the final part of the Keith Laumer literary legacy review: Bolos!