Reading this book was sort of like exercising. I didn’t really want to start reading it but, once I did, I found I was enjoying it. Then tedium started to set in and, by the end of the book, I was happy to be done. Once it was over, I was glad I had read it. This is one of the many sixties-era science fiction compilations that were available at the Baen Free Library when I went on an e-book downloading spree a few years back. These types of books usually fall into one of two categories for me – “surprisingly good but with some dull parts” or else “just plain horribly dull”. This book was the former.
Legions of Space consists of two short novels with four short stories sandwiched in-between them. The short stories were very short, and pretty mediocre. I already can barely remember what they were about without going back to the book to glance at them. I liked one of the novels a lot, but I wasn’t crazy about the other.
The first novel, A Trace of Memory, was where the “surprisingly good” came in. The story interested me from the beginning – we meet our main character as he’s about to rob a store. Events soon take a strange turn and he gets caught up trying to help a mysterious, rich gentleman who has amnesia. This gentleman has a journal with centuries’ worth of entries, all written in the same hand, and the earliest entries are written in an unknown language. The story bounces around in different directions (in a controlled, logical manner) as one problem is resolved and leads to a new one. Each new direction rekindled my interest and curiosity in what would happen next. There were a few plot holes, I guess, but nothing I couldn’t overlook. I had a lot of fun reading this story and it took up nearly half of the book. If I were rating this story alone, I would probably give it four stars.
The second novel, Planet Run, was the last story in the book. This one was ok, but nothing special. We follow two men as they work together to try to stake a claim on land found on the last “frontier” planet within human’s reach. There’s fierce and deadly competition, and one of the two men has no experience whatsoever with this type of a situation so he gets them into various sorts of trouble. I didn’t care for either character, and there wasn’t anything about the story that really captured my imagination. There was one interesting twist in the story, but it wasn’t something that changed the direction of the story – it just changes the reader’s perspective about what’s going on.
I had hoped this anthology would help me make up my mind about the author, Keith Laumer. I had read one of his other compilations, A Plague of Demons & Other Stories, last year. I had a similar reaction to that one – there was one story that I quite enjoyed,and the rest were ok but nothing special. I still have four more of his compilations, plus the first book in his 15+ book Retief series. If I hadn’t liked this book I probably would have crossed them all off my list, but I’m still undecided so I’ll probably try one of the other compilations in the future.