This is an anthology of stories that were written by Keith Laumer back around the 1959-1970 time frame. Baen has published several short story collections along these lines, each featuring different authors’ works from a few decades ago. Many of them are (or, at least, were) available from the Baen Free Library.
I’ve tried a couple of Baen’s anthologies from different authors and I haven’t typically been that crazy for them, so I was pleasantly surprised by this one. I wouldn’t rank it among my favorites, but Keith Laumer’s writing seems to hold up pretty well today and I enjoyed the anthology for the most part. It took me a long time to read it, about three weeks, but my current work and school schedule has left me with almost no time or energy to read for fun. So my slow reading speed was not a reflection of my enjoyment of the book.
There’s an intentional theme in this anthology involving alien contact with humans. This ranges from alien invasions to long-standing wars between humans and aliens. There are also first contact situations. Not all of the aliens are unfriendly, but the majority did seem to be. The first story in the anthology, A Plague of Demons, was long enough to be considered a full-length novel. The other stories varied in size. Some were extremely short and others were long enough to have some meat to them.
Looking back on the book, I find that a lot of the stories have started to blur together for me. I find this true of most anthologies – I’m not a huge fan of the format, because I prefer more meat to my stories and I need to spend more time with a story in order for it to be memorable. However, the first story, A Plague of Demons sticks out as one of the better ones and I remember that one well. It had some twists in it that I wasn’t expecting, as did a couple of the other stories.
All of the stories are told from a single male point-of-view character. Most of those characters were pretty likeable, although there were exceptions. The stories were usually set in the future, and there was often a bit of a dystopian vibe. There seemed to me to be a slightly dark tone to most of the stories, with a somewhat pessimistic view of what the future held and also perhaps a tendency to portray authority figures as power-hungry or at least self-absorbed. In a couple of the stories, there was a laughable case of the main character meeting and apparently “falling in love” with a female character whom he knew nothing about but who was of course breathtakingly beautiful. But that played a very small role in the stories in question, and most of the stories were romance-free.
I have five other e-books by Keith Laumer, and I believe most of them are anthologies. I liked this one well enough that I will probably read them eventually if they maintain the same or better quality as this one. Anthologies can be a good choice when I need something short and uncomplicated to read because I don’t have enough reading time to invest in a longer, more complicated story.