'Twas boring in Artesia. ...or so thought Sir Lafayette O'Leary, ex-draftman from Earth, and now seemingly ex-interdimensional swashbuckler extraordinaire as well. His battles were all won, his dragons all slain, and life was just the same boring round of riches, royal hunts and regattas. Boring, boring, boring; untilhe walked past the azalia... Suddenly Artesia was gone, and O'Leary was trapped in Melange, a world of giants and pirates, karate-chopping hags and electronic flying carpets, a world where goons and harlots are the spitting images (literally!) of his own aristocratic Artesian associates. And because they think that he's his double, lots of his new friends want O'Leary dead. Unless he can get through the interdimensional gate and find the continuum path back home, O'Leary's life will never be boring again. Just short.
John Keith Laumer was an American science fiction author. Prior to becoming a full-time writer, he was an officer in the U.S. Air Force and a U.S. diplomat. His brother March Laumer was also a writer, known for his adult reinterpretations of the Land of Oz (also mentioned in Keith's The Other Side of Time).
Keith Laumer (aka J.K Laumer, J. Keith Laumer) is best known for his Bolo stories and his satirical Retief series. The former chronicles the evolution of juggernaut-sized tanks that eventually become self-aware through the constant improvement resulting from centuries of intermittent warfare against various alien races. The latter deals with the adventures of a cynical spacefaring diplomat who constantly has to overcome the red-tape-infused failures of people with names like Ambassador Grossblunder. The Retief stories were greatly influenced by Laumer's earlier career in the United States Foreign Service. In an interview with Paul Walker of Luna Monthly, Laumer states "I had no shortage of iniquitous memories of the Foreign Service."
Four of his shorter works received Hugo or Nebula Award nominations (one of them, "In the Queue", received nominations for both) and his novel A Plague of Demons was nominated for the Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1966.
During the peak years of 1959–1971, Laumer was a prolific science fiction writer, with his novels tending to follow one of two patterns: fast-paced, straight adventures in time and space, with an emphasis on lone-wolf, latent superman protagonists, self-sacrifice and transcendence or, broad comedies, sometimes of the over-the-top variety.
In 1971, Laumer suffered a stroke while working on the novel The Ultimax Man. As a result, he was unable to write for a few years. As he explained in an interview with Charles Platt published in The Dream Makers (1987), he refused to accept the doctors' diagnosis. He came up with an alternative explanation and developed an alternative (and very painful) treatment program. Although he was unable to write in the early 1970s, he had a number of books which were in the pipeline at the time of the stroke published during that time.
In the mid-1970s, Laumer partially recovered from the stroke and resumed writing. However, the quality of his work suffered and his career declined (Piers Anthony, How Precious Was That While, 2002). In later years Laumer also reused scenarios and characters from his earlier works to create "new" books, which some critics felt was to their detriment:
Alas, Retief to the Rescue doesn't seem so much like a new Retief novel, but a kind of Cuisnart mélange of past books.
-- Somtow Sucharitkul (Washington Post, Mar 27, 1983. p. BW11)
His Bolo creations were popular enough that other authors have written standalone science-fiction novels about them.
Laumer was also a model airplane enthusiast, and published two dozen designs between 1956 and 1962 in the U.S. magazines Air Trails, Model Airplane News and Flying Models, as well as the British magazine Aero Modeler. He published one book on the subject, How to Design and Build Flying Models in 1960. His later designs were mostly gas-powered free flight planes, and had a whimsical charm with names to match, like the "Twin Lizzie" and the "Lulla-Bi". His designs are still being revisited, reinvented and built today.
I've got about $20 to live off of for the next wk, many of the machines I have around me that I use for various constructive purposes are broken, I have barely enuf food, I only have a few friends, I stay home alone most of the time. These are all '1st world' problems, I live in a house full of bks & tools, I barely have to work (altho I cd certainly use more), I'm working on repairing an accordion - yet another skill I can add to my vast skill-set that I won't make a cent off of. Enter Laumer: I can read this lit-lite & be distracted. I've got 5 more of his bks unread to get thru, they'll help me make it to my next pay period, I'll stay just engrossed enuf w/o having to expend much intellectual energy - it's a good balance.
"Keith Laumer, my new temporary favorite SF writer - a shordurpersav in SubG lingo. Of the previous 3 bks I read by Laumer, 2 were time travel stories & one was a parallel universe travel story so there's a commonality there that borders on gimmickry but I don't care, I like the stories."
The World Shuffler as a sequel to The Time Bender is funny enuf, the same characters in different permutations b/c they're in parallel universes. Whenever I refer to funny, gimmicky, formulaic SciFi I refer to Ron Goulart, whose work I like. Goulart's funnier for me than Laumer but Laumer's less formulaic. If you've read one Goulart you've read them all (well.. not really) but they're like chocolates w/ cherry interiors & you keep gobbling them down (well.. I do, you might not). The story begins w/ Laumer's idea of an ideal idyll:
"It was a warm autumnal afternoon in Artesia. Lafayette O'Leary, late of the U.S.A., now Sir Lafayette O'Leary since his official investiture with knighthood by Princess Adoranne, was lounging at ease in a brocaded chair in his spacious library, beside a high, richly draped window overlooking the palace gardens, He was dressed in purple kneepants, a shirt of heavy white silk, gold-buckled shoes of glove-soft kid. A massive emerald winked on one finger beside the heavy silver ring bearing the device of the ax and the dragon. A tall, cool drink stood at his elbow. From a battery of speakers concealed behind the hangings, A Debussy tone poem caressed the air." - p 1
Do you ever wonder about the names authors choose for their characters? I figure most authors wd rather not have their character names be evocative of an actual person b/c that might not be good for sd actual person. Hence names like "Lafayette O'Leary": a not-completely-unbelievable name but one whose mixture of French & Irish wd at least make it somewhat unusual.
"She skipped aside from his lunge, brought up the iron skillet, and slammed it, with a meaty thud, against the side of his uncombed head. He took two rubbery steps and sagged against the counter, his face six inches from Lafayette's.
""What'll it be, sport?" he murmured, and slid down out of view with a prodigious clatter." - p 24
When I was reading this, I made a note to myself asking whose writing was published 1st: Goulart's or Laumer's? Laumer was born earlier but Goulart's satire was published 10 yrs or so before Laumer's apparent 1st date of publication. Ergo, I falsely conclude, Goulart invented humor & Laumer is not worth mentioning. [That was a joke, a not-very-funny one]
Lafayette undergoes constant threats to his life.
""You enjoy being a torturer?"
""That ain't a term us P.P.S.'s like mister," the man said in a hurt tone. "What we are, we're Physical-Persuasion Specialists. You don't want to get us mixed up wit' these unlicensed quacks, which they're lousing up the good name of the profession." - p 79
Yes, in the World of the Future, the victim must be more sensitive to his or her tormenter, eh? After all, people like The Blond Angel (see my review of Manuel Vázquez Montalbán's The Buenos Aires Quintet: https://www.goodreads.com/story/show/... ) were 'only doing their job', right? Torturers are often depicted as dumb brutes but they're often 'sensitive people of taste' like this member of the royalty:
""Slow down, Rudy," Lafayette wagged an admonitory finger. "How about giving some thought to the little lady's tastes?"
""Eh? How could she object to chopped chicken livers washed down with Pepsi and Mogen David while a steel band plays variations on the theme from the 'Dead March from Saul'?"" - p 88
& that's an advantage of parallel worlds stories: the author can mix up different time periods & fictions into one O'Leary stew: Pepsi w/ flying carpets, eg, & it all makes sense.
Ever since I learned (or relearned) the word "susurrus" from its being the title of an electroacoustic piece by my friend James Mansback Brody, a new category of literature has appeared in my mind: the category of bks that use the word:
"Lafayette's eyes roved around the room. It was ivory-walled, tile-floored. The soft susurrus of air-conditioning whispered from a grille above the door." - p 116
Imagine organizing yr bks on yr bk-shelves according to whether they use the word "susurrus" or not: 100 bks that do, 5,000 bks that don't. Or it cd be bks that use the word "hebephrenic" (as the late, great "Blaster" Al Ackerman was so fond of doing), bks that reference flying carpets, & bks that include all 3.
""Now you want to be careful of the carpet, Slim" the Customer Relations man said as he rolled out the six-by-eight-foot rectangle of what looked like ordinary dark-blue Wilton carpet. "The circuits are tuned to your personal emanations, so nobody can hijack her. She's voice-operated, so be careful what you say. And remember, there's no railings, so watch those banked turns. The coordination's built in, naturally, but if you're careless—well, keep in mind you've got no parachute." - p 137
"I'm turning in a report to my PR rep that will clean out this whole nest of hebephrenics before you can say 'noblesse oblige!' "" - p 214
In the end, who cd dislike a bk that's so forward-thinking?:
"". . . can't imagine what it's about," a male tenor was exclaiming. "Unless it's my investiture as Squire of Honor to the Ducal Manicure coming through at last . . ."
""Gracious knows it's about time my appointment as Second Honorary Tonsorial Artist in Attendance on the Ducal Moustache was confirmed," a fruity baritone averred. "But what a curious hour for the ceremony . . ." - p 220
Keith Laumer’s Lafayette O’Leary novels have been a recent discovery for me. The World Shuffler is the third in the series where one person’s metaphysical musings and self-hypnosis led to a discovery of multi-dimensional realities and a constant threat to this dimension via time anomalies. This series of humorous adventures reminds me of Simon Hawke’s Time Wars series, but it is faster-paced and considerably funnier. I liked the Hawke series for its adventure and preposterous conceit, but I laugh out loud at this one.
The World Shuffler begins with O’Leary becoming dissatisfied with his extremely comfortable existence and, voila!, he is pulled into a metaphysical octopus of time anomalies with numerous “clones” of himself and others bounding in and out of his encounters. It’s preposterous! It’s ridiculous! It’s strangely satisfying. Laumer fittingly portrays O’Leary as slightly out-of-shape, no longer the heroic type of some of the earlier stories. Yet, he manages to fast-talk (maybe even out-fast-talk Laumer’s remarkable Retief character of another series) his opponents and solve the overarching riddle he needs to resolve the problem, the timelines, and the dissatisfaction with his former, comfortable but not challenging lifestyle.
As usual, the “magic” has a pseudo-technical aspect to it, but to categorize the story as science-fiction or as fantasy would do justice to neither. And, because the story is so humorous, it isn’t fair to shelve it as pulp adventure, either. Who could ever take names like Goruble, Swinehild, (torturer) Groanwelt, Melange, Port Miasma, Quackwell, and Hozzleshrumph seriously? But such naming conventions made me smile throughout the book. And, of course, Laumer has always pilloried bureaucracy in all his books and that was as welcome here as it always is.
As light entertainment, I highly recommend The World Shuffler, but I am only giving it three stars lest someone think it is more substantial than it is. Some people may find the absurd conceit to be too distracting. For me, I will be seeking more!
Frothy sequel to Laumer's The Time Bender. Protagonist Lafayette O'Leary is accidentally shifted from his position of leisure and nobility in Artesia to the parallel and somewhat dreary world of Melange. Here most of the characters look the same as in the first book but have different names and roles in society. Laumer's sardonic humour is in full swing but O'Leary himself is not as quick witted as in the previous novel and the joke of him not realizing that these are actually different individuals quickly wears out. The rest of the characters, except for Swineheld/Princess Adoranne are slow witted too, but this is better handled. As such the series does not compare well to his Retief collection or Dinosaur Beach. The technology is somewhat akin to magic but reasonably logical and it is fun to watch O'Leary figure it out, but the author loses the thread at the end.
Laumer in general was a terrific writer, though this is not one of his best in terms of characterization it does have a number of good scenes. About a week or so ago Frederick Pohl passed away and I discovered by reading his blog that Laumer had had a severe stroke in 1971 which changed his personality for the worse and pretty much killed his ability to write even though he lived another 2 decades. A terrible shame and a reminder of the need to be grateful for the gifts that surround us for they do not last forever.
This second book in the series is quite a bit more imaginative than the first. Watch out for the walking through walls, and the 'singing out' ceremony.
Oh, wait. That's another volume.
This one is just a matter of jumping from one continuum to another. Or maybe it's the one that falls apart at the end, with things getting so chaotic by the end where that it's not possible to figure out what's going on. I'll keep reading, to figure out whether that's this one.
No, all the action in this story is in the alternate universe of Melange (note that all these stories take place in a very restricted range, as if transdimensional travel were only possible in one small geographic area, which seems to be in part of the US--maybe near Oklahoma? Or so it's implied in one segment).
The influx of Lafayette avatars all in one dimension would seriously stress the probability factors. Goruble's (remember him?) assumption that he can balance the stresses by simply switching people one for one might have been true: if that had been what happened.
It's not clear where Ajax fits into all this. They seem to have an uneasy truce with Central, and to just be producing 'magical' products for adventurers (electronic blackout cloaks and the like), and Central leaves them alone as long as they don't cause probability stresses, and interferes when they do.
This book is full of charming people who pleasantly offer their 'clients' choices of terrible treatments. The kindly 'physical persuasion specialist' (he doesn't like being called a 'torturer', though he is one) Groanwelt insists that he has no interest in politics, but is simply a conscientious professional, providing quality service to whoever pays him.
Laumer's odd phraseology kept nagging at me. Some of it is clearly his own. The strange inversions the thugs and other such 'uneducated' (meaning no formal schooling, because of course they WERE educated, just by living in their societies) are pretty much unique to Laumer. But a lot of the odd descriptions would fit nicely in any of Wodehouse's books. They keep the story fun, even when it's more than a little silly.
I should note that the villains of the piece seem to assume that they can con 'rubes' into doing anything, and that poor people have no ethics or principles at all. This theory often proves fatal to their plans, because of course they find that they can't do any such thing.
I loved Keith Laumer when I was a teenager, 40 years ago and more. I've tried re-reading some of my old favorites in recent years, with mixed results. Earthblood was a great favorite of mine, and I read it at least twice years ago. I re-read it recently and liked it, but it just wasn't the same. I used to love Retief stories, and now can barely get through them. And this book The World Shuffler, I could not get through. It just seems pointless. I suppose it's me that's changed, not Laumer.