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A TRACE OF MEMORY by Keith Laumer

I grew up on science fiction. When I discovered Robert A. Heinlein and Andre Norton in the library at Seminole, Oklahoma, I'd already had some exposure to the genre. While living in Oklahoma City and going to Pleasant Hill Elementary School, I'd gotten my hands on a borrowed copy of Mutiny in the Time Machine, a Boy's Life publication that I dearly loved.

It wasn't long before I worked my way through the children's science fiction selections and reached the adult science fiction. I blazed through those as well, then joined the Science Fiction Book Club and got books SENT TO MY HOME! The mail took on a whole new meaning at that point.

I was also picking up used copies of paperback science fiction from secondhand shops, and swapping out with friends. We also traded comics, but often we just traded them out to be read and reclaimed them. There were few things we could really own at that age and we had our treasures.

The cover on the copy I owned of A Trace of Memory intrigued me.

The teaser line also drew me in. I think I was sixteen or seventeen when I first read the book, and I remember being fairly happy with it.

I recently re-read it and had to admit my younger self was a much easier sell than I currently am. The book plunges right into problems, which I always enjoyed at that age, and it has stuff that would intrigue a reader who had to do most of the heavy lifting imagining everything that goes on. However, today's audience has had the experience of Star Wars and Star Trek and many other movies and television shows.

A second cover I found for the novel looks even more intriguing, but that's not the world that came to sputtering life for me in the pages.

On top of that, not much character development is done. Legion remains an ex-soldier of fortune who gets roped into an interplanetary adventure. That was a good premise at the time, but re-reading it only made me aware of how contrived the events were. The book jumps from problem to problem, and Legion doesn't so much solve the conundrums he faces as just luckily get through them.

I had to force myself to stay with the book because the thread of story got thinner and thinner, and the outcome was never in doubt. Sadly, even at the end I didn't much care, and I really didn't know much more about Legion or Foster, the alien guy he traveled so far to help.

There are a lot of forced machinations in the plot, and a lot of hand-waving done to force events in the direction the author wanted them to go. I didn't have as good a time with the second read as I thought I remembered from the first read.

Since I teach writing classes, I like to go back and compare what I grew up with to what my students have at least had an opportunity to read. I don't think many of them would have stuck with this novel, but Keith Laumer is a name in the science fiction field, and he gave us the adventures of Retief, a kind of science fiction James Bond.

Today's science fiction is often more grounded in the real world and has fully developed characters. But this author and this book is part of the bedrock that formed that.

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