A collection of three of my early SF favourites, with an interesting Preface by Harry Turtledove adding some more background. The stories are now somewhat dated, and on rereading this all-in-one volume found s/h on holiday last week I felt slightly disappointed in the mental pictures not being quite as vivid as I had remembered them from forty and fifty years ago. But they are still a cracking good read, and set the baseline for other parallel worlds sagas.
Keith Laumer wrote 'Worlds of the Imperium' in 1961 as a serial in Fantastic Stories. So having read just one part in one issue of the magazine, I had to buy the book when the Ace double came out in 1962. Then being tied up with my studies it was only later in the 1970s that I found time to search out copies of the sequel 'The Other Side of Time' first serialised in Fantastic and then the Berkeley book in 1965, and finally the last part of the trilogy 'Assignment in Nowhere' released in 1968.
Brion Bayard is the hero in the first two books, but only appears on the sidelines in the third. Laumer takes great delight in bringing unlikely characters to the fore, whose paths are different in the alternate worlds to what they were in our own; villains become allies and heroes, and there are some surprises.
The plots are convoluted when considering how short each novel is. The science is rudimentary, almost anticipating steam-punk in some of the time lines, and Laumer never let consistency or minor details get in the way of a good story. His strength is his outstanding ability to carry a compelling narrative. I read each one of these three novels at a sitting, and I cannot say that about any other book I've read in the last few years - either too long or not gripping enough.
They lose a star for being dated, and modern writers are better at their craft. However these are definitely worth another read, and again.
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