Thursday, February 27, 2014

Book Review: Worlds of the Imperium

Book Review: 'Worlds of the Imperium' by Keith Laumer

3 / 5 Stars

This Ace paperback edition (176 pp) of ‘The Worlds of the Imperium’ was published in October 1973; the cover artist is uncredited. The novel was first published in 1962.

Brion Bayard, the first-person narrator, is an employee in the American diplomatic corps; as the novel opens, he is in Stockholm, being followed by a man he does not recognize. His suspicions aroused, Bayard attempts to flee, but he is captured and knocked unconscious. When he awakens, it is within the confines of a strange vessel – one that travels the world lines between alternate universes.

Bayard arrives on the earth known as ‘Zero Zero’, where travel between the alternities was discovered, leading to the establishment of a polity known as the ‘Imperium’. Although it’s the early 1960s, the Imperium has the cultural and social trappings of Victorian-era western Europe, featuring an aristocracy devoted to holding fancy dress balls in the palaces of Stockholm.

Bayard learns that the Imperium has been under attack: somehow, an alternity named ‘B-I Two’ in the grip of perpetual war and violence has discovered the secret of traveling between the parallel universes, and is mounting destructive raids on the lands of the Imperium. The despot ruling B-I Two is none other than… ‘alternate’ Brion Bayard !

Our hero is dispatched on a desperate mission: the Imperium has learned that Evil Bayard’s palace is located in Algiers. Good Bayard will be secretly delivered by the Imperium’s alternity-traversing vessel to the palace; once there, he will find his twin – and assassinate him. Then Bayard will assume the identity of the Evil Bayard, and carefully steer B-I Two to a cessation of its raids on Imperium lands.

As Brion Bayard soon learns, plans have a way of going awry very quickly……

‘Worlds of the Imperium’ is standard-issue 'Keith Laumer adventure sf'. The narrative moves along swiftly, as it is based on action sequences, many of which rely on contrived, eye-rolling escapes and last-minute changes of fortune. Our hero is by no means a superman, but possesses courage in the right quantities at the right times. There is a swell dame to serve as a goad to acts of heroism, and plenty of wisecracking under moments of duress.

‘Worlds’ is the first of what ultimately would be four novels in the Imperium series: The Other Side of Time (1965), Assignment in Nowhere (1968), and Zone Yellow (1990). All revolve around the adventures of Bayard, and other characters, in parallel worlds.

The Imperium series has had its influence on sf; for example, in his ‘Luther Arkwright’ comics dealing with parallel universes, Bryan Talbot refers to the central para as ‘ZeroZero’. 

More recently, Steampunk aficionados have come to regard ‘Imperium’ as proto-Steampunk, although in this regard, it is rather less influential than, say, Moorcock’s ‘Nomad of Time’ novels. 

If you’re looking for a fast-paced sci-fi adventure that doesn’t strive to offer much in the way of scientific extrapolation or in-depth characterization, then ‘Imperium’ is a decent read.

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