Future Imperfect & A Plague of Demons by Keith Laumer

Plague of Demons

Plague of Demons

I decided to review both books simultaneously as they are both compilations of short stories. Laumer’s books are intriguing for their styling, both fast paced and full of interesting similes. Much of his work is (apparently) focused on a lone wolf hero who must rescue the world. I can see that come out over the course of these two works. Seldom do the main characters have any support or assistance from others. When they do, those others tend to die or be maimed etc…

After reading A Plague of Demons I was a bit excited. I had stumbled upon an author who wrote light science fiction and that was reasonably clean. Further, the first short story of his that I had read, Greylorn told first-person story of a starship captain dealing with a mutinous crew. The captain used his brains and psychology to outwit the crew and save the day. Not, that there wasn’t a bit of action mind you, but that was secondary and in support of the use of his intellect to solve the problems. I learned to appreciate that approach to life some time ago: when you don’t have the money or tools of others, you use your God given talents (relying first on Him, secondarily on your talents) to out think a better equipped and better funded opponent.

I thoroughly enjoyed Greylorn and then proceeded to read the entire book. There were a few swear words in Plague but nothing that would push it passed a mild PG rating. Then I moved to the next book: Future Imperfect. This one easily pushed PG13 and had some mild adult content (i.e. not explicit but more than was needed). Arg. That is so annoying.

Would I recommend that you read Laumer? Depends on the person. Laumer does have some interesting qualities that make for good philosophical and literary discussions. For example, Laumer emphasizes the intellect over everything else. Most of his works in these two books (published 1965 and 1966) swirled around the mind and soul. Whether it was a man being slowly transformed from a human to a superman to a super tank while maintaining his individuality and personality or whether it is a discussion of cloning and eternal life. Always, the person is more than the body and more than an animal. Laumer seemed to see something special in the intellect; possibly from a modified humanistic perspective. His work seems to acknowledge evolution while maintaining the uniqueness of the human. In one story the only thread between each incarnation of the man was the brain which was transported from body to body. In another, the body was nothing, but the collection of memories and personality tapes recreated the man himself. So apparently Laumer saw man as more than flesh, but not necessarily more than the collection of his memories and personality.

Very interesting….

Laumer also leans on the use of telepathy and other mental powers in several of these works. Once again that reinforces his fascination with the mind and its power.

Plague was a set of adventure stories and you should at least read Greylorn and Thunderhead. They are great adventure stories about heroism, duty, and honor.

Laumer experimented with another genre of science fiction called dystopian. Dystopia is the opposite of utopia. Dystopia being my new vocabulary word. 🙂 Typically, dystopian works like Orwell’s 1984 focus heavily on the dystopian world, while Laumer’s characters just happens to inhabit the dystopia. The dystopian world is around the character but not the point or the driving focus of the book. In The Day Before Forever contained within Future Imperfect, an evil company that controls life and death, parcels out organs at high price to those who can afford replacements wants Steve Dravek dead. Meanwhile, Dravek has a nasty hangover and a scrambled memory. His attempts to piece together his life leads him to confront the evil ETORP organization, though he approaches it rather obliquely. It isn’t his primary goal to attack ETORP, but simply survival.

Other dystopia focus on end of the world conditions, the so called catastrophe movies like Day After Tomorrow and Impact. Not that I have watched them, but they represent the usual approach to a dystopian universe.

Anyway, the point of my rambling was to observe how Laumer approaches these subjects in a manner worthy of consideration. Very different approach than the typical genre.

Another point to consider: Baen Publishers has chosen to make these and other works available for free in a multitude of formats. I like this as it allows me to read books on my PDA easily when I have 3-5 minutes where I am waiting in line or walking. Yes, I read while I walk. Make use of my time. Baen believes that by giving some books away, people will be more likely to purchase hard copies. Can’t say that I’m opposed or that I think they are wrong. Its a brilliant idea. Read about it here. Get copies of their free books here.

Audio of Greylorn
More about Dystopia found here.


11 thoughts on “Future Imperfect & A Plague of Demons by Keith Laumer

  1. Dystopia? A common plot device, it seems (in most stories, the society that looks utopian is really dystopian); that’s what its called!

    Sci fi is best used as a basis for refining philosophical issues. I really enjoy works that emphasize the intellect, regardless of genere.

    There is something in a person that is attracted to mental poweress, isn’t there? Even villians seem more likeable if they use their intellect to get where they are, and use logic of some understandable sort to back it up.

  2. I guess your statement about dystopia being a common plot device depends your view of dystopia. I would agree with the school of thought that argues for four societies:

    Utopia, Normal, Dystopia, Anti-Utopia. The difference between the latter is significant in my opinion. A dystopia is based on the fears of how current social ills will develop into a terrible society. An Anti-Utopia appears to be a normal utopia, but contains a fatal flaw.

    Some argue that the end result is the same: a society that is negative and fearful. Somewhere you wouldn’t want to live. The difference as I see it is the openness and structure of the societies. One is built to be good and fails, the other is grown out of bad choices in the present.

    There, how’s that for nit picking? 🙂

    You are right about sci-fi being a great place to build philosophical discussions. I hadn’t thought about that aspect much before, but I am coming to see that point of view. One of my friends reads a lot of sci-fi and has been pointing me in the direction of various books because of the philosophy they teach. (For the purpose of discussion….)

    What sci-fi have you read/like? And no, fantasy is not sci-fi.

  3. Hmmm, regarding anti-utopia, its possible that’s the case. However, usually when utopia goes wrong its because the planning had bad choices (famous varaitations include drugging everyone except the powerful into a zombie worker state, killing people off for body parts while making them think they live in safety, etc) that involved sacrificing something important for the “greater good” of the leadership. What bad utopia doesn’t have major issues regarding choices made in the past? I’ve never studied up on the subject, so please, enlighten me. Either way, anti-utopia and dystopia grow out of bad choices made (and someone’s personal good is always at stake in those choices, which they, in turn, see as the greater good).

    I am not a fan of sci fi in general, with the exception of Star Wars. Too much gore. I have read short stories of the genere, and mostly kids-oreinted Star Wars books when I was a teenager. One thing I did enjoy about Star Wars (as my main excursion into sci-fi territory) was the consistancy of the universe across all the different authors and series of novels. Even if you got really nit-picky, the timelines and gadgetry remained the same.

    Fantasy is not sci fi (its usual flaw is adult content, not gore/horror), on that I think we can all agree.

  4. Consider a future society (as in Soylent Green) in which unemployment is high, the earth is over-crowded, food is scarce, and global warming is making Earth unbearable. Or think about post-apocalyptic societies in which few people are trying to survive the remnants of a nuclear holocaust. Those would be dystopian.

    Anti-Utopia would be a society that appears to be pleasant on the surface. Plenty of food and Earth has become Gaia. Yet, there is a problem (or many) such as selective reproduction to control population, euthanasia, or shunning of people to maintain that pleasant atmosphere. Both places are bad to live, but one COULD be pleasant if you go with the program. The other is always bad.

    Well, if you want other great Sci-Fi, read Starship Troopers, Ender’s Game, and Dune. All are fantastic and excluding Dune, the violence is minimal to almost non-existent. All of them are more intellectual treatises on various subjects. I should mention that all of them are PG to PG13 based on language and suggested content. None of them are really problematic for a mature reader though. And as you like Victorian England, Dune would interest you. It is an amalgamation of various societies and governments from throughout history. Much of it would be taken from European and British historical governments. Great stuff.

    And isn’t that view of Fantasy a little over-broad? 😉

    I do get your point though and Fantasy is typically characterized that way for a reason. I assume you haven’t read the Binding of the Blade series? I have the first three reviewed on the site, so check them out. Very shortly, I will start book four. And, the cover of book 2 has a quote from this site….

  5. Hahaha… no, not all fantasy has that issue. Its just a genere tendancy; sci fi tends (when it has issues) to be more violent than impudent. Both can have both problems. “Binding of the Blade” sounds good, I’ll have to check out those reveiws.

    I enjoy fantasy alot, but mostly the kids versions. Adult (and teen) ones tend to have the issues discussed above. Plus, in a kids book, the author rarely tries to make the plot overly complex and historical-sounding (I know too much real history for that to impress me, unfortionately). Alex Rider, Artemis fowl, etc… semi-fantasy for a crowd that isn’t interested in intellectual discussions via literature. For the purpose of discussion: would you rather read a book with a happy ending or a book that went into deep philosophical territory but ended like a horror story?

    Someone else recommended Dune to me, once. I like English history in general. 🙂 At the moment, I think my effections are more Tudor than Victorian, but good memory! What is your “favorite history” era? (As my brother once put it).

  6. Hmm. Tough question. I tend to get absorbed in characters so if the book is tragic without an excellent philosophical discussion, I won’t like it. So for pleasure reading, I’ll take the happy ending. For intellectual reading I don’t care.

    BTW, Binding of the Blade series needs to be viewed from a big picture perspective. Don’t know if that is clear in the reviews, but remember that the characters are secondary to the point.

    Dune is good. Sorry, I confuse the various epochs of British history…. I have no idea what they are and tend to throw one term or another out and hope it sticks properly. Guess I missed the dart board with this one. And if you’re reading this Katherine; I don’t care enough to go figure it out right now, so deal with it. 😛

    I don’t have a favorite era of history as I don’t read history for its own sake. I read books about events or issues that also enlighten me to a specific period in history. So the history is secondary. That’s not to say that I don’t like it. Give me a book that interests me and is also history. Like: World on Fire which you can look up on this site as well.

  7. Ah. That’s my general approach to philosophy; if I can learn something about it via the Tudor/Renaissance period, awesome. Well, you can keep me on track about utopia and anti-utopia and dystopia, and I’ll happily do the same for you in history when I can. 🙂 We can trade off.

    Since Anti-Utopia is only pleasent on the surface/when you go with the program, how does Utopia ever happen? I have yet to read anything that has a real utopia involved, (i.e., you always have to follow the rules for utopia to work, otherwise it fails). I know the term literaly means “no place”, and is impossible in reality outside of heaven, but have you ever read a book where utopia did exist? Even Aristotle’s ideal city had issues (slavery, everyone has to conform, etc).

  8. Never actually read a book about a real utopia. Possibly because utopia would be boring. 😛 What makes a story interesting is conflict and that wouldn’t exist in utopia. Or not to any real degree.

    That’s not quite true. I did read a short story The Blue Tower by Evelyn Smith. Look it up on LibriVox.org. If you listen to it, its 34 minutes. Essentially, earth lives under a benevolent dictatorship that provides every need, virtually like heaven. Except for the inability to rule oneself. The utopia was real. The only “problem” was that mankind did not have the ability to self-govern. One young man attempts to protect the system from the few malcontents. Great story with a great ending.

    Check that out.

  9. I read it (just now). Very interesting, but I have to say, the only reason its ending is great is because the main character is a nitwit. But then, all the humans shown are irritating to some degree, so why care about them when they self-destruct. The main inconsistancy is that everyone is in perfect peace until the alien stops providing everything for their life ease, and then everything is chaos. I found it frusterating, but then, its realistic (if they guy had been thoughtful, he could have saved the planet), so perhaps it is a great story. But I hated it, and now its stuck in my brain on rewind. :)D

    In general, any story that starts out with utopia is shrouded in fear because we’ve all seen so many movies of anti-utopias that we all EXPECT something evil or malevolent to happen. Ironically, as you say, we’d get bored stiff if the utopia was both real and sustained throughout the story. I think my favorite anti-utopia stories involve

  10. Involve what?

    And, personally, I found this interesting in that it had parallels to the Garden of Eden and the millennial reign of Christ.

  11. ooops, I hit the send button too soon!

    Involve problems with its mechanics. The way the society enjoys itself is deadly, or the physical way that the society is run is breaking down and everyone will die, etc. “Ember” is a very interesting book with the latter issue. As is usual in anti-utopias, someone is trying to hide that there is a problem. Its just fun to find out what the problem is… maybe that does back to my love of mysteries…

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