A Trace of Memory was first published in novel form in 1963. It is the second novel by Laumer that I have read. The novel is actually an expanded version of the story that appeared in Amazing Stories in 1962 (July – September). I read a 1984 Tor Books edition with artwork by Bob Layzell.
This novel feels like it is three chunks of story. I read the first chunk and really enjoyed it. But when the story seemed to transition to the second chunk, I lost interest and the book sat around the house abandoned for awhile. Simply put the direction of the storyline was somewhat disappointing since I was rather impressed and engaged with how that whole first section had gone.
For the sake of clarity, let me suggest that the “first chunk” includes chapters 1 – 7. The second chunk: chapters 8 – 12. Finally, the third: chapters 13 – 18.
Now, before I hear complaint, let me explain why I made these divisions. I do not own the 1962 magazines in order to see just how far the story was published in those. So, I have no idea what chunk was published there. However, I made these divisions because while, generally, the plot is a whole, I cannot say that it is seamless and fluid. Honestly, this is a reason why I did not give this novel a four star rating. Though the main character remains the same chap we meet early on, the settings and direction of the story change so much that the novel feels too broken.
The first seven chapters are really good and I was very much engaged in the storyline. Written as noir/horror with a dose of sarcastic humor thrown in, the story speeds along following two characters meeting in a town called Mayport. Laumer displays a keen sense of how to write one of those almost-pulp, noir-esque mystery settings. We meet the main character, Legion, casing a storefront in late evening. A few pages later we meet the mysterious and mannered Foster. Their fates connect simply because Legion is a fast-talking swindler and Foster is quick-thinker. Together, though they present a pair of opposites, they actually are somewhat alike in their underlying personalities.
A few chapters in and this novel moves at breakneck pace and the reader will probably have a lot of questions and not get a lot of answers. And Legion is a real whip of a character, so his sarcasm can get over the top at points. However, this is a good solid story. And then, the plot jumps to three years in the future and I kind of lost a lot of interest in all the stuff in the first part of the book. Now Legion’s circumstances have changed and, honestly, its gotten to the point where it is difficult to buy into this story. Here a pseudo-James Bond/ Dr. No situation is set up featuring South America and help from a minor female character. Evasion and escape and government/military intervention. Well, I just did not enjoy this section much at all. Best part of these chapters is that we meet the magnificent Itzenca character. (A darling, swell cat.)
Finally, what I call the third section moves the story very far off planet and across the galaxy. Here the story turns into a sort of feudal-fantasy thing with Legion trying to evade, escape, solve a mystery, rally the troops, and challenge the planet. It gets a bit too swashbuckling here, I think. (Yes, there are sword fights.) But there is a lot of fun and adventure and the writing is not too shabby. Still, this is far and away from where we started – a noir tale in little Mayport.
So, at the end of this, let us just accept this for what it is. It is an adventure story with some science fiction elements, that just builds and builds on the level of far-out. It was never meant to be intellectual and ponderous. It does speed along and it does have some audacious moments. Adventure fans will appreciate this one, though it may not be all that alluring to many dedicated science fiction fans.