wombat_socho (wombat_socho) wrote,

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21 books: From one abyss to the next, and then into the jungle

I read all of these books in sixth grade, and they all stuck with me for various reasons...two of them because they introduced me to remarkable authors with quite different styles, and the third because it got me interested in Korea.

Thus Zadok Allen describes one of the leading citizens of the New England city of Innsmouth, the site of the action in The Shadow over Innsmouth, which was actually not a novel but a collection of Lovecraft stories pubilshed by Scholastic Book Services back in the late 1960s. Coming from a family that hailed from the northeast end of Massachusetts, I had no trouble imagining the decrepit city and the horrors that lurked behind the shuttered windows. This set the hook in me, and over the subsequent years I snatched up every bit of Lovecraft I could find, even the tales adulterated by August Derleth into novels; even today, the Cthulhu Mythos and its several authors continue to fascinate me.

S.L.A. Marshall's reputation was pretty huge when he was alive, but diminished quickly as it became apparent to other historians that he hadn't let little things like the facts get in the way of a good story. Which makes me wonder how much of The River and the Gauntlet, a gripping account of Eighth Army's retreat from the Yalu River in the winter of 1950-51 is supported by the facts...anyhow, at the time that I read this book it was pretty gripping. I hadn't delved very much into American military history at that point and had yet to become familiar with such disasters as the siege of Bataan, the Crater incident during the Civil War, and the opening engagements of what would become the battle of the Bulge. Marshall's account of the Chinese intervention in Korea was a real eye-opener, and whetted my appetite for more of the same. Unfortunately, Battles in the Monsoon, his best-known work on Vietnam, wasn't nearly as good, and I never bothered to read his other histories after that. Still, I have to give Marshall credit for getting me more interested in military history, and in the Korean War (to say nothing of other things Korean) in particular.

As a former Air Force officer turned diplomat, Keith Laumer was well-equipped to tell the rollicking tales of Jame Retief of the Corps Diplomatique Terrestrienne, an unorthodox fellow who often found himself fighting with his own superiors as much (or more) than he did the enemies of Terra, be they uncooperative natives or the five-eyed Groaci. Probably the best of all Retief's adventures is the novel Retief's War, serialized in Worlds of If back in 1965 - which is where I first saw it, or at least its second half. (That same issue had the first part of Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, with a memorable Gray Morrow cover. Anyhow, Retief's War takes place on the planet Quopp, where the locals are made mostly of metallic chitin and get ripped on sugar products -in one memorable scene, two Quoppina of the Voion tribe are completely undone by a jar of Terran honey our hero has hidden in his disguise- and the Terran mission is about to fumble its way into disaster, until Retief escapes in disguise to rouse the anarchic bush tribes against the would-be imperialist Voion...who happen to be getting some under-the-table support from a certain bunch of five-eyed aliens who have plans of their own for Quopp. It's a great adventure, full of swashes getting buckled and diplomatic derring-do plus a shipload or gorgeous women who aren't averse to picking up a sword and kicking some butt themselves when the occasion calls for it.

Of course, this started a decades-long fascination with Laumer's works. I'm glad to see that Eric Flint has put together what may be the definitive anthology of Retief stories, complete with an excellent introduction by David Drake, and even more glad to see that he'll be working with Baen Books to bring out collections of Laumer's adventure stories and his non-Retief funny stories.

I wonder where my copy of The Glory Game has gotten to...
Tags: back in the day, books
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