Worlds of the Imperium, by Keith Laumer
What if, in a parallel universe, your double was someone evil -- and really powerful? What if people from another universe kidnapped you with the idea of replacing him?
When I first read that premise in a book review, I was wild with excitement to read this book. But when I read it, somehow it never reached the crescendo of excitement I expected from a premise like that.
One of the drawbacks of being a writer is a tendancy towards overcriticality -- analyzing writing and story structure when you'd like your brain to just shut up and enjoy the story. So at the beginning, I was thinking, "That opening paragraph isn't very good. It has too much boring description, doesn't even orient me in the story." Etc.
But, I soon got involved in the story. It moved along quickly and kept me turning the pages. The Imperium is a parallel world where there was no WWI or WWII. It's very military-oriented, but fairly peaceful. Germany and England never had a war, and in fact formed one giant empire. (At one point, a jovial Hermann Goering show up at one point as a mild-mannered -- and good -- character. Kind of creepy, if you ask me.) The Imperium people travel to parallel worlds unimpeded -- until another world introduces them to guerilla style warfare -- with atom bombs. Brion Bayard (our hero), is from our Earth. His double is in charge of the violent world now threatening the Imperium.
It's a fast paced story, a quick read (because it's relatively short), and an interesting look at early (copyright 1962) parallel universe stories and steampunk. The ideas in it are interesting, although by now they're not the height of originality. The story kept me reading, with enough twists and turns to hold my interest, and it had a fairly satisfying ending, although sometimes, I felt like I was watching an old movie. (There was one point when a villain hung by his hands and the hero was trying to help him -- like the cliffhanger endings on so, so many movies.) Still, lots of exciting things happened and I practically read it in one sitting.
It was a fun and interesting read, but not my new favorite story, which I guess is what I was looking for when I opened this book. (Perhaps if I didn't get my expectations so high, I wouldn't be disappointed when "good" books aren't "superb" books.)
On the one hand, I felt a bit "that's it?" at the ending. (In the paperback I read, the story ended on page 178, with several short stories added at the end to pad out the page count. This may account for the sudden feeling of the end.) But I was satisfied with a quick and relatively pleasant read. I did skip over a few fight scenes, because the violence was boring me. But I was thrilled by at least one plot turn. And the story definitely kept me up reading past my bedtime.
It's nice to know that this is part of a series, so I know I can revisit Brion Bayard and the Imperium if I want to someday.