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    Review of THE LIGHTER SIDE by Keith Laumer (edited by Eric Flint)

    Baen, January 2001

    KEITH LAUMER: THE LIGHTER SIDE combines two novels along with a number of short stories written by the SF classic author Keith Laumer (see more reviews of novels by Laumer).

    In The Queue tells of a planet-wide waiting list. People wait their entire lives to move up, holding their places not only for themselves, but also for their children. A nice twist at the end makes this one memorable. The Planet Wreckers confronts an every-man with a galactic movie crew intent on staging the world's largest disaster film. The Body Builders explores a future where people (except a few fanatics) have abandoned their bodies for robots. The Devil You Don't is a romp with a demon. The Exterminator explores America's fascination with violence as a unversal solution. The Big Show blurs reality with entertainment. Gooberreality mixes an every-man with a government/business society where independence is impossible. Protothap confronts an every-man with the impossible--he can't buy life insurance (the twist is in why). Reflecting an earlier era in SF where the short story was a key part of the genre, these stories demonstrate Laumer's skill, provide insights into the America of the 1960s (most of which apply today), and generate some nice chuckles.

    TIME TRAP, the first novel in the collection, puts Roger Tyson on the spot. When he tries to flag down a beautiful woman on a motorcycle, she crashes. Dying, she insists that he take her "hearing aid" which turns out to be a futuristic computer device. Roger discovers that the world has been segmented and that, unless he can do something, Earth's entire existance will come to an end. He faces an apparently immortal giant rutabaga, and is both aided and opposed by futuristic scientists--including the dead woman.

    THE GREAT TIME MACHINE HOAX is the gem in this collection (see the review of this novel). Chester W. Chester IV has a tax bill due and nothing but a moth-eaten circus and an estate with an expensive computer to pay it with. Checking out the computer with his friend Case, they realize the potential to make some money in entertainment--by faking a time machine. What they don't realize is that the computer takes them very literally. The strength of this story comes when Chester is forced to confront his own weaknesses. In an accelerated learning program, which Laumer suggests might have benefit to all of us, Chester learns confidence and overcomes fear and pain.

    Keith Laumer is one of the great writers of the 1960s and this is a fine introduction to his non-series work. Laumer definitely lacks a progressive attitude toward women, generally treating them as prizes rather than as intelligent players, but if you're willing to overlook this outdated perspective, you'll find a lot to enjoy in THE LIGHTER SIDE.

    Three Stars

    Reviewed 3/23/06

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