A Trace of Memory by Keith Laumer

A Trace of Memory by Keith Laumer
A Trace of Memory by Keith Laumer

The novel “A Trace of Memory” by Keith Laumer was published for the first time in 1962 serialized in the magazine “Amazing Stories” and in 1963 as a book.

When Legion replies to a job ad, his hope is to snag a meal and a warm place to sleep for the night. The mysterious but rich Foster seems to be looking for a particular person and above all, he turns out to be a decidedly out-of-the-ordinary man whose memories are mostly missing. The fact that he has a notebook that appears to be made of an indestructible material adds another oddity.

Legion finds himself involved in an adventure that becomes even stranger when he and Foster are attacked by unknown enemies and are forced to flee. Suddenly, Foster starts changing his appearance greatly rejuvenating and at the same time losing his memory.

In the late 1950s, Keith Laumer began a career as a science fiction writer. “A Trace of Memory” is one of his first novels and includes some features of various of his adventurous works with a protagonist who is a lone wolf. In this case, it’s Legion, a man with a complicated past and a difficult present who is looking for a job and finds much more than he bargained for.

The novel is short by today’s standards, so it has a very fast pace with continuous twists in which Legion discovers some new oddity related to Foster or faces some new danger. In the opening part of the novel, these two elements are very closely linked. The protagonist is the only character present in practically the whole story while the others come and go or change, such as Foster.

All this leaves no room for a decent development of the characters, who are stereotyped. It doesn’t help that the story, apart from a very short prologue, is told in the first person by Legion, who certainly doesn’t have the time to do psychological analyzes of all the people he meets. Only Foster is the object of his interest, especially after he realizes that he’s far more than just a weird old man.

The first part of the novel is in my opinion the most intriguing precisely because Legion has to face the mysteries related to Foster, his changes with memory loss, and to the mysterious enemies who want to kill him. In this part, there’s also an element of archaeological science fiction that makes the story more fascinating.

The second part seemed more dull to me, even if Legion has yet to solve some mysteries. This is mainly because the action becomes central and somewhat repetitive. Legion enters commando mode to overcome a series of potentially deadly situations in a setting that becomes almost fantasy.

Keith Laumer puts many ideas into his novel but only a few of them are adequately developed. Today, he would write at least two books totaling at least a thousand pages to tell the same story. This seems to me one of the cases in which a greater length could help the development of ideas, if well managed.

Certainly, “A Trace of Memory” keeps the reader’s attention alive until the end thanks to the ever-changing situations that Legion has to face. If you like old-fashioned science fiction, based on adventures and a sense of wonder, I recommend reading it.


  1. “Today, he would write at least two books totaling at least a thousand pages to tell the same story. ”

    He’s been dead for quite a while now.


    1. Indeed. He died in 1993. My phrase was just meant to stress how the market changed since this novel was published.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *