Keith Laumer was a prolific SF writer who served in the U. S. Army and worked in the foreign service. His stories about Retief, a galactic diplomat, are pretty clearly a result of the latter employment. I find the early ones hilarious. (Others don't.) I also enjoy the novels in Laumer's Imperium series, especially the first, Worlds of the Imperium.Which brings us to today's Forgotten Book, because the foreign service diplomat who's kidnapped by the Imperium and take to an alternate America is Brion Bayard, who happens to be one of the characters Laumer's mainstream novelEmbassy.
Embassy is, as you can read on the cover, "A shocker to rival The Ugly American." It's Laumer's "straight" novel about the U. S. foreign service, which, if Laumer's to be believed, was staffed in the '60s by opportunists, lechers, poltroons, climbers, dumbasses, dullards, and layabouts. The setting is the mythical country of Samoy, which happens to be a lot like Burma (now Myanmar), where Laumer served. Bayard comes to the embassy ready to work, and he doesn't suffer fools gladly. He wants to do things right, and he doesn't like injustice. Naturally everyone is immediately out to get him out of Samoy and ruin his career.
Embassy is crammed with dozens of characters and plot lines, including an incipient communist revolution. It's not at all a humorous novel in the Retief vein, though there are moments of humor. Before it's over, there's plenty of action and violence. Torture, even. It's a serious take on the foreign service and what was wrong with it. Even if Laumer is exaggerating by a factor of ten, it's amazing that the U. S. has any standing left in the world.
I suspect that Laumer had high hopes for this book, and he must have been surprised when it wound up being published by a second-rank paperback house instead of some prestigious hardcover imprint. Even Pyramid didn't seem to have any faith in it, cramming its huge cast and story into a slim 200-page volume with tiny print and way too many lines on a page.
I enjoyed the book a lot, but I can see two problems, both of which could have been easily corrected. One is the narration. Bayard's sections of the book are in first-person. Why? I have no idea, since he's only one character among many and gets no more attention than a lot of the others. The other problem is the chronology. A good bit of time passes in the book, but it's hard to know when it happens. Some chapters pick up immediately after the preceding one, while between others a lot of time goes by.
Back in the early '60s I read The Ugly American and liked it. I wish I'd seen this book when it came out, but I'm glad I finally got around to reading it.