Reading an Ace Double means two reviews for the price of one: Cosmic Checkmate by Charles V. DeVet & Katherine MacLean and King of the Fourth Planet by Robert Moore Williams.
This Ace Double, F-149, was published in 1962.
Cosmic Checkmate was originally published as a (Hugo-nominated) short story, "Second Game", in 1958. The Ace publication doubled the length of the story and was the first book publication, although with a silly title.*
Dizzying history aside, Cosmic Checkmate is actually a very solid piece of political science fiction. The hero is a spy (of sorts), who investigates a hostile alien culture by posing as a master gamesman. Simply by playing the local variation of chess, he explores about the alien society, mingles with its luminaries and, ultimately, learns their strengths and weaknesses. (If this is all sounding very familiar, it is because Iain M. Banks wrote essentially the same story 25 years later.)
There are a lot of books out there that glorify the college (and high school) experience: mysteries, science fiction, fantasy and even (gasp) non-genre literature.
There's also some real trash out there (I'm looking at you, The Rule of Four) but also some great ones. The difference is often a sense of proportion. There's a tendency in this genre to operate under the assumption that everything significant in one's life happens by the grand old age of 21. Happily, this isn't true. The better books balance the need for drama and character development with the sense of perspective needed to keep it realistic.
The trend has been exacerbated by the marketability of young (e.g. just out of college) authors - a thriller about college by a college student has a publicity story (and probably comes cheaper). Not to say that all the young authors fall into this trap (the examples below don't!), but many do.
So, if you get your kicks out of schoolkids, here's three books to start with:
The Conscripts (1968) is an early novel from action-adventure writer Walter Winward. The novel follows a half dozen boys as they join the British National Service. The boys come from a variety of backgrounds - including a blue-blooded student, a genial farmer, a sociopathic bouncer and even a Jewish kid from East London.
Winward punctuates the book thoroughly with flashbacks, but the main action is sequential. The reader follows the young men through their training, then through their service in Cyprus and Egypt. Although they're only signed up for two years, it seems like a lifetime. Winward does his best to capture their growth and development, but due to the length of the novel (short), the passage of time seems awfully choppy.
Like many other books and films about joining the military life, the training camp scenes are the most exciting. While in camp, their problems are tough, but understandable. It doesn't take a particularly skilled writer to convey the pain of marching for dozens of miles in the heat - or having to wash out a massive kitchen on a Sunday morning - or getting caught after curfew. These are human miseries and very easy for the reader to understand. The boys are also fresh from the 'outside' world at this point - the reader is still connected with their background and has no choice but to cheer for them.