The Brass God
by Keith Laumer

Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson

If, January 1965
as "Retief, God-Speaker"

collected in —
Galactic Diplomat
Retief at Large


December 2004


"The Brass God" is one of my favorite novelets in Keith Laumer's Retief science-fiction series. Jame Retief is an interstellar diplomat of middling rank in the Corps Diplomatique Terrestrienne (CDT), but with superior intelligence, bravery, and wit. He also possesses a will toward honorable realpolitik, which is embarrassingly lacking in most of his colleagues.

On the planet Hoog, a religious war has developed between the righteous surface-dwelling Hoogs and the underground-dwelling Spisms; the former have defined the latter as devils and spooks. The Bishop of Hoog wants Terran foreign aid: as the Hoogan chamberlain points out, worldly goods of course mean nothing to His Arrogance, but the deadliest of the sins is Stinginess. — A brassy theocracy, indeed.

On Hoog, the realms of the righteous and subterranean live in hostile propinquity, and now the subterranean Spisms also have become aware of the Terrestrial diplomats:

"Retief!" [Magnan] gasped. "There it is again!"

"Shhh." Retief watched as the curtain moved again. A tiny red-glowing bead appeared at its edge, a foot above the floor; a wire-thin leg emerged, and then another. A body like a ball of reddish fluff came into view, its red-bead eyes on two-inch stalks which tilted alertly to scan the chamber. Its gaze fixed on Retief; it moved clear of the curtain, paused, then started toward him on skittery legs —

With a yell, Magnan dived for the door and flung it wide. "Guards! Help! Goblins! Spooks!" His voice receded along the hall ...

Retief crossed quickly to the window ...

"This way out, fellow," he said. "You'd better get going before the cops arrive."

The fluffball darted across the room and came to a shaky stop before Retief. He made quick, nervous motions. A folded square of paper fell to the floor at Retief's feet. Then the creature sprang for the opening and was gone as Hoogan feet clumped at the door.

"Where Spism?" a heavy voice demanded in thick Terran.

At their first diplomatic reception on Hoog, the racial-religious conflict quickly ensnares the Terran diplomats. Political and religious speech, claims of realms above and below, mingle most entertainingly.

"The Brass God" is as fine a place as any to begin reading Retief's adventures. We may use A. Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes as a prototype of a series containing many short stories and a few novels. These Retief stories really do not stand alone, their effect of character and atmosphere is cumulative. Yet it is wise to read the stories in small bites, ideally one at a time, so they may differentiate themselves.

Retief closed the door behind the departing visitors, fished out the scrap of paper dropped by the fleeing Spism and opened it.


© 2004 Robert Wilfred Franson

Baen Library online etext
of "The Brass God"


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