by Keith Laumer

Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson

edited & compiled by Eric Flint
introduction by David Drake

Baen: New York, 2001

592 pages

September 2012


Keith Laumer's Retief science-fiction series was written over a number of years and contains novels as well as shorter pieces. Subsets have found their way into book form in various combinations. Retief! is the largest selection to date in a single book, with fifteen novelets and short stories, one novella, and a novel. It's a good introduction to the series. Jame Retief, diplomat extraordinaire, is shown in full spectrum, outwitting his superiors of the Corps Diplomatique Terrestrienne (CDT) and assorted conniving aliens, as well as outfighting some of the latter when necessary.

"... I can't actually order you to step forward. However ..." Magnan let the sentence hang in the air. Retief raised one eyebrow.

"For a minute there," he said, "I thought you were going to make a positive statement."

Magnan leaned back, lacing his fingers over his stomach. "I don't think you'll find a diplomat of my experience doing anything so naive," he said.

"Aide Memoire"

Among the novelets are a couple of my favorites, reviewed separately at Troynovant: "The Brass God" and "Wicker Wonderland".

One thing to bear in mind about the spectrum in Retief! is that it includes a couple of outliers: the novella "Diplomat-at-Arms" (1960), the very first Retief story and the one which opens the book, is chronologically last in Retief's life. It is sober, harshly realistic, and has rather more of Retief's character than we are used to seeing in the funny novelets of red-tape and aliens. Other diplomats are scarcely present and there are no aliens. It's a unique adventure in the series, and striking in several ways.

At the other end of the characterization spectrum is the included novel, Retief's War (1965). Here we have only about as much of Retief's personality and wit as we get in any of the novelets, so although on-stage throughout, he seems spread rather thin. Exotic aliens there are a-plenty, in an ecology of electro-mechano-organic creatures, all more or less intelligent and talkative. While there is lots of action, the resident aliens mostly hold center stage. By far the most memorable are the gigantic aerial Rhoon, flyers the size of rocs or four-engine bombers: intelligent, dangerous, and worth getting on the right side of — if you live survive meeting one. As always, Retief's diplomacy must out-think and out-maneuver his immediate superior Magnan and higher officialdom; here's a little verbal sidelight of a multi-race confrontation being mismanaged by the Ambassador:

Magnan leaned toward Retief. "I love watching him [the Ambassador] work," he murmured. "It only took him an instant to decide on Hearty Congratulation plus Alert Awareness of Irregularities, and just the teensiest bit of Latent Severity, all tied together with a touch of Gracious Condescension."

"A great technician," Retief agreed. "Too bad you can't tell the result from Stunned Incredulity."

"Umm. Still, the Quoppina won't know the difference."

Retief's War

Retief! is a good selection of Keith Laumer's Retief stories. Give several a try, to get the flavor; and then read the rest.


© 2012 Robert Wilfred Franson


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