Wicker Wonderland
by Keith Laumer

Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson

If, March 1964
as "The City that Grew in the Sea"

collected in —
Galactic Diplomat
Retief at Large


July 2010


"Wicker Wonderland" is an unusually vivid short story in Keith Laumer's Retief science-fiction series. The planet herein is effectively an ocean world: its continents are deserts. The native humanoid race has evolved in and around a giant "raft of seaweed in mid-ocean": they have built tall, flexible wicker towers above their floating island of seaweed, and hunt large and dangerous sea creatures beneath it:

Retief waited half a minute, then rose lazily and stepped out on the wide observation deck.

All around, lesser towers, intricately patterned, rose from the miles-long mat of yellow-green seaweed far below, moving restlessly with the long ocean swells. Sea fowl with weed-colored backs and sky-blue undersides wheeled and screamed. Between the swaying pinnacles, a spiderweb complex of catwalks swung in hundred-yard festoons. A continuous creaking of rattan filled the air. Far away, the white-flecked surface of the open sea was visible.

The hero, Jame Retief, is an interstellar diplomat 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. Of course it is a rare diplomat of any rank or style who seizes or falls into an opportunity for heroism, but Retief does here.

In "Wicker Wonderland", the typical red-tape, bureaucracy, and diplomatic muddle-headedness pilloried in the Retief series are downplayed in favor of the sea-island wicker city, and Retief's adventure with the city and its inhabitants. An oddity here is a naturalized-Terran Groaci in the Terrestrial diplomatic delegation — the Groaci are the star-faring race almost always in competition, less often in overt strife, with the Terran Concordiat. Retief as always has more discernment and empathy for alien environments and their denizens, in sharp contrast to the phony multiculturalism, career-serving if not slyly corrupt, of his fellow diplomats.

A fun adventure in a memorable setting.


© 2010 Robert Wilfred Franson

Baen Library online etext
of "Wicker Wonderland"


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