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Authors: Keith Laumer

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BOOK: Retief!
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By Keith Laumer

This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental.

Copyright (c) 2001 by the estate of Keith Laumer

"Aide Memoire" was first published in
July, 1962. "The Brass God" (aka "Retief, God-Speaker") was first published in
January, 1965. "The Castle of Light" was first published in
October, 1964. "Courier" (aka "The Frozen Planet") was first published in
September, 1961. "Cultural Exchange" was first published in
September, 1962. "Diplomat-at-Arms" was first published in
, January, 1960. "Native Intelligence" (aka "The Governor of Glave") was first published in
November, 1963. "Palace Revolution" (aka "Gambler's World") was first published in
November, 1961. "Policy" (aka "The Madman From Earth") was first published in
March, 1962. "The Prince and the Pirate" was first published in
August, 1964. "Protest Note" (aka "The Desert and the Stars") was first published in
November, 1962. "Protocol" (aka "The Yllian Way") was first published in
January, 1962.
Retief's War
was first serialized in
October-December, 1965, and published in novel form by Doubleday in 1966. "Saline Solution" was first published in
March, 1963. "Sealed Orders" (aka "Retief of Red-Tape Mountain") was first published in
February, 1962. "Ultimatum" (aka "Mightiest Qorn") was first published in
November, 1961. "Wicker Wonderland" (aka "The City That Grew in the Sea") was first published in
March, 1964.

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form.

A Baen Books Original

Baen Publishing Enterprises
P.O. Box 1403
Riverdale, NY 10471

ISBN: 0-671-31857-8

Cover art by Richard Martin

First printing, January 2002

Distributed by Simon & Schuster
1230 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10020

Production by Windhaven Press, Auburn, NH

Printed in the United States of America


"Let me congratulate you," the voice said. Retief turned. An immense Flap-jack, hung with crimson trappings, rippled at his side. "Your skirmish-forms fight well. I think we will find in each other worthy adversaries."

"Thanks," Retief replied. "I'm sure the test would be interesting, but I'm hoping we can avoid it."

"Avoid it? Well, we can resolve these matters later. I am called Hoshick of the Mosaic of the Two Dawns."

"I'm Retief . . . of the Mountain of Red Tape."

"As soon as we realized that you were sportsmen like ourselves," Hoshick continued, "we provided a bit of activity for you. We ordered out our heavier equipment and a few trained skirmishers and soon we'll be able to give you an adequate show, or so I hope."

"Additional skirmishers?" said Retief. "How many, if you don't mind my asking?"

"For the moment, perhaps a few hundred. Thereafter . . . well, I'm sure we can arrange that between us. Personally I would prefer a contest of limited scope—no nuclear or radiation-effect weapons."

"Oh, by all means," Retief said. "No atomics. It's wasteful of troops. I wondered if you've considered eliminating weapons altogether?"

"Pardon my laughter, but surely you jest?"

"As a matter of fact," said Retief, "we ourselves try to avoid the use of weapons. You see, we're up against a serious problem with regard to our skirmish-forms: a low birth rate. Therefore we've reluctantly taken to substitutes for the mass actions so dear to the heart of the sportsman. It's quite simple, really. Each side selects a representative and the two individuals settle the issue between them."

"You don't mean . . . ?"

"That's right," said Retief. "You and me."



by David Drake

Keith Laumer was a perfectionist who lived on a two-acre island in the middle of an eighteen-acre Florida lake. He had what is almost certainly the world's largest collection of original bodystyle (that is, 1967-68) Mercury Cougars. (The picture in
The Faces of Science Fiction
shows him sitting in #44, but he reached that number many years before his death.)

Keep those independently verifiable facts in mind, in case something strikes you as improbable as you read on.

Keith wrote in most of the sub-genres within science fiction. Picking a few off the top of my head, there's alien invasion (
The House in November
), military SF (the Bolo series), parallel worlds (
Worlds of the Imperium
), space opera (
Galactic Odyssey
, one of my all-time favorite SF novels, and one of the very few to have a black hero)—

—And the Retief series, the most remarkable of the lot, because the stories are funny besides being . . . but we'll come to the "besides" later.

The main thing all of Keith's work has in common is its aura of realism. A writer ought to know what he's describing. There are plenty of writers who've seen and done things, but they can't make those things vivid to the reader. You feel the reality of a Laumer story.

And of course, he did have the knowledge. For example, the Bolo series so perfectly captures the awesome power of a tank that I figured the author had served in an armored unit at some point in his varied career. Nope. But part of Keith's World War II training (in what was then the US Army Air Corps) involved lying down in a slit trench while tanks drove over him. Which, when you think about it, is an even better way to come to appreciate tanks than riding inside one.

He also came by the diplomatic background of the Retief stories honestly, having served in the US Foreign Service in the late '50s as vice consul in Burma.

Burma was—and is—a fragment of British imperialism rather than a nation state. The area which the British administered from Rangoon included three major tribal groups, all of whom hated each other even more than they hated the British (after all, they'd known each other longer).

When the British left Burma in 1948, they handed the administration over to the tribe which happened to live in the neighborhood of Rangoon—thereby spawning national resistance movements in both the north and south of the country which continue active to this day. What passes for a Burmese central government is intensely xenophobic and handles internal protest by (for example) machinegunning crowds who are waiting outside hospitals for word on relatives machinegunned during earlier peaceful protests.

It was the practice of the diplomatic community of the time to pretend that Burma was a normal country, civilized according to Western standards. As a matter of fact, the Secretary General of the United Nations then was Burmese. (A similar process goes on today in regard to Iran. About the only people who publicly deny that Iran is civilized are the theocrats who lead Iran.)

The pretense would have been difficult to maintain for those diplomats stationed in Burma who went beyond the social whirl and actually learned something about the country. Of course, most of them didn't get out into the country. The US presence in Burma was just as remarkable as Burma itself.

The United State Foreign Service had gone through reorganizations both before and after World War II, leaving several different types of diplomats coexisting rather uncomfortably. The older and greater in the status, the less awareness of the realities of the modern international community and the greater scorn for pragmatists like Captain Keith Laumer, who'd transferred into the diplomatic service from the Air Force.

What I'm trying to imply with all this is that the incredible byzantine backgrounds of the Retief stories owe as much to Keith's memory as to his imagination.

The humor (sometimes pretty black humor, granted) and realism which pervade the Retief stories are both pretty obvious. Besides those things, the stories are sometimes constructed with very, very sneaky cleverness. I'll give one example (but I won't tell you what the story was).

was always a squeaky-clean magazine (even before it became a deadly dull magazine). But back in the '70s,
ran a Retief story in which the native names were what appeared at first glance to be collections of unpronounceable consonants—a science fiction cliché for suggesting alien sounds.

If you looked very carefully, though (and to be quite honest, I didn't, until a linguist friend pointed it out to me) and noted the ways the natives mispronounced English words, it turned out that all those native names were scatological. John Campbell must have been spinning in his grave.

So what you have in your hands are some of the funniest, cleverest, and most (unfortunately) realistic stories ever written about life at the sharp end of international relations. You're about to have fun.

And who knows? You may also learn something that'll make the international news a little easier to understand.

* * *

David Drake


Note: This essay is closely based on one I did for Keith in 1990. I had to change references to Keith to past tense. Nothing about international diplomacy has changed. Unfortunately.




David Drake is a sweet and lovable man who has dogs, cats, a wife, and one son. Among his published works are the Hammer's Slammers series of military science fiction and a number of novels using his background in the classics and his interest in ancient Rome. He has been a fan of Keith Laumer's work since 1959.




Editor's Note:
is the very first Retief story that Laumer ever wrote, and depicts Retief as an old man toward the end of his career. It has a very different tone and feel from any of the other Retief stories. It's a matter of taste, of course, but this is my personal favorite of all of them.


The cold white sun of Northroyal glared on pale dust and vivid colors in the narrow raucous street. Retief rode slowly, unconscious of the huckster's shouts, the kaleidoscope of smells, the noisy milling crowd. His thoughts were on events of long ago on distant worlds; thoughts that set his features in narrow-eyed grimness. His bony, powerful horse, unguided, picked his way carefully, with flaring nostrils, wary eyes alert in the turmoil.

The mount sidestepped a darting gamin and Retief leaned forward, patted the sleek neck. The job had some compensations, he thought; it was good to sit on a fine horse again, to shed the gray business suit—

A dirty-faced man pushed a fruit cart almost under the animal's head; the horse shied, knocked over the cart. At once a muttering crowd began to gather around the heavy-shouldered gray-haired man. He reined in and sat scowling, an ancient brown cape over his shoulders, a covered buckler slung at the side of the worn saddle, a scarred silver-worked claymore strapped across his back in the old cavalier fashion.

Retief hadn't liked this job when he had first learned of it. He had gone alone on madman's errands before, but that had been long ago—a phase of his career that should have been finished. And the information he had turned up in his background research had broken his professional detachment. Now the locals were trying an old tourist game on him; ease the outlander into a spot, then demand money . . .

Well, Retief thought, this was as good a time as any to start playing the role; there was a hell of a lot here in the quaint city of Fragonard that needed straightening out.

* * *

"Make way, you rabble!" he roared suddenly. "Or by the chains of the sea-god I'll make a path through you!" He spurred the horse; neck arching, the mount stepped daintily forward.

The crowd made way reluctantly before him. "Pay for the merchandise you've destroyed," called a voice.

"Let peddlers keep a wary eye for their betters," snorted the man loudly, his eye roving over the faces before him. A tall fellow with long yellow hair stepped squarely into his path.

"There are no rabble or peddlers here," he said angrily. "Only true cavaliers of the Clan Imperial . . ."

The mounted man leaned from his saddle to stare into the eyes of the other. His seamed brown face radiated scorn. "When did a true Cavalier turn to commerce? If you were trained to the Code you'd know a gentleman doesn't soil his hands with penny-grubbing, and that the Emperor's highroad belongs to the mounted knight. So clear your rubbish out of my path, if you'd save it."

"Climb down off that nag," shouted the tall young man, reaching for the bridle. "I'll show you some practical knowledge of the Code. I challenge you to stand and defend yourself."

In an instant the thick barrel of an antique Imperial Guards power gun was in the gray-haired man's hand. He leaned negligently on the high pommel of his saddle with his left elbow, the pistol laid across his forearm pointing unwaveringly at the man before him.

BOOK: Retief!
5.83Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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