Retief: Diplomat at Arms — Review

Science Fiction & Fantasy Book Review, No. 12, March 1983, p. 39.

Laumer, Keith . Retief: Diplomat at Arms. Timescape/Pocket , NY, October 1982 . 207 p. $2 . 75, paper. ISBN 0-671-44029-2.

Jame Retief, a minor official in the Corps Diplomatique Terrestrienne, is a bureaucratic menace. While serving under Ambassadors Nitworth, Smallfrog, Hidebinder, Biteworse, and other worthies , Retief consistently disobeyed instructions. Instead of giving in to revolutionaries and condoning aggression, he violated form and tradition by helping the good guys win. His methods were also atrocious, preferring to rely on intelligence, education, and common sense instead of receptions, staff meeting, and quintuplicate reports. When given a choice between following procedure and acting competently, Retief, sadly, chose competence. Fortunately, Retief’s superiors were usually happy to take credit for his successes, leaving him free to make terrible puns and enjoy himself.

Laumer, once a U.S. Foreign Service officer, recounts these tales in a style ranging from understatement to slapstick. Character development is kept to a minimum; in Retief’s universe, there are just a few good men (plus a token female or two), and as with the ideal Marine these good few are all strong, honest, and able. While not appropriate for a literature class, the Retief stories can be put to use in a college diplomatic history course. The Cold War, developing nations, foreign aid, and diplomatic triple talk are all covered, and in a style far more approachable than the average textbook.

Five of the seven stories in this collection may be found in Galactic Diplomat (Doubleday, 1965). Only one, ‘”The Secret,” is entirely new , detailing a diplomatic effort to steal a two hundred year old tea bag. While the theft was successful, the story is not. Also disappointing is Rowena Merrill’s cover art, which is more suited to a decadent fantasy than a collection of humorous adventures. If you don’t have the earlier collection, you might give this one a try. — Lawrence I . Charters


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