Tentatively, Convenience's Reviews > Retief: Emissary to the Stars

Retief by Keith Laumer
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Keith Laumer's Retief: Emissary to the Stars
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - April 13, 2015

This is the 17th bk I've read by Laumer & I'm only just now getting to the character that's apparently his most well-known one: Retief. Retief's being the most well-known & popular doesn't mean I'd like him.. but I do. Retief is doomed to a lowly position in the diplomatic hierarchy largely b/c he's the one who's not out to succeed in climbing it. Instead, he sees clearly thru the bullshit & comes up w/ efficient & imaginative solutions to world-shaking problems. I like that in a fictional character. In my notes for this review, I marked the following passage as "very immediately funny":

""Get ready," Magnan whispered. "Here it comes."

""Oh, Magnan," Earlyworm spoke in tones of Lofty Kindliness (a modified 203-C). "If you've information to impart which you feel is of more value to the staff than the little announcement I have for you—pray rise, and share the intelligence with us all."

"Magnan swallowed a small tennis ball which had somehow lodged in his throat and smiled a glassy version of a 217-F (Sublime Confidence, Ehanced by Consciousness of Virtue).

""Now, Ben," Earlyworm soothed. "I hardly think even so sickly a 217 as yours—a subtle expression, and one you've never mastered, as I've pointed out repeatedly in my quarterly assessments of your career potential, and of which due note has been taken in high places; thus your glacial advancement through the ranks—even a sickly 217, I say, hardly represents an appropriate attitude for an erring junior to assume under mild and justified rebuke.["]" - pp 12-13

Laumer was reputedly an officer in the USAF & a US diplomat so a series about an interstellar diplomat is bound to be an exaggeration of his own experiences & of types of experiences he's heard of. Given that my own experiences w/ bureaucracy demonstrates that, just like w/ politics, the scum rises to the top, I get pleasure from Laumer's lampooning. Retief is often the only character in the diplomatic corps who just wants to take care of business & move on.

Having not really pd attn to the series, I don't know if this is the 1st of the Retief bks or even if Retief was originally intended to be the main diplomat character. I see on the Summary Bibliography provided by the Speculative Fiction database ( http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/ea.cgi?211 ) that it's not the 1st. Instant answers! One might think he's somewhat marginal since he's still a bit of a side-character by pp 38-39:

""Staked out in the sulphur pits of Yush on Groac!" Magnan cried half an hour later, reeling back from the rank of stern-face judges who gazed down at him with expressions of mild curiosity. "You call that clemency? What would you hand down as a stiff sentence?"

""Easy, Mr. Magnan," Retief cautioned. "Don't tempt them.""

The Groaci are one of the main villain species &, of course, they're duly exaggerated - in this case as polluters: ""It's an outrage," Anne repeated, "that those sticky-fingered little Groaci should have the temerity to even make application to GROPE to have Delicia declared an authorized disposal area."" - p 49

This, in a story called "The Garbage Invasion". Even the 'good guys' are a bit suspect in the ecologically-conscious area: "The newly arrived vessel was indicated by a point of green light approximately a quarter mile distant. Retief noted the coordinates and punched them into the guidance console, the pressed the ACTIVATE button." (p 52) A quarter-mile away & they're driving. But at least there's time for opera, eh?!: "Anne activated the car's tape system and a Puccini aria emanated from the quad speakers." (p 52)

& even tho Retief [last name] is a new arrival to the planet where Anne [1st name] is in charge, Retief immediately feels free to expect Anne to be the food & drinks provider ['womanly duties'] at his beck & call:

""Why don't you take the car back, Anne? I'll escort Mr. Magnan over and we'll meet you at the office. It will give you time to mix us a couple of tall cool ones, and to punch in a nice dinner to celebrate Mr. Magnan's visit."

""How does fried chicken Sanders sound?" she asked." - p 53

Not too unusually, the cover of this bk has a fully dressed guy, presumably meant to be Retied, holding a gun [yes, phallic] in an erect position next to a blond woman wearing a bikini that barely covers her presumed pubic hair [wax job anyone?]. Maybe someday publishers will just have the women completely naked w/ their vaginal opening distended from recent entry & w/ some sperm dripping down their legs & on the tip of the gun. I'll make sure to request that if I ever write a SF novel for publication.

In a recent comment exchange between myself & Michael Grutchfield, a GoodReads reviewer whose reviews I respect, Grutchfield wrote about Laumer's similes thusly: "I tend to think of Chandler as the one who (over-?)relied on similes, not Hammett, although his would tend to be more refined than the above examples, so in a way there is something Hammett-like (or even Spillane-like) about the Laumers." ( https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... ) I like Laumer's similes & their frequency just adds to the humor of them for me:

""By all means," Magnan replied. "Unhappily, at the time of my departure, the GROPE docket was crammed with over one hundred urgent appeals from member worlds facing ecological breakdown due to the accretion of waste products both biological and industrial. For some curious reason Chief Ecological Coordinator Crodfoller allocated seventy-nine of these applications to me for solution, a task approximately equivalent in complexity to rescoring an equal number of Groaci nose-flute cadenzas for a steel bands, Jew's harp and comb." - p 55 [ok, it's not quite a simile but you get the idea]

&, as we all know, no pop culture can be w/o guns & tits:

""You don't have a gun, do you, Anne?" Retief inquired of the girl.

""I surely do," she replied. "No real lady would allow herself to be found alone on a planet with six big old rangers with no means of defending her honor." With a deft motion, she extracted a slim-barreled 2mm needler from her décolletage and handed it over.

""Amazing," Retief said. "I wouldn't have thought there was room in there for anything else." He tucked the gun into his belt." - p 59

Is there room between his erect penis & his belly for it to be held there?

Yes, pollution is a "time-honored institution" or, at least, one might think so if one were to listen to the proponents of 'free trade': "["]But seasoned veteran of the interplanetary conference table that I am, I'm fully aware that GROPE's function is a purely conversational one, for all their brave talk of attacking the time-honored institution of environmental pollution and of unnatural interference with inscrutable nature's weeding out of the unfit by ecological pressure, the history of galactic diplomacy assures us that no act so direct and effective as the use of force would be contemplated for a moment by that huddle of aging bureaucrats.["]" (p 69) One might say that it's to his credit that Laumer wrote this story sometime between 1966 & 1975 when concerns over pollution may've just started reaching a wider audience.

A sidenote here is that when I write notes for these bk reviews, I write them on the inside front cover in pencil, usually w/ inadequate lighting & no desk-like surface underneath the bk. That means my notes are often barely legible to me afterward. This is both efficient, since the circumstances of the note-taking are more comfortable & easy than sitting at a desk I don't have, & inefficient insofar as the resultant scribble is hard to navigate. The point here being that most readers, myself included, are not going to take into consideration the potential for error & misunderstanding that can be invisibly present in the circumstances of writing.

Retief is a sensible negotiator - even under gladiatoral stress:

""You there, fellow! I have a proposition for you. When the dire-beast makes his first charge, you step in and trip up this renegade crony of yours. While the carnivore is busy worrying his remains, you can enjoy a few extras seconds of joyous existence at his expense, while I'll net a pretty profit by backing the underdog. What say? How does the scheme strike you?"

""I've got a better idea," Retief said. "Slip us a couple of power guns and we'll confound the bookmakers by shooting up the menagerie, and bagging a few assorted customers as well."" - p 85

I haven't really pd attn to how Laumer's generally critically rc'vd so I don't know if I'm in a crowd or on my lonesome here but I always delight in the shoe-on-the-other-tentacle imagery: ""That whiteguard!" Harrumph croaked furiously, goggling his immense eyes at the Terran. "Inth is a mosst puissant alkaloid. Already I feel a quickening along my gloob conduits. No telling what it will do to a non-Haterakan. How do you feel, Bully?"" (p 88)

& some patriotic froo-froo lives on into future worlds: ""Well, golly," Magnan burst out. "Naturally I know all about the grand story of Furtheron—about the cherry tree and all, and all about the 'one if by rocket and two if by transmitter'; George just didn't happen to mention that part. All he said was about some Poor terry Trash, like I said."" (p 101)

"["]Now, what we at ACHE demand is that an end be put at once to this disgraceful planet-grabbing, like out of Furtheron." She placed her knobby fists on her lean hips and stared challengingly at Undersecretary Crankhandle.

""A commendable program, madam," he said smoothly. "Unhappily, the planet-grabbing is being done by another species, not by us; thus we find it difficult to terminate the outrage as briskly as desirable."

""I ain't no madam, you!" the lady interjected sharply. "You just keep a civil tongue in your head!"" - p 121

Sadly typical of such 'man's-man' adventures as Laumer's, the sympathetic women are conventionally sexualized & the unsympathetic ones might have "lean hips" [not good for breeding]. Laumer's activists, like all of his characters, tend to be spoofed so they're as ignorant as the spin doctors like them to be portrayed in 'real life'. While that might be too often the case, it's not as often as foes of opposition to business-as-usual wd like the general public to believe.

Anyway, the ACHE activist here, as an Ignorati, takes offense at the word "madam" as something suggestive of a woman running a whore-house. I'm reminded of a story from my own life (surprise, surprise): I was working a job where I wanted to park a truck in a parking space conveniently near the doorway where we were to load in our gear. A woman was about to move her car from the parking space we wanted.

My coworker asked me when we'd be able to get to work & I sd something to the effect of "as soon as that lady moves her car.' Now the woman was 50 ft or so away & my comment was a blasé answer to my coworker & not directed at the woman but she overheard it & shouted at me to the effect of 'I'm not a lady, don't call me that!!' to wch I replied 'I'm sorry, what wd you like me to call you?' & she replied: 'Anything but lady, call me sir!!' Apparently, in her circles, calling a woman 'lady' is something that marks her as old. But, to me, this was typical Ignorati arrogance - she took it for granted that she had the right to tell me how to speak - even tho I was obviously trying to be neutrally respectful. Don't fuck 'em all, let Somebody-Else's-God sort 'em out.

Retief uses whatever means he finds necessary & expedient to work for what he considers to be the better good - including sabotaging a warlord's spaceship:

""We might," Retief said. He took from his pocket a small metal cylinder and tossed it up and caught it. "While I was looking at the emergency boost gear," he said casually, "the auxiliary converter solenoid sort of jumped out and landed in my pocket."

"Gracious! Magnan said. "Won't that prove awkward for Ambassador Honk when he tries to shift into hyperdrive?"" - p 125

Retief has a wry wit, or, perhaps when he's drinking alcohol, a rye one:

""That comment has a rather cynical ring to it, Mr. Magnan—how can you tern our luxurious facilities imaginary, when you've seen the actual programming documents which call for construction to begin within six months of funding the project, which will no doubt take place within a year or two of the submission of the CDT construction program, which I'm sure will rank high on Ambassador Fullthrottle's agenda—as soon as he achieves full Embassy status or the Mission here on Sogood."" - p 146

It's absolutely not important for you to read these stories, even tho I'll give them a 4 star rating. I'm sure we both have better things to do. Nonetheless, if you feel the need to 'escape' this bk will help you do the job maybe better than a candy-bar wrapper embedded in concrete & it'll be better for yr teeth.

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Reading Progress

Started Reading
April 11, 2015 – Finished Reading
April 13, 2015 – Shelved
April 13, 2015 – Shelved as: sf

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