by William H. Keith Jr.
Review by Ernest Lilley
Baen Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 1416509003
Date: 06 September, 2005 List Price $25.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK /
The good news is that Retief, the diplomatic savior and nightmare of the CDT (that's Corps Diplomatique Terrestrienne) is back, reconjured by author William Keith. Created by Keith Laumer, Retief is the light side of Laumer's Mil-fic, the darker, or at least deeper side being represented by the stories of cybernetic tanks known as Bolos. Though (Keith) Laumer is gone, that story line has seen several credible extensions by (William) Keith, and now he turns his hand towards the lighter side; a comedy of manners about a secret agent type who rashly violates the rules of diplomacy by finding peaceful solutions to difficult problems in intergalactic relations. The bad news is that either Retief hasn't learned any new tricks during his absence, Keith is laying on the grongleberry a bit thick. Oh well, as the Holy Mystic Fortune Cookies say, "You can't make omelets without grobbling a chutwinkle."
This being the first outing for Keith and Retief, I suppose it's reasonable that he's reprised the series historical bad guys, the Groaci, a cold war type adversary that's always making trouble for us with the locals, whatever weird collection of psudeopods they happen to be. The standard storyline has our boy stepping up to the plate when negotiations between the Terran embassy and the local populace have ground to a halt and the Ambassador is in serious danger of tying himself up in protocol and bureaucratic snafu. Here, an unreasonable number of students (mostly Terran) from the local university on the planet B'ruckley (just substitute the center of 60s radical activity in California, for the idea) are protesting the war with the Krll, which nobody has ever seen in the flesh, including the soldiers fighting them, evidently. But Retief has the wit to note that there are more protestors than the local university could actually field, and they're awfully well organized. He begins to smell a rat, or more likely, his old adversary, the Groaci. Sure enough, a plot is afoot to oust the Terrans so that the Groaci can plunder the natural resources of the region, not that you can really tell the difference between them and us. As Pogo pointed out some time back.
Retief takes off on his own after being shown on GNN pummeling students, which were, under the urging of their Groaci handler about to do the same for Retief. Such behavior means disgrace for a diplomat, and our lad seizes the opportunity to get drummed out of the corp so that he can do some undercover investigation. No, not those kind of covers, though he has no shortage of opportunities.
Off we go on a wild gronk chase (I made it up) between the different planets involved in this tussle of trade, spycraft, war and ultimately, galactic genocide. The story is the same wherever our boy goes; the advanced civilizations share a love of polished floors and protocol, while the "backward" indigenous people share a love of common sense, and usually pack hidden powers besides. In general Retief makes friends with the common man, woman, and alien...while upsetting the high and mighty types in charge. Does our boy manage to stop an interstellar war, turn a shapely coed back to the side of virtue(ish)ness, and save the ambassador's face? You have to ask? Ha.
This was fun, but I'd like is to see a more mature Retief emerge from this series. A little romance wouldn't hurt things either. We're hit over the head with his mandatory suaveness, and how misguided co-eds swoon over his stylish blue and magenta coveralls, but he lacks Bond's appetite, or Dominic Flandry's compassion. Flandry, in case you don't know yet was Poul Anderson's agent provocateur, though played in a more serious tone, and one that Retief could learn from.
The character's spoof of everything turns him into a reflection of the buffoons around him rather than a character of actual character. Also, We could do with a bit of restraint on the punny name conventions. Ms. Mellonkockers and Ambassador Crapwell may be descriptive, but they could be a bit more subtle.
In the final analysis, it's a fun romp, unless you were hoping for a good read. It's certainly good enough to merit a continuance of the series, but I'm hoping it will all grow up a bit. Maybe even enough to match the gray hairs that the hero sports on the cover.