Retief of the CDT


Keith Laumer


SF & Fantasy


Date Reviewed:

January 13, 2023

first read the Retief stories back in high school, almost fifty years ago. I remember the books as being amusing, and I wondered if the stories are still funny today. Retief of the CDT contains five short stories in a 191 page paperback. Yes, the stories are still amusing - mostly the jokes bring a smile, but some actually made me laugh aloud. Retief is a long serving diplomat of the Corps Diplomatique Terrestrienne - he is assigned to various posts throughout the galaxy, dealing with aliens, the incompetence of his superiors, and foiling the schemes of the Groaci - vile, tentacled aliens who are the arch-enemies of humanity throughout the universe.

According to Goodreads, Retief of the CDT is book seven in a 16 volume oeuvre of Retief. I had no idea that there were so many Retief books, I know I did not read that many books when I had my first bout of Retief reading all those years ago. The books can be read in any order, they are completely independent stories. I assume that the order assigned by Goodreads matches the dates when each book was published. Retief of the CDT has a copyright date of 1971. The acknowledgements in the front of the book say all of these stories originally first appeared in the magazine If.

Bullets and Ballots is set on the planet of Oberon, which is populated by a diverse number of species that range in height from one to three feet. The Groaci have just been ousted from the planet, and now Terran Ambassador Clawhammer (Laumer loves to give ridiculous names to Retief's superiors, such as Colonel Saddlesore, Cultural Attaché Pennyfool or Ambassador Grossblunder) is there to oversee free elections for the Oberonians. Clawhammer is secretly conniving to install a thuggish bandit named Hoobrik as president in exchange for a trade deal heavily tilted in favor of Clawhammer's allies. Naturally, it is up to Retief to thwart the scheme and see a fair election.

Retief is a combination of man-of-action and trickery. Threats from goons are easily defeated. He always has witty quip in response to the remarks of his pompous superiors. Here is a short excerpt showing Retief in action.

"Lucky we met," said Retief. "I'm on my way to pay a call to His Truculence. Can you lead me to him?"

The Tsugg straightened his 290 pound bulk. "Tell yer crony to do his worst," he said with a small break in his voice. "Fim Gloob's not the Tsugg to play the treacher."

"It wasn't treachery that I had mind," Retief demurred. "Just ordinary diplomacy."

"Yer threats will avail ye naught," Fim Gloob declared.

"I see what you mean," Retief said. "Still, there should be some way of working this out."

Mechanical Advantage. Retief and his direct boss, Consul Magnan, are part of a Terran Field Expeditionary Group that has landed on Verdigis, a deserted planet. The ruins of civilization lie all around, but the inhabitants all died long ago. "Imagine," Counsul Magnan said in an awed tone, as the party strolled through a crumbling arcade and across a sand-drifted square, "At a time when we were still living in caves, these creatures had already developed automats and traffic jams." Cultural Attaché exults at the potential treasures that will be uncovered by teams of archaeologists - but this directly leads to problems. It seems that Magnan unwisely mentioned the discovery of this uninhabited planet to Consul General Shilth of the Groaci, and Shilth has now claimed the planet in the name of the Groaci empire. It is up to Retief to thwart the Groaci scheme.

Pime Doesn't Cray In this adventure, Retief lands on a rainy planet that the Terrans are trying to recruit to join their sphere of influence. Unfortunately, the rival Groaci are also on-planet and are also trying to entice the locals to join them. Normally, the Terrans build a replica of a baseball stadium as a gift to the locals, to impress them with the culture of the Earthlings. The Groaci, meanwhile, traditionally build a Bolshoi-type ballet theater. But this time the Terrans have hit upon a cunning scheme - this time, the Terrans built a ballet theater! Plus, the Groaci project, though heavily under-wraps, is thought to be severely behind schedule. Retief's boss, Counselor Magnan is in charge of the theater building project, and he proudly takes Retief to the site of the finished Terran theater - only to discover a gaping hole at the site. Someone has swiped the theater! Hmmm. the Groaci did have some heavy-duty lift units on planet...

Internal Affair. Wrothwax, the Terran Ambassador to Quahogg, has disappeared, along with his entire diplomatic team. Magnan and Retief are assigned to visit the desolate, barren planet where violent storms are considered mild weather, and real storms are completely destructive. Yet the planet is populated by Quahoggians, even if the storms make radio contact intermittent and video images murky at best. Upon reaching the planet surface, Retief and Magnan find themselves standing on an empty landscape - where is the palace? The coordinates must be correct - they see the Corps landing pod that preceded them standing a short distance away. There were rumors of giant sandworms on the planet surface... Retief must use his wits to set things right.

The Piecemakers. This story has a lot of funny diplomatic double speak, as conniving leaders from the Terran, Groaci and Slox empires attempt to establish supremacy on the minor planet Yudore.

"Gentlemen," The Undersecretary for Extraterrestial Affairs Thunderstroke announced in tons of doom."It looks like war."

"Eh, what's that?" a stout man in plainly tailored civvies spoke blurrily, as one just awakened from a pleasant nap. "War, you say?" He slapped the conference table with a well-manicured hand. "Well. it's about time we taught those beggars a lesson!"

"You've leapt to a fault conclusion, Colonel," the Undersecretary said sourly. "We are not on the point of embarking on hostilities --"

"Naturally not," the Military Advisor said, rising. "Not your job. Civilians all very well, but time now for the military to take over. You excuse me Mr. Secretary, I must rejoin my regiment at once--"

"Sit down, Henry," the Chief of the Groaci Desk said tiredly. "You haven't got the big picture. No Terran forces are involved on Yudore at all. Strictly an Eetee affair."

"Sound thinking," the Colonel nodded approvingly. "Why throw away the lives of Terran lads when there are plenty of native lives available for the purpose? To be given selflessly in defense of sacred Terran principles, that is to say. By the way, which side is our side?"

"Try to grasp the point, Colonel" the Undersecretary said acidly. We're neutral in the affair."

"Of course, but whom are we neutral in favor of? Or in favor of whom, I should say, are we --"

"No one! And we intend to keep it that way!"

"Umm", the Colonel resumed his seat and his nap.

Naturally, Retief and Magnan are sent out on diplomatic mission to attempt to stop the Groaci and Slox from engaging in full scale space warfare.

I have included an abundance of quotes from the Retief stories, so you can get a flavor of Laumer's humor. These jokes might grow tiresome over sixteen volumes, but for now I still find myself laughing at Retief's wry remarks. I will have to check my shelves for other Retief tales from the distant past.