Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Jump to navigation Jump to search

A Science Fiction Comedy series by Keith Laumer which details the adventures of Jame Retief of the Corps Diplomatique Terrestrienne (Exactly What It Says on the Tin). Retief must contend with and solve problems involving a wide variety of bizarre alien species, while outwitting the main rival of the Terrans, the five-eyed, vaguely insectoid Groaci—but his primary obstacle often seems to be the hidebound Vast Bureaucracy he works for. Retief is about the only person who ever gets anything useful done, and then usually only by bending and twisting the rules to their breaking point and beyond. His sidekick-like immediate superior, Ben Magnan, is the only one in the CDT who even seems to recognize Retief's ability to get results.

The series consists of a large number of short stories and a few novels, and was inspired by Laumer's own experiences in the diplomatic corps in Burma, as well as the Cold War politics of the day.

Tropes used in Retief include:
  • Alien Lunch: A common problem in the series is trying to cope with the alien equivalent of Foreign Queasine politely, without giving offense.
  • Ambadassador: Retief himself (though his unorthodox methods prevent him from ever rising to the rank of actual ambassador).
  • Ass in Ambassador: Pretty much all the actual ambassadors we encounter. In fact, pretty much everyone in the CDT except Retief, although Magnan is borderline.
    • One notable subversion is an Ambassador Rainsinger, who appeared in just one story. Granted, he nearly wiped out all life on a certain planet through shortsighted actions, but he then acknowledged his error and went along with Retief on a dangerous mission that had a chance of saving everyone (and succeeded). Also, when he disagreed with Retief on the exact way to carry out the mission, he proved Retief wasn't the only "two-fisted diplomat" in the CDT. Retief won the fight, but admitted Rainsinger had "a pretty good left."
  • Bizarre Alien Biology: The series is full of this. The aliens are generally extremely bizarre, often in ways that only Retief is smart enough to recognize. An extreme case may be the organic robotoids in Retief's War who have interchangeable parts.
  • Bizarre Sexual Dimorphism: In Retief and the Pan-Galactic Pageant of Pulchritude, an alien comments to Retief on the 'remarkable sexual dimorphism' of Terrans, after Retief slips a ringer into the titular beauty pageant: a female Bengal tiger. The alien doesn't notice the difference between human males and females, except to suggest that the human with the large protrusions on his (actually her) upper thorax might want to see a doctor about it.
  • Cool and Unusual Punishment: many of the aliens have bizarre ideas about how to deal with miscreants.
  • Comically Missing the Point: Retief's superiors, often. One believed that a CDT member having a set of journals about pest control would mortally offend a race of arthropods, but saw nothing wrong with his own setting up of a world government run by a local tribe (that was universally hated by all the other tribes, for highly sensible reasons) on the grounds that they were well known to all. Oh, yes, they were well known; that was why they were hated.
  • Corrupt Church: In "The Brass God", the Hoogans live under an absolute theocracy. The Pope's whim is law--and his whim involves things like demanding that the CDT donate one million credits to him, personally, and ordering Retief to be tossed into a heated metal idol, as well as arbitrarily changing the day of the week.

"It's ben zo long zinze anyone contradicted me," [the Pope] said mildly, "that I've vorkotten the bunishment." He waved two fingers in blessing. "You are apzolved, my zon," he said airily. "In vact, I apzolv you for the whole weekent. Have fun; it's on the house."

  • Deadpan Snarker: Retief himself, along with many of the aliens.
  • Defector From Decadence: One of Retief's superiors in one story is a Groaci.
  • Dirty Communists: The Groaci basically filled the role of the Soviet Union in the Space Cold War of the series. Lampshaded in "Pime Doesn't Cray", when it's revealed that they frequently build "Bolshoi-type Ballet Theaters" as gifts for planets they're trying to influence.
  • Easily-Thwarted Alien Invasion: Groaci-backed aliens invaded one dying civilization -- only to discover that the locals were in fact immortals whose metabolisms shut down temporarily if they didn't get enough of a certain gas in their air. Guess what the invaders exhaled. And the locals who were still up and about were the weakest of their species, the scrawny ones who didn't need much of the gas; the invasion revived all of their brawny Badasses.
  • Encyclopedia Exposita: Played with. Many of the stories start with an excerpt from the official records of the CDT, explaining the story you're about to read. The official version is always much different from what actually happens, of course. For one thing, Retief's name is rarely mentioned.
  • Extra Eyes: the Groaci have five.
  • Extreme Omnivore: In "The Garbage Invasion", the Basurans have consumed their entire native planet, and are looking for new ones to eat.
  • Fake Ultimate Hero: Virtually all of Retief's superiors, who invariably take credit for Retief's work in resolving the diplomatic issue of the week, even if they were the ones who caused it in the first place.
  • Flowery Elizabethan English: The Oberonians in "Ballots and Bandits" all speak like they stepped out of the pages of a Shakespeare play, for no apparent reason except Rule of Funny.
  • Fun with Acronyms: The Manpower Utilization Directorate, Division of Libraries and Education; the Motorized Equipment Depot, Division of Loans and Exchanges, etc.
  • God-Emperor: in "The Hoob-Melon Crisis", the Groaci ambassador to an empty planet declares himself king, and then, in a great bit of broken logic, uses the divine right of kings as an argument to get himself accepted into the official Groaci pantheon, since he was the one who made himself king.
  • Guile Hero: Retief.
  • Heli Critter: In Retief's War.
  • Human Sacrifice: in "The Brass God", the Pope of the Hoogans declares that Retief must be sacrificed in a heated metal idol to make up for his insult in talking to the wrong people.
  • Hypercompetent Sidekick: In a sense, Retief himself is this to Magnan, his immediate superior in the CDT, and the only person in the CDT who takes Retief at all seriously.
  • I Ate What?: Averted in the story "Protocol" when Retief sees through a deliberate insult.
  • Initiation Ceremony
  • Kaiju: "Giant Killer" features a giant dinosaur called Crunderthush, which the hapless Terran emissaries (sans Retief) mistakenly agreed to slay.
  • LEGO Body Parts: in Retief's War, the biological robot natives of Quopp all have interchangeable body parts they can trade with or steal from each other.
  • Luke Nounverber: used throughout the series.
  • Maximum Fun Chamber: Groaci Captain Thilf threatens his subordinates with being "pegged out in the pleasure pits" if he is allowed to die.
  • Meaningful Name: Ambassador Grossblunder, Miss Braswell, many more.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Everyone in the CDT except Retief and--sometimes--Magnan, plus the majority of the Groaci, and many others.
  • Oh Crap: The mood that often accompanies the Initial Incident in a story.
  • Planet Eater: In "The Garbage Eaters", the Basurans want to take over the paradise planet of Delicia so they can eat it like they did their home planet.
  • Planet Terra: Humans are referred to as "Terries".
  • Plant Aliens: Herby from the story "The Piecemakers" is a talking flower (although it turns out there's more to him than that).
  • Professional Butt-Kisser: The CDT is full of these. Pretty much everyone short of full Ambassador rank needs this as a basic survival skill. Retief's inability to master the skill is one of the reasons he finds promotions so hard to come by.
  • Prop Recycling: Several elements of the Laumer's Bolo series appear, including the titular super tanks, Infinite Repeaters, and the Terran Concordiat. Of course, this begs the question as to whether or not Laumer intended to set up a Future History.
  • Pointy-Haired Boss: Pretty much all of Retief's superiors in the CDT qualify, with the notable exception of Magnan, who rises to the level of near-competence once in a while.
    • In some of the stories, Magnan isn't just "near" competence. For instance, calmly disarming a corrupt official who's just shot him in the chest (warned by Retief of what was going on, Magnan had the foresight to wear torso armor). After being Mistaken for Badass by one alien, Magnan uses the mere threat of his anger — "I MAY lose my temper" — to keep this alien from backshooting Retief. And see Psychic Powers below....
  • Psychic Powers: One friendly alien taught Magnan to mentally teleport. He also learned from her to induce hallucinations in others, and used this to distract a superior who'd been chewing him out.

"Mr. Magnan!" Retief commented admiringly. "You didn't tell me you'd learned to boggle."

  • Reverse Cerebus Syndrome: The first two stories featuring Retief were serious in tone, lacking any humor. But by Protocol, there was a shift into satire that the series is well known for.
  • Retcon: In the original version of "Courier", Retief realizes the locals of a planet are all telepathic. In latter versions, the line is taken out. Despite this, the story flows better without it, as the telepathy had no build up and doesn't add to the tale.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: The novel Retief's War revealed at the end that Retief's cousin "Fifi" is a princess -- and a competent military leader in her own right. The very first story indicated that Retief himself is the most legitimate claimant to the throne of a decaying interstellar empire.
  • Sand Worm: In the story "Internal Affair," the ambassador to the planet Quahogg is chased by forty-foot giant worms. They turn out to be the intelligent aliens he was sent to meet, and the only safe place for humans on the planet is inside a larger worm in which the smaller worms live. It's also intelligent and serves as the head of state.
  • Sealed Orders: In the story called, appropriately enough, "Sealed Orders," Retief is given sealed orders and sent to deal with a situation that's brewing between some Terran colonists and aliens called "Flap-jacks." Retief resolves the situation to the satisfaction of all concerned, returns home to be congratulated by the CDT, and then dumps the packet of orders--still sealed--down a garbage incinerator.
  • She's All Grown Up: In Retief's War, he meets a very attractive girl he has no memory of ever seeing before ("Sorry -- and I do mean sorry"), although she clearly knows him. Subversion, or maybe not, since she turns out to be his cousin.

"You couldn't be over twenty-one," Retief said. "It would take more than twenty-one years to forget that face."
The girl tossed her head, her eyes sparkling. "Perhaps you'll recall the name Fianna Glorian...?"
Retief's eyes widened. "You mean little Fifi...?"

  • Space Cold War: Once the Groaci appear in the series, the analogies to the Cold War start coming fast and furious.
  • Strange Syntax Speaker: Several of the many bizarre alien species in the series comes with their own quirky way of speaking: To talk like a Groaci[1]. Backwards everything say Slunchans the. Squalians usually spalk in Toonerisms. Aroint thee, Oberonians speak oft as if their lines were writ by Shakespeare. And so on.

"To remember me, perhaps, Retief? Shluh by name, formerly of the Groacian Planetary Police, once deeply wronged by you. Tonight, in the cells of a Groaci prison, to even at last the bitter score."

  1. In this case, "to" either commands/suggests that the person addressed do the verb or means "I will"