Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions N. XLIII (Silverberg + Laumer + Leiber + Elgin)

One from my father, one from 2theD at Potpourri of Science Fiction Literature, and a few from a recent used bookstore trip to Indianapolis…

My father promises that Keith Laumer’s collection of Retief stories, Galactic Diplomat (1965), is worth the read — I’m rather more suspicious.  Fritz Leiber’s A Pail of Air (1964) will be my first exposure to his short works… Unfortunately, Suzette Haden Elgin’s At the Seventh Level (1972) somewhat too polemical for my taste — any comments about her work would be appreciated.

Two more Powers covers for my collection….

1. Galactic Diplomat, Keith Laumer (1965)

(Richard Powers’ cover for the 1966 edition)

From the back cover: “Retief is an officer of the distinguished Corps Diplomatique Terrestrienne, a supra-national organization devoted to keeping peace — or more accurately, to maintaining a state of tension short of armed conflict.  Retief is not exactly in the maintream of current Galactic diplomacy, as expounded by such giants of the C. D. T. as Crodfoller, Hidebinder, Straphangar, and his immediate superior, Magnan.  Deviously sincere, uncompromisingly venal, fearlessly cowardly, these great, dedicated public servants will seem curiously familiar as they strive to keep the peace seven hundred years in the future.  But when Retief’s on the scene things have a way of coming right in the end.”

2. A Pail of Air, Fritz Leiber (1964) (MY REVIEW)

(Richard Powers’ cover for the 1964 edition)

From the inside flap: “Underdogs of the world — unite!  Fritz Leiber is on your side. Why else his sympathetic understanding for the little man who finds a (tadpole-sized) nude in his bathtub?  Or the sucker busy collecting gold for a time-traveller?  Or for what goes on in the mind of a soldier on Mars?  Or for the beatniks living in a merry mess out among the stars?  Or for the artists caught in the desperate coils of the Ultimate Symbol?  (This one really is a dilly)  Fortunately for the happy reader, the world is full of underdogs.”

3. At the Seventh Level, Suzette Haden Elgin (1972)

(George Barr’s cover for the 1972 edition)

From the back cover:  “Sexual chauvinism was the foundation of that world’s structure.  Coyote Jones had never heard of Abba until he was assigned there.  It was a remotely beautiful world, but one which had been admitted to the society of civilized planets only after it had made concessions on its degrading treatment of women.  Until then, women were considered as not human, as a sort of necessary beast, but no more.  The concessions had been slight — but as a result one brilliant female, Jacinth, had risen to the very stop of the strange society  to the Seventh Level.  Thereby she had become the spiteful target of male fury, female envy, and finally of a devious evil plot that might cost the world its status.  What Coyote Jones found on Abba, the sensuality of the surface, the sexual horror underneath, and the meaning of human dignity  is a novel worth of the talents of the most gifted new SF writer since Samuel R. Delany and Roger Zelazny.”

4. The Stochastic Man, Robert Silverberg (magazine 1975)

(Uncredited cover for the 1976 edition)

From the back cover: “Lews Nichols’ business, at the end of the twentieth century, was stochastic prediction — high-powered guesswork.  He was very good at this well-paying, sophisticated, and technical species of witchcraft.  And he was quite content with the sultry and sensuous Indian beauty he had married.  Lews Nichols’ life was as placid as an electron flow — until a fateful day in March ’99 when he met Martin Carvajal.  From the first, Lew got strange vibrations from the sullen and eccentric millionaire: “Your computer models,” said Carvajal, “allow you to guess the future.  Now I will show you how to control it!”

17 thoughts on “Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions N. XLIII (Silverberg + Laumer + Leiber + Elgin)

  1. I’m a fan of Laumer’s Retief stories. They share a kinship with Harry Harrison’s Stainless Steel Rat stories in my opinion. There is a sameness to them if you read too many too close together but all the same I find them a lot of fun. Retief has a nice swagger and the sense of humor, like the ‘Rat stories, stops short of being all out farce which is something else that I appreciate about them.

    Great Powers covers on both of those!

    • I love the people in the head of that mechanical creature in the Powers cover for Laumer’s work. My father said they have the same intelligent “lightness” that some of Lem’s more comical pieces have…. Obviously, he isn’t AS good….

      • I hope you enjoy them. I have a one thick book of Retief short stories which I believe starts at the beginning of chronologically and then a few Retief novels that I haven’t gotten to.

    • Maybe you could tell us what you think is the best Retief story, or the best handful? I read the first Retief story, “Diplomat at Arms,” and thought it silly. Maybe the first story is not really representative?

      • If I were to recommend where to start with Laumer in general, I would start with the short story collection Bolo: Annals of the Dinochrome Brigade. All the stories feature the Bolo robots and there is a great Retief story in there called “Courier”. You can check out my review here:


        Unfortunately the links to the free stories no longer work as Baen appears to have removed them.

        • ‘Courier’ (1961) is present in the edition I purchased as well.


          1 • Ultimatum • [Retief] • (1963) • novelette by Keith Laumer (variant of Mightiest Qorn)
          21 • Saline Solution • [Retief] • (1963) • shortstory by Keith Laumer
          41 • The Brass God • [Retief] • (1965) • novelette by Keith Laumer (variant of Retief, God-Speaker)
          75 • The Castle of Light • [Retief] • (1964) • novelette by Keith Laumer
          105 • Wicker Wonderland • [Retief] • (1964) • novelette by Keith Laumer (variant of The City That Grew in the Sea)
          129 • Native Intelligence • [Retief] • (1963) • novelette by Keith Laumer (variant of The Governor of Glave)
          159 • The Prince and the Pirate • [Retief] • (1964) • novelette by Keith Laumer
          183 • Courier • [Bolo] • (1961) • novelette by Keith Laumer (variant of The Frozen Planet)
          209 • Protest Note • [Retief] • (1962) • shortstory by Keith Laumer (variant of The Desert and the Stars)

  2. I’m a Silverberg fan, but I thought Stochastic Man was weak; the main plot is about an election campaign, which I thought was boring, and I vaguely recall thinking there were plot holes related to the main character’s ability to predict the future.

  3. I read the Retief book from Baen that put together many of the short stories, and I agree that there’s quite a bit of sameness. If you like one, you’ll probably like them all. They basically followed the same plot: The Corps have gotten the natives into a bad situation. Retief, who is an expert at every alien dialect, disobeys orders, slips the noose of the situation, gets helped by some sympathetic natives he happens to run into, and, with the judicious application of some violence (usually no killing, though), turns the situation around for the natives. Amazingly, everything always goes just right for Retief.

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