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Keith Laumer was a science fiction writer. His best known creations are Bolos (computer-controlled tanks) and humorous stories involving Jame Retief (an exceptionally talented Terran interstellar diplomat).
John Keith Laumer was born on June 9, 1925 in Syracuse, New York although he was raised in St. Petersburg, Florida and in the Southwest US. He attended Indiana University (1943-44) and Stockholm University (1948-49) and the University of Illinois in 1949 (receiving a BA in architecture in 1950 or 1952 and being on the staff until 1953.) In 1953, he returned to active duty as an Air Force officer (1953-1956), switched to the US Foreign Service, and back to the Air Force (1960-1965).
During this time, he married Janice Perkinson (Feb. 1949). They had 3 daughters during their marriage: Toni, Sabrina, and Ginny Keith and Janice divorced sometime in the early 1960's. He settled in Brooksville, Florida.
During Laumer's service as Air Force Attach� for the US
Foreign Service he was stationed at the US Embassy in Rangoon Burma. His
experiences in the Foreign Service find their way into his Retief stories.
One would hope that Laumer greatly exaggerates the workings of US diplomacy.
Alas, he has stated "I had no shortage of iniquitous memories of the Foreign
The 1960s were extremely prolific years for Laumer: 26 novels and collections of stories (of roughly 63 during his lifetime). In addition to his science fiction writing, Laumer wrote novelizations of the TV shows The Invaders and The Avengers. He wrote a novel set in the US diplomatic corp, Embassy, as well as a non-fiction book on model airplanes, How to Design and Build Flying Models.
Laumer even wrote a detective novel (not a far leap given his writing style) called Deadfall which was later made into a film starring Michael Caine (entitled Fat Chance) : I'd never heard of the film but a visitor to this web site (Joseph G.) says "it was pretty good."
Sometime in the early 1970s, Laumer had a stroke. I remember hearing about this when I asked noted SF author Hal Clement what Laumer was like in person. Mr. Clement sadly shook his head and mentioned the stroke. Charles Platt interviewed Laumer for The Dream Makers (published by Xanadu in 1987): a book of interviews with noted SF authors. Platt describes Laumer's yard in Florida as being full of broken cars (Cougars). Laumer said he was looking forward to fixing the cars once he had recovered from the stroke. It is a very sad interview.
I stopped reading Laumer's work in the late 1970s (The Ultimax Man). I recall reading that latter-day Retief stories have a nastier edge to them. It makes me wonder how the stroke affected Laumer's work.
As a teenager, I wrote a fan letter and, wow, got a response! letter envelope This is a transcription.
August 12, 1973
Please forgive me for being so slow in answering your letter. Since my illness, my correspondence is piling up on me. Your letter cheered me up a lot.
As for your question about The Long Twilight, I'm sorry to say that <deleted due to spoiler>.
My latest book is titled The Glory Game. Published by Doubleday. I hope you like it.
Sincerely, Keith Laumer
Keith Laumer died in Florida on January 23, 1993 at the
age of 67.
He is buried at Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell Florida in burial plot 501, 32.
By the way, Keith Laumer's brother, March (Marsh) Laumer was also an author and publisher. For example, he wrote several Oz stories and lived in Sweden. According to www.keithlaumer.com, March was responsible for getting Keith's first SF story published (or nearly not getting it published). An acquaintance of March wrote to me, "Once when I called her (March's mother) to speak to March, who was visiting, Keith answered the phone." - (Nils M.) The brothers had a "falling out" later in life.
Laumer's other brother, Frank, lives in Dade
Writing Style and Themes
Laumer's style of writing is often reminiscent of a gritty detective novel. Below is a brief example:
George Willick (on his Spaceflight website) describes it asKeith's style is somewhat jarring to traditional readers of fiction, punchy like Hemingway's with the words telling a story rather than the story serving as a vehicle for the words.T.G. Browning describes it asHe generally made a name for himself for two distinct types of fiction: A kind of screw-ball comedy/satire, and an action/adventure yarn characterized by a very tight, quick moving, almost Hemingway type style.Dani Zweig has an excellent overview of Laumer's writing career on his Belated Reviews website.
If this site is ever down, here is a copy.
Laumer frequently explored the concept of time-travel from many different "angles" with books like Dinosaur Beach, The Great Time Machine Hoax, and Worlds of the Imperium.
Another favorite theme involved the Unusual Human:
o Man transcending to a higher state of being. (Hybrid, Cocoon, Great Time Machine Hoax, Ultimax Man)
o An extremely competent man surrounded by idiots. (Retief, Glory Game, Lafayette O'Leary, Placement Test)
Nominations and Awards
Several of Keith Laumer's stories were nominated for awards but never won Hugos or Nebulas.
- Nebula Best Novel nominee (1965) : A Plague of Demons
- Nebula Best Novellette nominee (1968) : Once There Was a Giant
- Nebula Best Novella nominee (1968) : The Day Beyond Forever
- Nebula Best Short story nominee (1970) : In the Queue
- Hugo Best Short story nominee (1971) : In the Queue
- Hugo Best Novella nominee (1978) : The Wonderful Secret
- Dinosaur Beach
This is a time-travel story with plenty of plot twists. As a teen, I drooled over the cover art (the nude lady was fascinating J). Re-reading the book as an adult, the story is pure Laumer (the tough hero) but with a surprising and delightful humanity. There are some touching moments in the book that set it apart as a true gem amongst Laumer's generally gritty straight-forward work.
- Retief At Large, Ace, 1978
This volume collects together the best Retief short stories. The stories are quite absurd and funny. They involve Jame Retief, an extremely talented Terran diplomat, who works under Ambassador Magnum. From outward appearances, Retief is the underling but, since everyone in the Corps Diplomatique Terrestrienne (the CDT) are buffoonish idiots, Retief manages to save Terran diplomacy from dangerous folly.
- Retief's War
A full length Retief novel that does a neat job of portraying some rather unique aliens. The aliens have evolved wheels instead of limbs.
- The Great Time Machine Hoax
Another time-travel story (sort of) with a good deal of silliness thrown into the mix.
- Planet Run
Maybe it's the added writing power of Gordon R. Dickson or maybe it's because the protagonist's sidekick has my last name. Anyway, I just plain enjoyed reading Planet Run. The story has a western flavor to it. The term "run" refers to opening up a planet to free settlement: a la, the Oklahoma Land Run of 18??.
- Galactic Odyssey
Down-and-out guy accidentally stumbles into a spaceship and is thrust into a galaxy of aliens and extraordinary situations. This is classic hard-boiled Laumer-style space adventure. The hero, as in Earthblood, is just an ordinary guy. Indeed, he's more ordinary than any of Laumer's other characters which, IMHO, makes it easier to connect with him.
Published Interviews and Resources
- The Natural History of Retief, IF Magazine, #94, October, 1965.
- An Interview with Keith Laumer by Patrice Dovic, Fiction (a french publ.), Issue 95, April 1972.
This interview (circa November 1971) was originally published in French.
A Spanish translation may be found here or here.
- An Interview with Keith Laumer by Paul Walker, Luna Monthly #45, February 1973.
This interview is reprinted in
Speaking of Science Fiction: The Paul Walker Interviews by Paul Walker, Luna Publications, 1978.
- "Laumer, Keith, The Retief Series" in The Great Science Fiction Series, edited by Frederik Pohl, Martin Harry Greenberg, and Joseph Olander, Harper & Row, New York, 1980, 420 pp. ISBN: 0-06-013382-1
- Once There Was A Giant by Keith Laumer, Tor, 1984.
The final section of this book is an essay analyzing Laumer's work to date by Sandra Miesel.
- The Dream Makers by Charles Platt, Xanadu, 1987.
- Obituary of Keith Laumer, Locus V30:3 No.386, March 1993
- The Keith Laumer Collection at the Syracuse University Library in Syracuse, NY (Dept. of Special Collections).
- Baen Books is "executor" of Keith Laumer's literary estate and has republished many of his works since his death.
Keith Laumer Links
- www.KeithLaumer.com: This is a fantastic site with loads of biographic info; especially, people who knew Laumer personally. There are loads of related links and even a forum to post comments.
- George Willick's Spaceflight webpage <moved... where?>
- Dani Zweig's Belated Review of Laumer's writing career
- T.G. Browning's review of Keith Laumer writing style <moved... where?>
- Steve Parker's review of Keith Laumer's work.
- Locus Magazine's bibliography for Laumer
- The Keith Laumer Collection at the Syracuse University Library in Syracuse, NY (Dept. of Special Collections)
Collection Contents - courtesy of Diane L. Cooter
- Baen Books list of Laumer books in print
- Bolo Central Command website has it's own Laumer webpage <deceased>
- Doug's Library with a review Keith Laumer's novels Dinosaur Beach and A Plague of Demons
- Retief Fan Site by Wayne Schmidt with some excellent observations and facts about the author and character.
- Here is the Wikipedia (the free encyclopedia) link for Keith Laumer.
1) "An Interview with Keith Laumer" by Paul Walker, Luna Monthly #45, February 1973.