Retief’s Peace. William H. Keith, Jr.
Original Publication: 2005
Current Availability: Print and eBook
Editor’s Note: This review originally appeared on RPG.Net in August of 2009, and in the September 2011 issue of the downloadable magazine.
Author’s Note: I think that one of the best ways to prepare yourself to run a game is to immerse yourself in its fiction, and thus get a real sense of its milieu. Thus, this series of reviews, which looks at some of the fiction that influenced Traveller, was influenced by Traveller, or is actually set in the Traveller universe.
Marc Miller has mentioned the Retief books as an influence on Traveller, and although the earliest book in the series shares little in common with the Traveller universe, it's interesting to note that the latest book in the series was written by a man who at one time was perhaps the most prolific freelancer for the gaming system.
This fifth review discusses Retief’s Peace, the first Retief book written following Keith Laumer’s passing, authored by long-time Traveller fan and writer, William H. Keith Jr.
About the Story
Retief’s Peace is old-style Retief action-adventure. It’s the story of a war being fought between the Concordiat and a vicious race of armored foes known as the Krll and also of the peace demonstrators on the planet B’rukley who wish that the whole thing would just go away.
(That’d be Berkeley, one presumes. A lot of the book seems rooted in the Vietnam War and the peace demonstrations back in the States in that era. I’ll leave the individual readers to decide whether that’s to the good or the bad.)
As you might guess, the peace demonstrators end up right on the doorstep of the Corps Diplomatique Terrestrienne, which means that Retief has to figure out what’s really going on under the noses of his superiors ... even if he has to be thrown out of the service to do it!
The resulting story takes Retief through space, to Odiousita IV (where the war against the Krll is being fought), and back. It involves multiple alien races, spaceships, and powered armor, all coming together in a fast-paced and convoluted plot.
Genre & Style
As with Laumer before him, Keith writes his Retief book as a screwball comedy. If anything, it’s even more over-the-top than Laumer’s own writing, as there are many openly silly things in Keith’s universe—including as the names of many different organizations and the fact that androids can be programmed verbally with C commands.
I’ve seen this book described as a “comedy of manners”, and that’s a term I was tempted to apply to Laumer’s Envoy to New Worlds too, but comedies of manners usually don’t just send up authority figures, but also tend to highlight their hypocrisy by involving them in sexually compromising positions ... and though there’s a bit of that here, it’s certainly not a strong focus of the book.
In any case, whatever genre you want to slot the Retief books into, this one is even funnier than Laumer’s first book. William Keith has a great sense of humor.
I think that Keith also pulls the science-fiction and action-adventure off better than Laumer did in that first book. I’m going to talk more about the science-fiction momentarily. The action-adventure involves spaceship battles and a long (perhaps too long) sequence with Retief in an powered armor battlesuit. It could have been straight out of any number of powered battlesuit military SF books—if not for the bits of humor, such as when Retief sings 100 Bottles of Beer on a Wall to try to get the attention of stolid communication officers.
My biggest complaint about Laumer’s first Retief book was its lack of substance. Certainly, there’s nothing deep in Retief’s Peace, but it has got at least a bit of substance to it—with meaningful interrelations between several alien species and a complex plot that makes sense.
On the whole, I give Retief's Peace a high “4” out of “5” for Style and a “3” out of “5” for Substance. It’s pure candy, but pretty enjoyable as such.
Applicability to Mongoose Traveller
I originally reviewed the first Retief book, Envoy to New Worlds because it had been listed as an influence to Traveller. I didn’t find much to support that, but it was an amusing read, and it left me interested to see what an old-time Traveller writer like William Keith would do with the series.
Certainly the core of Retief’s Peace is not very Traveller-esque, with its almost instantaneous space travel, with its single-man starships, and with its zany silliness. However, there are other elements which suggest to me the influence of Traveller upon William Keith’s writing.
One of the things that caught my eyes first was Keith’s casual use of the word “coreward”, describing the home of the Krll, and thus making them “baddies from the core”, an idea circulating around the Traveller community in the MegaTraveller era—when Keith did his last writing for the community. Beyond the use of this single word (which is doubtless drawn from Traveller), the concept of it suggests a real galaxy, just as the Traveller universe does.
I also think that Keith’s Retief book suggests a Traveller universe in its layering of many different services. On the one hand we have the military services, including army and marines, who are fighting the Krll. Then we have traders who are making money in the backdrop of this “police action”. Of course Retief’s own CDT is yet another service. These many different organization would fit right into the Third Imperium.
Finally I should comment on the alien races, since I thought Laumer’s increasingly deep alien creations were one of the most notable ways in which Traveller GMs could find source material in his first Retief collection. The same is largely true in William Keith’s book. There are four alien races of note, and though they’re played for humor quite a bit, they nonetheless have some interesting characteristics. There’s also a connection between two of the alien races that I won’t spoil, but which I think would be a lovely surprise in any Traveller game.
So, overall, is this Traveller-influencing Traveller descendent of interest to a modern day Traveller GM?
The humor and satire certainly keep a lot of the elements of Retief’s Peace apart from what you’d want to use to create a more serious universe, but as long as you find humor in that type of thing, you’d be able to enjoy the book while perhaps coming up with a few tidbits to put you in the right mindset for Traveller itself.
Retief’s Peace is a fine inheritor to Laumer’s Retief stories and also has just enough elements of interest to Traveller GMs that they might want to take a look at it—and at William Keith’s other books, if this one is typical.