This time around, a look at two books:
Retief, by Keith Laumer (as collected and edited by Eric Flint)
The Gilded Chain, a Tale of the King’s Blades, by David Duncan
Retief!, by Keith Laumer.
Jame Retief is one of the classic characters of early 60’s science fiction. A two-fisted diplomat, Retief is far more likely to punch out a foe in the murky art of interstellar diplomacy than to follow the often nonsensical rules set down by the CDT.
I have a roleplaying character who would just abhor Retief’s methods, even if he would happily take the diplomatic results.
So, Retief! collects many of the Keith Laumer Retief stories, including the short novel “Retief’s War”. Herein, Retief takes on all alien comers. Sure, the stories are somewhat dated in their perception of female characters (with perhaps the exception of Retief’s War), there is no nanotech or any of those trappings of modern SF running around Retief’s world. It’s a future very much like the Oikoecumeme of Jack Vance. But the sheer entertainment value of the Retief stories, from the obvious (the names of some of Retief’s diplomatic counterparts), to the subtle, the high adventure of the stories and the character of Retief itself commend it to just about anyone.
The Gilded Chain: : A Tale of the King’s Blades (Tale of the King’s Blades (Paperback)) by Dave Duncan.
I’ve had mixed success with Dave Duncan. The first two novels of the Great Game series were wonderful, the third was as flat as week-old soda. So while I’d heard about the King’s Blades novels, I held off reading them until a friend of mine recommended it to me.
I highly enjoyed it. It’s sword and sorcery of a flavorful and meaty order. Subtlety and cleverness (if you aren’t careful, you can miss a time change and get confused when time moves forward suddenly in the narrative), action, romance, danger and intrigue. Plenty of roleplaying ideas here, too.
Best of all, unlike some bloated fat fantasy novels out there, it checks in at a svelte 400 pages. There are places that a lesser novel could have padded out for twice the length, Duncan sticks to the encounters and parts of the story that, in the end, really mean something.
I definitely will be looking to get the further volumes in the series.