John Keith Laumer ((1925-06-09)June 9, 1925 – January 23, 1993(1993-01-23)) was an American science fiction author. Prior to becoming a full-time writer, he was an officer in the United States Air Force and a U.S. diplomat. His older brother March Laumer was also a writer, known for his adult reinterpretations of the Land of Oz (also mentioned in Laumer's The Other Side of Time). Frank Laumer, their youngest brother, is a historian and writer.
Keith Laumer is known for the Bolo and Retief stories. Stories from the former chronicle the evolution of super tanks that eventually become self-aware through the constant improvement resulting from centuries of intermittent warfare against various alien races. The latter deals with the adventures of a cynical spacefaring diplomat who constantly has to overcome the red-tape-infused failures of people with names like Ambassador Grossblunder. The Retief stories were greatly influenced by Laumer's earlier career in the United States Foreign Service. In an interview with Paul Walker of Luna Monthly, Laumer states "I had no shortage of iniquitous memories of the Foreign Service."
In addition to his Bolo and Retief stories, Laumer's more serious adventures included the subjects of time travel and alternate-world adventures such as found in his The Other Side Of Time, A Trace Of Memory, and Dinosaur Beach.
Four of his shorter works received Hugo or Nebula Award nominations ("In the Queue", was nominated for both) and his novel A Plague of Demons (1965) received a nomination for the Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1966.
During the peak years of 1959–1971, Laumer was a prolific science fiction writer. His novels and stories tend to follow one of three patterns:
fast-paced, straight adventures in time and space, with an emphasis on lone-wolf, latent superhuman protagonists, self-sacrifice, and transcendence
In 1971, Laumer suffered a stroke while working on the novel The Ultimax Man. As a result, he was unable to write for a few years. As he explained in an interview with Charles Platt published in Dream Makers Volume II (1983), he refused to accept the doctors' diagnosis. He came up with an alternative explanation and developed an alternative (and very painful) treatment program. Although he was unable to write in the early 1970s, he had a number of books published which had been unpublished at the time of the stroke.
In the mid-1970s, Laumer partially recovered from the stroke and resumed writing. However, the quality of his work suffered and his career declined (Piers Anthony, How Precious Was That While, 2002). In later years, Laumer also re-used scenarios and characters from earlier works to create new books, which one critic felt limited their appeal:
Alas, Retief to the Rescue doesn't seem so much like a new Retief novel, but a kind of Cuisinart mélange of past books.
His Bolo creations were popular enough that other authors have written standalone science-fiction novels about them.
An anthology "Created by Keith Laumer", Dangerous Vegetables, appeared in 1998. Actually edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Charles G. Waugh, the book's introduction (by Ben Bova) said the book was Laumer's idea but that he had died without completing it.
Model airplane designer
Laumer was also a model airplane enthusiast, and published two dozen designs between 1956 and 1962 in the U.S. magazines Air Trails, Model Airplane News and Flying Models, as well as the British Aeromodeller. He published one book on the subject, How to Design and Build Flying Models in 1960. His later designs were mostly gas-powered, free-flight planes, and had a whimsical charm with names to match, like the "Twin Lizzie" and the "Lulla-Bi". His designs are still being revisited, reinvented and built today.
Books concerning the Bolo self-aware tanks. Co-author book credits also indicated at Bolo Self-aware Tank.
Bolo: Annals of the Dinochrome Brigade (1976)
Rogue Bolo (1986)
The Stars Must Wait (1990)
The Compleat Bolo (1990) (includes Bolo and Rogue Bolo)
Satirical adventures of Retief, the galactic diplomat. Most are collections; novels are shown as (n).
Envoy to New Worlds (1963) (see Retief Unbound (1979)) later expanded as Retief: Envoy to New Worlds (1987)
Galactic Diplomat (1965)
Retief's War (1966) (n)
Retief and the Warlords (1968) (n)
Retief: ambassador to space; seven incidents of the Corps diplomatique terrestrienne (1969)
Retief of the CDT (1971)
Retief's Ransom (1971) (n)
Retief: Emissary to the Stars (1975)
Retief at Large (1978)
Retief Unbound (1979) (inc Retief's Ransom and five of the six stories from Envoy to New Worlds) (see Retief: Envoy to New Worlds (1987))
Retief: Diplomat at Arms (1982)
Retief to the Rescue (1983) (n)
The Return of Retief (1984) (n)
Retief in the Ruins (1986) (three stories, two original including the title story)
Retief and the Pangalactic Pageant of Pulchritude (1986) (including Retief's Ransom and the original title story)
Retief: Envoy to New Worlds (1987) (Envoy to New Worlds plus one story) (see also Retief Unbound)
Reward for Retief (1989) (n)
Retief and the Rascals (1993) (n)
Retief! (posthumous, ed. Eric Flint) (2002) (Envoy to New Worlds, Galactic Diplomat, Retief's War, plus the first Retief story, "Diplomat-at-Arms" (1960))
Books set in the Imperium mythos: a continuum of parallel worlds policed by the Imperium, a government based in an alternate Stockholm. In the science fiction novel Worlds of the Imperium, the Imperium is formed in an alternate history where the American Revolution did not occur, and the British Empire and Germany merged into a unified empire in 1900. The protagonist, American diplomat Brion Bayard, is kidnapped by the Imperium because the Brion Bayard in a third parallel Earth is waging war against his abductors. Further adventures follow after Bayard decides to remain in the service of the Imperium.
Beyond the Imperium (omnibus edition of The Other Side of Time and Assignment in Nowhere) (1981)
Zone Yellow (1990)
Imperium (omnibus edition of Worlds of the Imperium, Assignment in Nowhere and The Other Side of Time, ed. Eric Flint) (2005)
Time Trap (1970)
Back to the Time Trap (1992)
A comic equivalent of the Imperium mythos, in which the hero has the ability to travel to feudal/magical alternate Earths.
The Time Bender (1966)
The World Shuffler (1970)
The Shape Changer (1972)
The Galaxy Builder (1984)
The Universe Twister (2008) (reprint of The Time Bender, The World Shuffler, and The Shape Changer, edited by Eric Flint)
The Avengers (based on the TV series)
#5: The Afrit Afair (1968)
#6: The Drowned Queen (1968)
#7: The Gold Bomb (1968)
The Invaders (original novels based on the TV series)
The Invaders (UK title The Meteor Men: A Story of Invaders published as by Anthony LeBaron) (1967)
Enemies From Beyond (1967)
Army of the Undead by-lined Rafe Bernard (1967) is often mistakenly attributed to Laumer because it is the third entry in the Pyramid BooksInvaders novel series as published in the US, but in fact Bernard (a name which may be a pseudonym, but not for Laumer) was one of the two British authors commissioned by Corgi Books in the UK to pen original novels based on the TV show (the other was Peter Leslie). The book appeared as the third title in Corgi's UK line as The Halo Highway. Evidence seems to indicate a reciprocal reprint deal Pyramid worked out with Corgi for use of a single title, since only the Bernard book, but not the Peter Leslie ones, saw print in the United States; while only Laumer's first Invaders title, but not his second, saw print in the United Kingdom. Bernard's by-line exists on one other science fiction title, The Wheel in the Sky, published as a UK hardcover in 1954 and as a UK paperback by Ward Lock in 1955. (Verification can be found in Kurt Peer's book TV Tie-Ins (1967, Neptune Publishing and later TV Books).