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September 05, 2003

MY REFERENCE TO KEITH LAUMER'S CAR COLLECTION, below, caused several readers to exclaim in delight, and others in puzzlement. Laumer, for those who don't know him, wrote all sorts of science fiction novels, but his best work (in my opinion) was a series of short stories about an interstellar diplomat, now conveniently collected into a paperback volume edited by Eric Flint. Laumer worked in the U.S. embassies in Burma and South Vietnam, and had a pretty good eye for, well, stuff that seems familiar today. Sample quote:

"Hardly the diplomatic approach," Magnan sniffed. "For centuries now it's been understood that if enough diplomats go to enough parties, everything will come right in the end."

And this one:

Jame Retief, Vice-Consul and Third Secretary in the Corps Diplomatique and junior member of the Terrestrial Embassy to Yill stepped forward.

"Since we hold the prior claim to the system, why don't we put all our cards on the table to start with? Perhaps if we dealt frankly with the Yill, it would pay us in the long run."

Ambassador Straphanger blinked up at the younger man. . . . He assumed a fatherly expression. "Young man, you're new to the service. You haven't yet learned the team play, the give-and-take of diplomacy. I shall expect you to observe closely the work of the experienced negotiators of the mission, learn the importance of subtlety. Excessive reliance on direct methods might tend in time to attenuate the role of the professional diplomat. I shudder to contemplate the consequences."

Highly recommended.

UPDATE: Reader Chris Pastel emails:

My favorite phrase from the Retief series was something to the effect that the function of diplomacy is to maintain tensions at a state just short of war.

Speaking from the vantage of 28 years (mixed active and reserve) in the Marines, I can tell you that that is just too true.

The language is "maintenance of a state of tension short of actual conflict." I think this is a play on the McDougal & Lasswell line about "the indefinite postponement of unacceptably destructive violence."

UPDATE: Several readers note that the book I link above is also available for free online courtesy of the very cool folks at Baen books. You can browse the chapters to your heart's content there -- and read the very nice introduction by David Drake.

ANOTHER UPDATE: And here are some other free books by Laumer. Sadly, none of his Bolo stories seem to be included.

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: Brian Erst says his favorite line is this one from Retief's War:

"I is a great believer in peaceful settlements," Jik-Jik assured him. "Ain't nobody as peaceful as a dead troublemaker."

Now that's diplomacy.