Who Bashed People With His Wit, Then His Cane
The first manuscript by Keith Laumer that I remember seeing was about an interstellar diplomat named Retief, which caused me to stop reading manuscripts that day to write the author a letter, telling him I was buying the story and adding, “Please write me more stories, lots more stories, about this guy, because I love him.” And Keith did it, too, becoming, I’m pretty sure, one of the three reasons why If, the magazine I published them in, won the Best Prozine Hugo for three years in a row. (The other two reasons? Fred Saberhagen’s Berserker stories, and Robert Heinlein’s serials.)
I felt pretty proud of myself for recognizing their worth so quickly, but I later learned that he had intended them as a series all along, but planned for the series to run in Cele Goldsmith’s Amazing (and I can’t imagine why Cele, bright as she was, let them go). The thing about Laumer is, first, that he was great at satirizing people he had had a bellyful of, particularly Americans in the diplomatic service. (Keith had served a tour in Burma, which gave him much grist for his mill.) Second, that he had a keen sense of comedy, and, third, that he wrote quickly and well.
Not all of Keith’s sf was part of a series. He wrote stand-alone stories when the spirit moved him, some of them really good. There was one in particular — I’ve forgotten its name — which had to do with a time traveler who, leaving his family behind, travels a century or so into the future, where he finds a dreary, post-catastrophe world where his only companion is a nearly out of it centenarian who, when the time traveler mentions his name, sobs, “Daddy.” Corny, maybe, but it took me unawares to the point of actually bringing a tear to my eyes — something which rarely happens.
I left the Galaxy group shortly before Keith suffered the massive stroke that pretty much ended his successful writing career, but I did see him from time to time. Sadly, the wreck of his brain made him the legendary even-tempered man: mad all the time. It was a terrible fate for one as talented as he and, though he lived for twenty-some years after the stroke, he never regained the art of writing a Laumer story, and almost never managed to carry on a conversation without breaking into rage.