Born in Syracuse, NY in 1925, Keith Laumer became a seminal figure in military science fiction thanks to his stories about the Bolo Combat Units, computerized super-heavy tanks that eventually become AIs. He was also well-known for his Retief stories, most of which were screwball comedies about the adventures of a diplomat in the Corps Diplomatique Terrestrienne. In addition to these, Laumer wrote four novels about the time-traveling Imperium, four other novels starring Lafayette O'Leary which are comedic versions of the Imperium novels, dozens of short stories and novellas, and eighteen standalone novels. Many of these stories draw on Laumer's experience in the Army during World War II, as well as the Air Force and State Department during the Cold War.
Laumer won no awards during his career, coming closest with his short story "In The Queue" which was nominated for both the Hugo and Nebula awards in 1970. Nonetheless, like his contemporary Fred Saberhagen, he was a solid writer whose work was well-liked by the average fan. The quality of his work declined significantly after he suffered a massive stroke in 1971, and scuttlebutt is that his last novels (Zone Yellow and The Ultimax Man in particular) were published more as acts of charity than anything else. He eventually died in 1993 at the age of 67; the effects of the stroke on his mind and body and his inability to overcome both provoked him to fits of rage, which alienated many of
his friends and caused him to spend his last years alone.
After his death, Baen Books kept most of Laumer's works in print, and published several collections of Bolo stories by other authors, as well as four new Bolo novels by William Keith, David Weber, and John Ringo. Baen also published several collections of Laumer's Retief stories, edited by Eric Flint, and his shorter works as well; many of these are available from the Baen Free Library as e-books.
Some things I want to comment on about Laumer's writing: it's spare, action-oriented stuff, usually with a smart, tough, masculine hero - and I use that word deliberately. One of the continuing themes in Laumer's fiction is men pushing themselves to rise above the ordinary and do great deeds when the chips are down. Sometimes these men have hidden powers that only come out under the ultimate stress; sometimes they find an alien or an alien artifact that allows them to do the Super Thing, but more commonly, Laumer's protagonists are men who are tough and smart enough to win on sheer grit and smarts. Jame Retief is a good example of this. Recurring themes in Laumer's work include overpopulated, stratified societies; the melancholy of colonial outposts slowly decaying as commerce and people depart; and time travel - both back and forward along the time stream and also sideways into parallel universes. Despite appearances, Laumer's work doesn't fit neatly into any kind of future history. Even the Bolo stories don't necessarily fit into a consistent time stream, despite the ex post facto timeline assembled by Linda Evans for Last Stand.
- Retief! This contains the short story collections Envoy To New Worlds and Galactic Diplomat as well as the novel Retief's War. Great sampling of the Retief stores, and the price is right.
- The Day Before Forever Predates Niven's stories about organleggers in its examination of how a company with control of immortality technology (to say nothing of a thousand other medical skills) might warp society, and that's only the meaty filling to this action/mystery tale in which Steve Dravek wakes up hundred of years in the future, aged eighteen again, and with nearly every man's hand against him. (Collected in Baen's Future Imperfect; also available in paperback with the novella "Thunderhead")
- The Long Twilight Two immortal warriors battle through the ages; their final battleground a broadcast power plant gone out of control. Packs an emotional wallop even harder than most of Laumer's serious works, which is saying quite a bit.
- "Once There Was A Giant" Baird Ulrik, professional assassin, crash-lands on an interdicted ice world, his mission to kill that world's last inhabitant. Things don't go quite the way Ulrik expects, though...
- The Glory Game Maverick Navy officer Tancredi Dalton finds himself trapped between genocidal Hardline politicians, appeasement-minded Softliners, and the alien Hukk. After being cashiered for a solution to the Hukk invasion that pleases neither faction, Dalton finds himself in the path of the Hukk once again. An excellent interweaving of space opera and political intrigue, in some ways reminiscent of the Honor Harrington novels. Oddly, not available from Baen.
Much of the biographical information taken from the Keith Laumer website.