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I read this maybe 20 years ago(and it may be much older than that)... I don't recall if it was a short story, or a novel.

Things I recall:

  1. The galaxy is largely populated by aliens.

  2. Humans are rare, and scattered in small numbers across many worlds. They may be considered an ancient race. Despite the small numbers, they may command some sort of authority. I do not believe they have a "current" homeworld, more just residing on alien worlds all over.

  3. Humans and almost mystical or revered to the aliens.

  4. The location of earth or terra (don't recall what it was called in the story) is unknown to everyone. Considered mythological, really.

  5. The protagonist is human, the story starts with him going to work in a local noble/official's court or office in a city. I don't really recall what his actual job purpose was. I seem to recall humans tended to wear monk-like robes. I want to say(not sure) that the noble/official's name started with the letter "J". The protagonist may have quit, or been fired, or banished, or sent on a quest.

  6. At some point, the protagonist sets off to find earth

  7. I MAY be confusing this point with an unrelated story, but I seem to recall at some point there are armies of humans from long ago being kept in stasis, and it may be implied that the result of letting them out is basically going to be galactic conquest.

  8. The protagonist does travel to multiple planets in his search.

  9. The protagonist may at some point consult with a library or librarian. I believe the librarian is female, but am not sure if she is human or alien.

  10. I don't recall if Earth/Terra/whatever was ever found in the story. I seem to recall there's a cave(I may be confusing this with that same unrelated story mentioned above) at some point.

  11. The protagonist does not have any sort of special or unusual powers or abilities that I recall, beyond simply being human.

  12. I don't believe the tone was that of an action-oriented adventure; it was slower paced and more thoughtful, I seem to recall there were few to no instances of combat or weapons at least in the beginning parts of the story.

  13. The protagonist is an adult. I'm not sure how old, I think maybe middle aged.

  14. Humans may have been bald(whether by depilation or some natural evolution thing, I don't know.). I don't recall for sure, and may be confusing this point.

From digging around, I'm mostly sure it's not:

The Dumarest series, as aliens were definitely a thing.

The Roads of Heaven series, as the protagonist was definitely male.

Earthblood by Keith Laumer and Rosel George Brown, as besides the tone issue, the protagonist is an adult.

Asimov's Foundation series. (It's possible it might be set in the same universe, in the distant future? It did have a similar tone, though there was zero mention of psychohistory. And, again, aliens were in this story.)

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    Take a look at this guide to help jog your memory and edit any more details. Specifically things like character names or descriptions of the title. – Edlothiad Apr 13 '17 at 9:56
  • Adding any details that come to mind, but there's really very little to go on. – Azuvector Apr 13 '17 at 10:01
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    Does he find earth? What's it like? How does the story end? Don't worry about spoiling it. – user14111 Apr 13 '17 at 10:06
  • I don't recall if earth was ever found. I seem to recall there's a cave(I may be confusing this with that same unrelated story mentioned above) at some point. The protagonist does travel to different planets.... He may have at some point consulted a library or librarian, who I think was female, though I'm not sure if she was human or alien.. – Azuvector Apr 13 '17 at 10:07
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    @MrLister not in any relevant measure (and certainly, not a galaxy full of aliens with few humans, but a galaxy full of humans with aliens outside the galaxy being just a mere possibility). In all of the Space Worlds / Formation of the Empire / Foundation arch, there is only one short story involving aliens, it ends with them fleeing the galaxy, and I am not even sure if the story is intended to be part of the arch. BTW you have ended with a very nice question, welcome to the site and hope you find the book soon! – SJuan76 Apr 13 '17 at 11:15
11

The novel you’re looking for is Lest We Forget Thee, Earth (Wikipedia, ISFDB) by Robert Silverberg, published in 1958 under the pseudonym Calvin M. Knox. It’s a fix-up novel consisting of three short stories that were published in 1957 and 1958: Chalice of Death, Earth Shall Live Again! and Vengeance of the Space Armadas. You remember the plot remarkably well.

Here’s a short summary:

A hundred thousand years ago, there had been a planet called Earth. It had been a proud world ruling a thousand vassal stars, but its stellar empire had turned upon and annihilated their conquerors, and wiped the name of Earth from the maps of space.
    But Earthmen still survived … a strange race of worldless men and women, by tradition advisers to rulers, but never themselves ruling. Wanderers through myriad planets, their origin was a half-forgotten legend.
    That was the situation when a strange quirk of fate sent Earthman Hallam Navarre on an interstellar wild goose chase. He had to bring back a strictly mythical treasure to his alien ruler, or die.
Source

 

The protagonist is human, the story starts with him going to work in a local noble/official’s court or office in a city.

It was mid-day on Jorus, and Hallam Navarre, Earthman to the Court, had overslept. […] But duty was duty. And, as the Overlord’s Earthman, Navarre was due at the throne room by the hour when the blue rays of the sun lit the dial in Central Plaza.

I want to say (not sure) that the noble/official’s name started with the letter "J".

Joroiran VII was on his throne […]

Humans may have been bald (whether by depilation or some natural evolution thing, I don’t know.).

Wearily, he sprang from bed, washed, dabbed depilator on his gleaming head to assure it the hairlessness that was the mark of his station, and caught the ramp heading downstairs.

Humans are rare, and scattered in small numbers across many worlds. They may be considered an ancient race. Despite the small numbers, they may command some sort of authority.

The centuries rolled by in their never-ending sweep, and Earth itself was forgotten. Yet the Earthmen remained, a thin band scattered through the heavens proud of their heritage, jealous of their genetic traits.

Humans and almost mystical or revered to the aliens.

Earthmen were sought out by kings; the bald-heads could not rule themselves, but they could advise those less fitted than they to command.

The location of earth or terra (don’t recall what it was called in the story) is unknown to everyone. Considered mythological, really.

Where was Earth? No one could name the sector of space—but Earth was in the hearts of the men who lived among the stars.

The protagonist may have quit, or been fired, or banished, or sent on a quest.

“I have arranged for an indefinite leave of absence for you. Find this man Carso; together, you can search the galaxies at my expense. I don’t care how long it takes, nor what it costs. But bring me the Chalice, Navarre!

At some point, the protagonist sets off to find earth

Navarre’s eyes narrowed. “Just where are you assuming the Chalice is? Where are we going to look for it?”
    There was a mischievous twinkle in the half-breed’s eyes. He gulped another drink, grinned broadly, and belched.
    “Where? Why—Earth, of course.”

The protagonist may at some point consult with a library or librarian. I believe the librarian is female, but am not sure if she is human or alien.

An efficient-looking Dergonian met them at the door. “Good day, Sir Earthman,” he said to Helna. Catching sight of Navarre and Carso, he added, “And to you as well.”
    “We seek the main index,” Helna said.
    “Through that archway,” said the librarian. “May I help you find what you seek?”

I don’t recall if Earth/Terra/whatever was ever found in the story. I seem to recall there’s a cave (I may be confusing this with that same unrelated story mentioned above) at some point.

Navarre took Helna’s hand and hesitantly they stepped within the cave mouth. It was like entering the gateway to some other world.

I MAY be confusing this point with an unrelated story, but I seem to recall at some point there are armies of humans from long ago being kept in stasis, and it may be implied that the result of letting them out is basically going to be galactic conquest.

Within this crypt lie ten thousand men and women, placed here to sleep in the year 11432, the two thousandth year of Earth’s galactic supremacy and the last year of that supremacy. […] The sleepers will lie here in this tunnel until the time for their release, and then will come spilling out as wine from a chalice, to restore the ways of doomed Earth and bring glory to the sons of tomorrow.

  • The quotes have convinced me. Bang on to my memories there. Thank you! (I'm also amazed at the accuracy of my memories....) – Azuvector Apr 14 '17 at 17:27
  • Tracking it down further as well, it looks like it was reprinted in 2012: georgekelley.org/forgotten-books-158 by Paizo, looks like: paizo.com/products/btpy8l2l ISBN-13: 978-1-60125-377-4 – Azuvector Apr 14 '17 at 18:10
  • And on a more personal note, it looks like the first story the novel is composed of appeared in this anthology, of which I recognize the cover: isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pl.cgi?18688 So that's probably where I originally read it.... Which means there's actually 2 more story parts to go for me. :) – Azuvector Apr 14 '17 at 18:14

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