the Little Red Reviewer

Archive for the ‘H. Beam Piper’ Category

Kalven of OtherwhenLord Kalvan of Otherwhen, by H. Beam Piper

published in 1965

where I got it: purchased used

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Calvin Morrison was minding his own business, just doing his job, when he saw a flash of light and a surprised stranger. Next thing Calvin knows is he’s not in Pennsylvania anymore. The landscape is right – the hills, the rivers, the mountains, but the cities and the roads and the houses, and all the people are gone! When Calvin does finally come across someone, they don’t speak any language he’s ever heard, although bits and pieces do sound familiar.

Calvin is of our time, as in, yours and mine.  Little does he know of all the parallel timelines that exist, the Earths where something is just a little different. He certainly has no knowledge of the Paratime Police who keep it all running smoothly, and keep the Paratime secret a secret!  Paratime Cop Verkan Vall is alerted to the situation, and a decision has got to be made: get Calvin out of there, or take a wait-and-see attitude. Calvin doesn’t know anything about anything, how could he possibly share the paratime secret?  Besides, they’ll have to find him first.

A resourceful man, Calvin falls in with Prince Ptosphes and his beautiful daughter Rylla. Ptosphes is the ruler of Hostigos, and war is on the horizon. They can’t quite say his name, so call him Kalvan.  The highest technology to be found is gunpowder, and how it works in a controlled secret. Controlled in a pretty unique way, actually, for the region is subjugated by a gunpowder theocracy (Yes, I just said Gunpowder Theocracy. How cool does that sound!).  The religious order of Styphon’s House provides gunpowder to the cities and families who support them.  It’s pretty easy to see how the priests would be welcoming into the cities and villages, yet resented as well.   But Calvin knows the secret of gunpowder. He’s a history buff, and a soldier.  He teaches the people of Hostigos how to make it, with the promise that they will teach everyone in the neighboring cities, even the cities they are at war with. It’s not the other cities that are the enemy of Hostigos, it’s Styphon’s House.

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Yesterday’s post was so lighthearted and nice, that I almost don’t want to offer much biographical information about H. Beam Piper. I don’t want to wreck the magic.

The easy is that he lived in and around Pennsylvania most of his life. Born in 1904 and largely self educated, he sold his first story in 1947.  He mostly wrote stories of cultural misunderstanding (such as the Fuzzy books, First Cycle and Paratime), and Space Opera, (such as Space Viking and Federation), eventually publishing 16 novels and over 20 short stories.

The not so easy is that he simply didn’t have an easy time with life. While most struggling writers took any day job they could find to pay the bills, Piper wanted to write, and that’s all.  Not overly social, he mostly saw himself as a failure.  In 1964, on the brink of starvation and facing dire financial problems, he took his own life.

Even sadder than that is that Piper didn’t live to see how influential his works would be. Charles Stross’s Family Trade series is an obvious homage to Paratime, while Jerry Pournelle’s Janissaries series pays tribute to Lord Kalvan, and Elizabeth Bear’s Undertow was inspired by Little Fuzzy, to name just a few.

With most of his works available in the public domain on Project Gutenberg, H. Beam Piper is a science fiction author who shouldn’t be forgotten. He may not have been as social as other writers of his time, but there is much value to be found in his writings.

Have you read any H. Beam Piper? What did you think of him?

My other half, the seasoned Piper fan in the family, has this to say about First Cycle, one of his favorite Piper novels:

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The Fuzzy Papers (includes Little Fuzzy and The Other Human Race) by H. Beam Piper

originally published in 1962 and 1964

where I got it: off the bookshelf

 

When my husband and I got our first apartment, one of our first purchases was a bookcase, for we both showed up with boxes and boxes of books. I had a lot of Heinlein and Herbert and Asimov and random chick lit, he had a lot of McCaffrey and Herbert and Heinlein and Tolkien, and lots and lots of H. Beam Piper, who at the time, I’d never heard of.

I’m embarrassed to say it’s taken me this long to pick up a Piper. The volume we own is called The Fuzzy Papers, and it includes the first two Fuzzy novels – Little Fuzzy (originally published 1962) and The Other Human Race (originally published  in 1964 and later titled Fuzzy Sapiens). No one should have to wait this long to read Little Fuzzy, one of the cutest books ever written. I suppose it should be considered Young Adult, as there is no overt violence or sex or danger.  Unless you’ve been living under a rock and never, and never go to the movies, you’re sure to recognize some themes here.

Little Fuzzy

Taking place on the planet Zarathustra, in a future where humanity has colonized the stars, Jack Holloway is a freelance sunstone miner.  The planet is fully owned by the Chartered Zarathustra Company, whose chief export is the highly valued sunstones – the fossilized remains of ancient bioluminescent sea creatures who went extinct eons ago.

Holloway gets the surprise of his life when he returns home to his cabin one day to find a small, fuzzy, golden creature sitting on his bed. Naming the creature Little Fuzzy, Holloway immediately adopts it, and treats it like a treasured pet.  It’s not long before Little Fuzzy brings his entire family to live with Holloway. It quickly becomes obvious that the fuzzies are more than just animals. They communicate with each other and build tools and hunt.  They know what foods they like, and what to avoid because it will make them sick. They might be adorable and cuddly and playful and have the mind of a child, but they are smarter than they look. Holloway introduces his Fuzzies to anyone he knows who might be interested in them – Ben Rainsford and Gerd van Riebeek, xenobiologists;  Ruth Ortheris a psychologist, and a handful of local constables.

And thus we get to the crux of the matter: are the Fuzzies sapient people, or just really smart animals?  Even more complicated, what is the definition of sapience? By the time Holloway and his mining friends realize what a native sapience race will do to the company’s charter (void it), the company has already started campaigning against the sapience of the Fuzzies.  During an altercation with The Company, a Fuzzy is killed.  The story culminates in a large trial to determine their sapience, and further, if killing one is considered murder.

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.