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:
First Cycle is about the development of two alien civilizations on planets that orbit each other. Their close orbits have a huge impact on their development, and the story follows them from primitive life to just discovering space travel. One civilization is heavily religious, socialist, hierarchical, and leaning towards slightly dishonest, where the other civilization is very atheistic with no concept of god or any kind of supreme being, self sufficient, intensely honest, and with more a capitalist system.
Both groups know there is another culture on the orbiting planet, and they are eventually able to get in touch with one another. One group develops rockets and shuttles and is able to land on the other planet. At first their communication goes OK, but they have so many differences, socially, so a lot problems come up. There is almost no ability for them to work together in any meaningful way. Suspicions arise between both groups, and they both develop nuclear weapons and wipe each other out.
Many people see First Cycle as a cold war Americans vs the Russians story. But these people aren’t Americans or Soviets. There are a few similar concepts, but very little beyond that. These are two races that have nothing to do with humanity. The most poignant thing is that neither race finds any solution other than nuclear war. Both groups, as good as they see themselves, couldn’t come up with anything better than killing the other group.