The Years of Great Silence

Review: The Years of the Great Silence: The Deportation, Special Settlement, and Mobilization into the Labor Army of Ethnic Germans in the USSR, 1941-1955, J. Otto Pohl, 2022.

In order to avoid the undesirable occurrence and to prevent serious bloodshed the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet deemed it necessary to resettle all the German population, living in the region of the Volga, to other regions . . .

Thus 177 years as an ethnic group invited into the Russian Empire as a valuable minority with privileges like free land, interest free loans, limited tax exemptions, local autonomy, and exemption from the draft came to a spectacular end on August 24 28, 1941 in the wake of Nazi Germany invading the USSR.

The Volga Germans were only the largest settlement of Germans in the Russian Empire. Other areas of settlement included the Black Sea (including a group of Mennonites), North Caucuses, Bessarabia, the Transcaucasus, and Volhynia. It wasn’t always smooth sailing for the settlers. Privileges, like local autonomy, would be granted, repealed, and sometimes granted again. Emigration out of Russia or internal migration to Central Asia occurred after famines. The requirement for military service was reinstated. There were Kazakh attacks on some settlements.

Still, by 1914, the Germans in Russia had grown in number almost 7% of the Empire’s population and were an economically industrious group with a culture supported by schools, libraries, and museums of their own.

The woes of the German Russians started with the forced resettlement of the Volynian Germans into the Volga region. 

But it was the Bolshevik Revolution that was to turn them into a particularly persecuted minority. While the Volga region was declared, in 1919, an ethno-national state, the Germans, with their successful agricultural operations, resisted Bolshevik collectivism. Confiscation of German Russian grain supplies created a severe famine in the Volga in 1919 through 1922 though it was partially mitigated by international aid. When requestioning of food by the government ended, the Volga Germans were able to recover somewhat. By 1928, there was a record grain harvest. Various institutions – the Komosomol, labor unions – were used by the Communist Party to solidify the German Russians as a “titular nationality” with its own language and culture. Even in Kyrgystan, Germans got a larger autonomy. 

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“Roaring Tower”

This week’s weird story the Deep Ones is discussing over at LibraryThing.

Review: “Roaring Tower”, Stella Gibbons, 1937.

Many British readers will recognize the name of Stella Gibbons, author of the beloved Cold Comfort Farm (a novel I only know from its movie adaptation). She’s also the aunt of famed weird fiction author Reggie Oliver.

The story opens with our narrator, Clara, veiled, and being packed off with a bouquet of white roses, a “copy of a ladies’ journal”, and something to eat. She is being sent from Islington to her Aunt Julia in Cornwall, and she is sulking, “her heart like stone”. She only says “yes” to her mother and father before departing. 

Given the veil and black gloves, we wonder if she is a widow. But we soon learn she is a 19-year-old and that she is narrating her story 50 years later. As she says of herself at that time,

“no heart could have been fiercer, and yet colder, than mine. One voice, which I should never hear again, sounded in my ears, and one face, which I had promised to forget, filled my eyes.

‘All else’ (as that German philosopher wrote) ‘was folly.’ 

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City of Sorcerers

Review: City of Sorcerers, David Hambling, 2022. 

Back in about 1000 BC, Cthulhu snatched a bunch of women from various points in the future, human wombs to be used by the Spawn. Those are octopoid beings liked to Cthulhu and serving his ends or, perhaps, merely another form of that mysterious being. But those women escaped the Spawn, built a Wintertown, and defeated the Spawn with an alliance of nomads, townsmen from Stone, and the fearsome Sorcerers in the Last Battle.

This is the middle of a trilogy, the Age of Monsters. The typical problem with coming cold to the middle book of a series is that it’s hard to get oriented and, when the work is done and the book is finished, the story doesn’t often seem complete.

Hambling evades this by having his presenter, one William Blake (a character to be found not only in the trilogy but The Dulwich Horror and Otherstoo) summarizes the previous volume, War of the God Queen, in his introductionand gives a cast of characters. At the end of this novel, all the main conflicts are wrapped up (ok, not all of them) in ways which nicely violate expectations.

Whereas Blake got his narrative for War of the God Queen from cuneiform tablets with English text left in a cave and discovered by would-be treasure hunters, this story comes from the evidence of “fringe archaeology” and automatic writing via a medium. That allows Hambling to go from the first person narration of Jessica Morton in the first book to the wider vista of multiple characters.

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The Cosmic Computer

Review: The Cosmic Computer, H. Beam Piper, 1963.

Published in 1963 under the far better title Junkyard Planet, this was an expansion of Piper’s “Graveyard of Dreams”. Like Four-Day Planet, it’s a juvenile novel though with a protagonist older than the usual works in that genre. While Piper did not find the writing of it quite as easy as Four-Day Planet, it was a relatively easy process for him and, to his surprise, it sold well as that other novel. 

Besides the System States War with the Federation, which John F. Carr in Typewriter Killer sees as an American Civil War analog, the main historical analogy here is the Melanesian cargo cults which sprang up after Allied armed forces left various Pacific islands after the completion of World War Two. (I wonder, before Steven Barnes’ and Larry Niven’s Dream Park, if this is the first use of cargo cults in science fiction.) 

The story is set on the planet Poictesme. The planet’s name is an allusion to one of Piper’s favorite authors, James Branch Cabell.  (In the story, we’re told that the Surromanticist Movement, which was rediscovering the “romantic writers of the pre-Atomic Era”, named a bunch of planets after literary works.)

The hero is Conn Maxwell, returning to Poictesme after a six-month voyage from Terra where he was at university studying computer science for six years. 

Things have changed on Poictesme in his absence. On the penultimate stop at the world’s capital of Storisende, Conn learns there is mass unemployment on the planet, ten men for every job. Gangs armed with shotguns and tommy guns raid merchants coming to pick things up at the spaceport. Some have also taken to piracy like Blackie Perales’ gang which even stole the spaceship Harriet Barne six months ago, and it hasn’t been seen since. The town of Storisende has offered a reward, dead or alive, for pirates in their city limits, and hasn’t been troubled since.

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“The Oath of Hul Jok”

This week’s weird fiction being discussed by the Deep Ones group over at LibraryThing:

Review: “The Oath of Hul Jok”, Dyalhis Nictzin, 1925. 

This is a sequel to Nictzin’s “When the Green Star Waned” and is more interesting, mostly because it’s so bloodthirsty. 

It’s is narrated by Hak Iri, poet and historian. (Nictzin slips in a fair amount of archaic words and phrases.) It has the same seven Venhezians (Venusians) characters as that story. 

They all beg their help from Iri because they are having problems with their “Love-Girls”, their wives. It turns out that the Last Lunarion (Lunarions were the evil race on the moon that enslaved Aerth (Earth) in the previous story and were drive off that world) has subjected them to his telepathic will and turned the Love-Girls against their men.

The Last Lunarion manages to escape with the ship of Hal Juk (Venhazian’s greatest military figure and a giant of a man) and the eight women. Hul Juk swears an oath to rescue the women or die trying and takes just a single ship. With the eight Venhezians comes Jon the Aerthman, rescued from Aerth in the previous story. 

It is revealed through detection equipment invented by Ron Ti (Venhezian’s greatest scientist) where the Last Lunarion is heading: Earth.

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Space Viking

Review: Space Viking, H. Beam Piper, 1963.

With a title like that, I don’t really have to tell you what historical analogy Piper was working with in this Terro-Human Future History story. But, as we’ll see, Piper works with other historical parallels too.

Piper began this novel around October 1961 and finished it on May 8, 1962. John W. Campbell bought it for serialization in Analog that month even though he had a backlog of material.  Campbell really liked the story and proposed several stories set in the Sword Worlds, but Piper would not write any more stories using that setting. It appeared in the January 1963 issue of Analog.

It would turn out, with the check from Analog and Ace paperback sales, to be Piper’s most profitable book in his lifetime. 

Our story opens with Lucas Traskon, an aristocrat on Gram, one of the Sword Worlds. It’s centuries on from the collapse of the Terran Federation of Piper’s earlier stories.

Traskon is to be married to Lady Elaine that day. Before the wedding, we hear of Andray Dunnan, a man spurned by Elaine and kind of crazy. He’s sort of a stalker and refuses to believe she is willingly marrying Traskon. Dunnan also spreads stories that nobody believes that he was born before his brother. He inherited a barony but squandered his money, and his property is heavily mortgaged. He’s set to ship out soon with a mercenary company he’s formed. 

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Little Fuzzy

Review: Little Fuzzy, H. Beam Piper, 1962.

And so we come, at last, to Piper’s by far most famous novel. He started it on March 18, 1958 according to John F. Carr in Typewriter Killer. Damon Knight recommended that Berkley publish it, but they didn’t. Bill McMorris, Putnam’s editor thought it was “too adult for the teenage market” and of no interest to the adult reader. It would be rejected by more than twelve publishers and rejected three times by Avon, the company that eventually published it.  He finished it in March 1959 after several false starts.

Janet Wood, editor at Avon, was enthusiastic about the book and envisioned a series and a movie and toys. (Piper did sell the movie rights, but, of course, nothing came of it.) The novel would finally be published in 1962.

John W. Campbell rejected it for serialization in Analog because its many characters made it confusing in his mind. Carr thinks the problem is that the novel’s has many viewpoint characters, and it’s hard to know, in some scenes, which is the viewpoint character. I’d add that Piper doesn’t always tag characters sufficiently in scenes with dialogue. Carr says Piper is much better in his later Space Viking about keeping characters straight, and I would agree. 

Piper did not consider this one of his better works. I agree and would place all the Fuzzy novels in the bottom tier, along with First Cycle, of Piper’s novels. 

However, a lot of authors have written sequels to it. John Scalzi is one, of course, but there’s also William Tuning, Ardath Mayhar, Wolfgang Dieher, and Carr himself (the last two published by Carr’s Pequod Press). William Barton’s dedication to his Acts of Conscience alludes to it. 

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“The Red Bungalow”

This week’s weird fiction being discussed over at LibraryThing’s Deep Ones reading group.

Review: “The Red Bungalow”, Bithia Mary Croker, 1919.

You know this story. Out-of-towers come to town and find a great real estate deal, ignore the misgivings the locals have about the property, and then pay the price.

Here the out-of-towners are Netta, sister-in-law of the narrator, and her husband and their two children. He’s Tom Fellowes, a major and quartermaster in the British Army. The town is the station Kulu in British India. The house is the titular Red Bungalow which has been oddly ignored by the officers and their wives in town until Netta finds it for a very cheap price. 

But the narrator, on first visit, has an ominous feeling about it which he attributes to her Scottish Highland sensitivity. An old British woman warns Netta. The narrator’s servant warns about it. 

The interesting part is how horror is never seen or detailed. 

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“A Slave Is a Slave”

Between Four-Day Planet and this story, Piper published “Naudsonce”.

Review: “A Slave Is a Slave”, H. Beam Piper, 1962.

In Typewriter Killer, John F. Carr says this story may have inspired Piper’s later Space Viking. Both are in Piper’s Terro-Human Future History. Here the Space Vikings are mentioned in an almost mythical way, and Piper decided to detail some of their story in the latter novel.

Piper started writing that novel even before this story was accepted by John W. Campbell and published in the April 1962 of Analog Science Fiction – Science Fact. As we’ll see, Campbell’s influence is noticeable.

The story is set on Aditya during the First Galactic Empire which grew up in the age following the Space Vikings and their collapse into decadence. Aditya is, in fact, the same communist planet mentioned in Piper’s “Ministry of Disturbance”, a story written earlier but set later in the series. It takes place in the mid-third century of the Empire, and “Ministry of Disturbance” takes place about 600 years later, and the sense one gets, between the two stories, is that things didn’t change much on the world.

This story is a philosophical examination of the supposed truism that all men yearn to be free and the wisdom of intervening to make them free if necessary.

The viewpoint character is Jurgen, Prince Trevannion (a name probably inspired by James Branch Cabell, one of Piper’s favorite authors). He’s heading an expedition to annex Aditya into the Empire. With him is Lance Debbrend officially,

Assistant to the Ministerial Secretary. In practice, Lanze was his chess-opponent, conversational foil, right hand, third eye and ear, and, sometimes, trigger-finger.

Colonel Ravney is in charge of the Navy Landing-Troops. And there’s our do-gooder, Orbay, Count Erskyll. He’s young and his connected family, fearing he was being radicalized with liberal ideas at university, got him a job as the proconsul when the planet is taken. Trevannion thinks it was a mistake to give him the job, but he’s in charge until the planet if fully under Imperial control.

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Four-Day Planet

Between “The Answer” and this story, Piper also published “Oomphel in the Sky”.

Review: Four-Day Planet, H. Beam Piper, 1961.

Probably my favorite Piper novel which is somewhat surprising because it’s a juvenile novel published by G. P. Putnam. According to John F. Carr’s Typewriter Killer, Piper was following the example of Andre Norton and Lester del Rey in producing juvenile novels in the wake of the successful Robert A. Heinlein’s juveniles from the same publisher.

Carr notes that it was a relatively painless effort for Piper who wrote it quickly and went through only two drafts as opposed to his usual false starts and frequent revisions. Jack Chalker, in an appreciation of Piper, said it was one of his best works, enjoyable for adults as well as teens. Putnam only edited a few words of “violent action” from Piper’s manuscript. 

The narrator is Walter Boyd, a 17-year-old reporter for his dad’s newspaper (actually written and then wired to several remote teleprinters) on the planet Fenris. 

Fenris is a hellish place where day and night are each 4,000 hours long, and the latter gets cold enough to freeze carbon dioxide out of the air. There are only four days in the planet’s year. The settlement on the planet is now only about 24,000. That’s down 90 percent from the original settlement. It went bust about a 100 years ago when the original Chartered Fenris Company and its mining operation went out of business. The Federation Navy evacuated most of the settlement, but a few people remained behind.

Eventually, a new industry arose—the hunting of large marine beasts, “monsters”, for their “tallow-wax”. That’s a substance of very large molecules (large enough to see in a microscope) which will stop radiation from penetrating anything coated with it. The wax is very inflammable and has its own oxygen, so, once it starts burning, you have to let it burn out. However, it also has a very high ignition temperature. 

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