Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen

My third and final look at some H. Beam Piper works.

Raw Feed (2002): Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen, H. Beam Piper, 1965.Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen

This was a fairly engaging book.

Its battle sequences were clearer than the action sequences of some of the stories in Piper’s Paratime. I didn’t really try to keep track of the corresponding geographical locations in our world as Lord Kalvan aka Calvin Morrison of the Pennsylvania State Police builds an empire along this alternate version of the Atlantic coast of America.

Piper does, at one point, give a geographical listing which would make such a reconstruction at least partially possible though no maps are given. I kept thinking I was missing some in-jokes like some of the battle sites were fought on the site of American Civil War or Revolutionary War sites. I suspect Nostor is the same as Georgia since there is a song called “Marching Through Nostor” which sounds suspiciously like “Marching Through Georgia” from our American Civil War.

While this is certainly far from the first work of military sf or even (probably) the first sf work where a man displaced from his time or dimension builds an empire with his technological and historical knowledge, I suspect it was influential on Piper’s friend Jerry Pournelle and others.

The book comes off as a more cynical version of L. Sprague de Camp’s Lest Darkness Fall. De Camp’s protagonist prevents the decay of a society and introduces democracy and other things. Lord Kalvan builds an empire amongst medieval style states and introduces religious war, abides torture, suggests executing enemy priests at the mouths of cannons a la the British during the Sepoy Rebellion (and an awful pun is made about “cannon-ized martyrs”), institutes auto de fes and a secret police.

In Kalvan’s defense, he is taking steps to wipe out the oppressive Styphon’s House cult which has a gunpowder monopoly before he arrives. Kalvan wants to modernize his new home. I like Piper’s observations that governments’ decisions are only ratified on the battlefield, that states borrow time on credit and have to pay via war. It’s obvious Piper knew a lot about warfare, particularly the wars of Gustavus Adolphus which form so much of an inspiration. I kept thinking that many of the battles were modeled on historical ones, but I’m unsure (though Adolphus’ Battle of Lutzen is mentioned in connection with Kalvan’s Battle of Fyk) of which ones exactly.

Of course, there is a lot of wish fulfillment here. Kalvan gets to use his historical knowledge to build an Empire. He knows the use and theory of edged weapons. He gets to marry a princess. And, of course, he learns the language implausibly fast. I found that a flaw in the novel (though a flaw of convention).

The other one was the description, by Paratime Cop Verkan Vall, of Kalvan as a genius. If he was such a genius and liked soldiering, why didn’t he stay in the U.S. Army (he’s a veteran of the Korean War) rather than become a policeman?

Piper clearly sides with the great man theory of history in this novel.


More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.

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