First Cycle

After Fuzzy Sapiens, Piper had “Gunpowder God” and “Down Styphon!” published. They were combined and expanded for Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen which I’ve reviewed. Those two stories are the last mentioned in Piper’s story log. Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen does not seem to have been published before Piper’s suicide on November 5, 1964.

In the mid-1970s, Jim Baen bought Piper’s literary estate and the Piper revival began. “When in the Course — ” made its first appearance in 1981’s Federation.

Review: First Cycle, H. Beam Piper and edited and expanded by Michael Kurland, 1982.

Cover by Wayne Barlowe

This novel doesn’t get a lot of respect among Piper fans and scholars. John F. Carr in Typewriter Killer only mentions it seven times in the body of that book.  First Cycle was written about 1953 for the Twayne Triplets series from Twayne Books. They were the first of what we now called “shared-world anthologies”. Piper’s Uller Uprising was written for the first in the series, The Petrified Planet. The next Twayne Triplet was a fantasy anthology called Witches Three. The next two proposed installments, science fiction anthologies, were never published. 

Piper wrote this story, originally called “The Heavenly Twins”, for the fourth proposed volume which was also to include stories by James Blish and Murray Leinster. It was discovered in Piper’s estate. Michael Kurland made some minor changes and revisions to it, but this version largely matches Piper’s original manuscript. The framing device of having a Terro-Human Federation starship show up was a Kurland addition.

Like The Petrified Planet, the story starts with astronomical history, here the planets Thalassa and Hetaira came to be. They circle a common center of gravity in a system with both yellow and red dwarf stars. Hetaira has much more water than Thalassa. Each planet has its own sentient race.

Carr calls it a “deeply flawed work”, “derivative and flawed in its execution”. It’s a political fable, of sorts, of US/USSR tensions and nuclear war. Carr faults the characterization in this novel and states Piper’s best work, with better characterization, stems from 1957 and later and that the “emotional upheaval” of Piper’s separation from his wife may be responsible for that. That may be true, but I’d also argue that it’s hard to do a lot of characterization in a 201 page novel where the first half covers millions of years of evolution and cultural development on the two planets. 

Piper’s sympathy is clearly with the Hetairans, a sexually promiscuous race who do not have nations but “gangs” and “combines” as their organizing units. They do not have the religious zeal of the Thalassans who have groups more like human families. 

Starting on page 203, Piper introduces his main historical analog: the development of Marxism and the Russian Revolution. Here this is the Thalassan work The Organic State. 

The scale of the novel becomes much finer at this point as we see the development of radio and attempts by Hetairans to see if they can communicate with Thalassa which they have come to learn has a sentient race of its own.

(Spoilers ahead)

An expedition is sent to Thalassa, and the Organic State begins to have designs on Hetaira as a water rich world with plenty of room for its population which is ten times Hetaira’s. 

The Hetairans are appalled at what they’ve learned of Thalassans with their “hereditary bondage – called ‘government’”. They decide to “sterilize the source of the infection” and launch a nuclear war on Thalassa. Unknown to them, however, Thalassa has developed its own nuclear missiles. 

When the Federation shows up, they find two destroyed planets. However, they do find some Hetairans on a mining colony on another world of the system. They’ve lived there since the war 600 years ago. Piper’s sympathy with the Hetairans is made even more clear when the Federation described them as “quite extraordinary”, “a really intelligent people”.

I didn’t find this that bad of a novel. It kept my interest though it is definitely minor Piper. 

It reminded me of some of Harry Turtledove’s work, particularly A World of Difference and his Sim World series. Both either recapitulate the Cold War in sf terms or recapitulate human technological development and political developments in an altered setting as this novel does.  However, apart from his Cross Time series (which I’ve never read) which may have been inspired Piper’s Paratime series, I have no idea if Turtledove has read this novel. 

2 thoughts on “First Cycle

  1. Bookstooge May 28, 2022 / 3:13 pm

    How did Piper off himself? I didn’t realize he had…

    • marzaat May 28, 2022 / 3:22 pm

      After spreading a drop cloth over his office, he shot himself with a .38 Colt Marshall. The suicide note read: “I don’t like to leave messes when I go away, but if I could have cleaned up any of this mess, I wouldn’t be going away”.

      Eventually, I’ll be reviewing a couple Piper biographies from Carr.

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