“The Answer”

A story from back in the day when people seemed to take nuclear war more seriously than many do today.

Review: “The Answer”, H. Beam Piper, 1959.

 Like several other Piper stories (“Time and Time Again”, “The Edge of the Knife”, “When in the Course . . . “, “Flight from Tomorrow”), this story features nuclear war. It was published in the December 1959 issue of Fantastic Universe Science Fiction

While it shares, with the Terro-Human Future History, the idea of the survivors of a nuclear war between America and the USSR going to the less damaged Southern Hemisphere, it is not part of that series.

The story opens with Lee Richardson dreaming of a slim woman with graying blonde hair and her dachshund. (Rather autobiographical given that Piper was separated from his wife and beloved pet dog when he wrote this story.) Richardson is woken up Alexis Pitov. They speak, as they always do, German with each other.

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“Crossroads of Destiny”

Review: “Crossroads of Destiny”, H. Beam Piper, 1959.

 It’s another alternate history from Piper though not set in his Paratime series. Like Alfred Bester’s “Of Time and Third Avenue”, this story hinges on a numismatic matter. Piper’s story appeared in the July 1959 issue of Fantastic Universe Science Fiction. Bester’s story was published in 1951.

The narrator is a history professor. He goes to a “club-car” on a train where there are five men seated. There is a Staff Intelligence Army colonel. There’s a sandy haired man about the narrator’s own age and an elderly man who is either a banker or lawyer. Next to him is a plump and “slightly too well groomed” man. Separated from the group is a man reading a book though he seems to be listening to the conversation. 

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“Hunter Patrol”

Review: “Hunter Patrol”, H. Beam Piper and John J. McGuire, 1959.

Piper and McGuire wrote this, their last published collaboration, sometime in 1954 or earlier. Their friendship ended that year, and it wasn’t until the May 1959 issue of Amazing Science Fiction Stories it saw print. Significantly, it was the only story Piper didn’t list in his story log, but he did find McGuire’s new address to send him his share of the sale.

John F. Carr, in H. Beam Piper: A Biography, says that McGuire would go on to publish four more stories of his own, that are “much more grim and realistic than anything he wrote with Piper”. Still, this story has its grim elements too and, as we’ll see, I suspect it draws on some elements of McGuire’s World War Two experiences as an OSS operative.

The story opens in Armenia shortly after 1977, the year that Captain Frank Benson of Benson’s Butchers, was drafted. They are conducting an operation behind enemy lines with Turkish partisans. Its purpose is to convince the Pan-Soviet forces (the USSR, India, and China) that they are under attack by paratroopers. The Soviets are advancing, and this is to be Benson’s last combat mission before he is discharged. 

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“Ministry of Disturbance”

Between this story and “The Keeper”, Piper published “Graveyard of Dreams”.

Review: “Ministry of Disturbance”, H. Beam Piper, 1958.

This story was first published in the December 1958 issue of Astounding Science Fiction. It’s chockful of stuff on the First Empire of the Terro-Human Future History. We get the first mention of the Fuzzies and the Space Vikings of later Piper works. We have the technologies of semi-sentient robots and mediums of varying powers. We hear about the System States War which forms the background of “The Graveyard of Dreams”.

It’s also chockful of characters and intrigue but Piper manages to keep them all separate though the finer political machinations are somewhat confusing.

The main character is His Imperial Majesty Paul XXII, and the imperial throne has been on Odin for 800 years. The other main character is Prince Travann, Paul’s old friend from college days. 

Travann runs security for the empire, and the head of Paul’s bodyguard, General Dorflay, suspects him of several plots against the emperor, but then Dorflay is rather senile and paranoid.  But the Prime Minister, Prince Ganzay, also points to some troubling moves by Travann. 

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“The Keeper”

Review: “The Keeper”, H. Beam Piper, 1957.

This story was published in Venture Science Fiction’s July 1957 issue. It’s the story in Piper’s Terro-Human Future History set furthest in the future. It mentions the Fifth Empire, and no other story in that series is set past the Third Empire. 

There is a sad, elegiac quality about this story. Our hero is Raud, the Keeper, the most current holder of that hereditary title. And, since he has no children, he will be the last Keeper of the Crown. 

Raud lives by himself in the woods with advancing glaciers, “the white front of the Ice-Father”, in sight. Raud is getting old but reminds himself not to descend to self-pity but to be proud to be the Keeper. Going through the woods, he occasionally stops to look at the remains of ancient buildings, evidence that this area used to have people living in it. His only companions are his dogs Brave and Bold. Raud trades skin and furs for his upkeep. He lives in a windowless house, lit entirely by lumicon, something he traded a Southron for years ago. Like his vitality, its light is dimming.   

He gets visitor when Vahr Farg’s son shows up in an airboat with some “Strangers from the Stars”. Raud considers the man a “worthless youth, lazy and stupid and said to be a coward.”  The strangers are passengers from a starship and, unlike Raud with his chemically powered guns (the usual weapons in Piper’s Terro-Human Future History), they carry negatron pistols. They are “Empire people”.


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“The Edge of the Knife”

Review: “The Edge of the Knife”, H. Beam Piper, 1957.

This story was published in the May 1957 issue of Amazing Stories – because John W. Campbell turned it down for Astounding Science Fiction. Piper’s diary says that was “because it conflicts with the strategy he has adopted in trying to boost psionics.” 

John F. Carr’s Typewriter Killer says this is a important story in Piper’s Terro-Human Future History. However, he also argues it may not be part of that series though he did include it in a Piper collection he edited, Empire. Piper himself considered it for possible inclusion in a collection of Terro-Human Future History stories. The ambiguity seems to stem from it not quite reconciling with later stories in the series. Writing out his “The Future History of H. Beam Piper” for a fan, Piper said the launch of Sputnik “invalidated a lot of my stuff”. 

The basic concept is similar to Piper’s first story, “Time and Time Again”. Except here, it’s not a soldier in World War III being transported back into his body as a child. Here our protagonist, Edward Chalmers, is a history professor at Blanley College in New York state.

At the opening of the story, he finds the students in his Modern History IV class staring at him. Why, they want to know, does he say Khalid ib’n Hussein has been assassinated? He impatiently rattles off the details of the assassination in Basra in 1973 including the fate of the assassin and that he was inspired by the Eastern Axis. The news, however, has Khalid alive and in Ankara.

Kendrick, the “class humorist”, invites Chalmers to speculate on the effects of the assassination.  Realizing his situation and having only five minutes left in class, he utters some generalities on the assassination of Ghandi. He concludes by nothing it’s always hard to keep chronologies straight.

This had been a bad one, the worst yet; he hadn’t heard the end of it by any means. He couldn’t waste thought on that now, though. This was all new and important; it had welled up suddenly and without warning into his conscious mind, and he must get it down in notes before the ‘memory’— even mentally, he always put that word into quotes— was lost. 

But, leaving the classroom, he overhears some students saying they aren’t going to major in history when their grades depend on a lunatic. Another says he’s going to complain to his father who is president of the Alumni Association. 

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“Lone Star Planet”

In between “The Return” and this novella (reprinted as Planet for Texans as part of an Ace Double), Piper published two works: “Time Crime” and his most anthologized story, “Omnilingual”.

In his Typewriter Killer, John F. Carr describes this as Piper’s only humorous satire. I agree with the humorous part. As to satire, well . . . I think that (Piper at least) didn’t see much wrong with the political order on New Texas.

I don’t put much store in awards, but let’s just say that I think it’s entirely consistent this won the Prometheus Hall of Fame Award in 1999 for Best Classic Libertarian SF Novel.

Review: “Lone Star Planet”, H. Beam Piper and John J. McGuire, 1957.

This novella’s editorial reception was, shall we say, muted. It was first published in the March 1957 issue of Fantastic Universe Science Fiction which John F. Carr calls a “salvage market” only paying a penny a word. It’s not really known when it was written, but Piper’s diary indicates it was written at least as early 1955.

Its hero and narrator is Stephen Silk, a member of the “Hooligan Diplomats”. Unfortunately, he’s also known as Machiavelli, Jr. That was the name he put to his article “Probable Future Courses of Solar League Diplomacy” for Galactic Statesmen’s Journal.

His bosses aren’t that worried that his analysis of a frankly imperialistic agenda will give the Solar League’s Consular Service a bad name. Most of the issues of the magazine are sold to its diplomats and research says the public doesn’t really mind imperialism that much.

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“The Return”

Review: “The Return”, H. Beam Piper and John J. McGuire, 1954.

This is a joke story with a surprise ending. I’ll tread carefully not to reveal it, but I don’t think many readers now will find it surprising. I suspect not many readers of the January 1954 issue of Astounding Science Fiction, where it first appeared, were either.

There are a lot of Piper stories that mention nuclear war breaking out, but this is the only one that comes close to depicting the consequences of such a war albeit 200 years later.

The year is about 2196 and two scientists, Jim Altamont and Monty Loudons, are flying in a helicopter over the wreckage of America after a nuclear war in 1996. Based out of Fort Ridgeway in what was Arizona, they are looking for viable communities that can be linked with radio sets they give them and that can benefit from an exchange of knowledge and experience. It was only in the last 25 years the fort, even with its technical library and trained personnel, were able to make “nuclear-electric engines” and go east of the Mississippi River. Altamont’s an expert on things. Loudons is an expert on people. The only way, incidentally, that Ridgeway has been viable over 200 years is that a large number of female technicians were there when war broke out.

The story opens with them near what used to be Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and they are there because of an old issue of Time magazine which, in 1993, talked about an underground crypt being constructed beneath the city’s Carnegie Library. The crypt contained microfilmed copies of many technical works, and it’s thought some might be books Fort Ridgeway doesn’t have.

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Murder in the Gunroom

Review: Murder in the Gunroom, H. Beam Piper, 1953.

Piper begin writing at the age of 16 in 1920. At least as early as 1927, he was trying to sell gangster stories to the pulps, and, according to his friend and would-be biographer Mike Knerr, he wanted to be an historical novelist and mystery writer more than a science fiction writer. 

This novel was not a success. John F. Carr, in his Typewriter Killer, says

The book earned $750.00 (minus a 10% agent’s cut to Fred Pohl) for a total of $675.00 in Piper’s pocket! Using an inflation calculator, the $675.00 is the equivalent of $5,933.00 in 2014 dollars. There is no further mention of any royalties so it’s doubtful the book ever earned out its meager advance; although, the amount was typical of the time for a ‘new’ mystery author. In retrospect, even after sixty plus years of inflation, $750.00 was a piddling sum for a book involving years of labor and at least four different rewrites. 

Yet, in his resolutely unprofessional way, Piper worked on two sequels (Murder in the Conference Room and Murder Frozen Over) until December 1957. They would never be published nor would any of his other mysteries.

Knerr says of Piper’s lack of success selling his mystery novels: 

Beam’s mystery novels were as meticulously planned as anything he had ever written, but the publishers and the public were not much interested in them. Perhaps there was too much of the ‘Victorian’ in them at a time when readers wanted Mickey Spillane, Richard Prather or Fredrick Brown.

As is often noted in reference to this novel, it is mostly interesting to science fiction readers for one of the characters, Pierre’s, description of his work as a science fiction author. His remarks seem relevant to Piper and his Paratime series:

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Review: Null-ABC, H. Beam Piper and John J. McGuire, 1953.

It’s a world where department stores launch armed attacks on their competitors. Elections have gangs who beat up and occasionally kill the opposition. (And, if you don’t have your own gang, you can rent one.) Technology has stagnated. High school students assault their teachers regularly. And most of the population is illiterate.

Yes, there’s a Crisis in 2140. That was the better titled selected for the novel when it was republished as part of an Ace Double in 1957. It was originally serialized in the February and March 1953 issues of Astounding Science Fiction, and I suspect editor John W. Campbell gave it a title reminiscent of A. E. van Vogt’s Null-A series which ran in Astounding in the 1940s.

The work is part of a group of 1950s science fiction novels dealing with the theme of anti-intellectualism. They include Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 and Fritz Leiber’s The Silver Eggheads (which I have not read). Like another such novel, James Gunn’s The Burning, it features a population that blames historical problems on intellectuals, and, in particular, has reacted against that basic intellectual tool: literacy.

There has always been, on the part of the Illiterate public, some resentment against organized Literacy. In part, it has been due to the high fees charged for Literate services, and to what seems, to many, to be monopolistic practices. But behind that is a general attitude of anti-intellectualism which is our heritage from the disastrous wars of the Twentieth and Twenty-first Centuries. Chester Pelton has made himself the spokesman of this attitude. In his view, it was men who could read and write who hatched the diabolical political ideologies and designed the frightful nuclear weapons of that period. In his mind, Literacy is equated with ‘Mein Kampf’ and ‘Das Kapital’, with the A-bomb and the H-bomb, with concentration camps and blasted cities.

Yes, in this society literacy is so rare – but still a necessary skill – that Literates have their own union, the Associated Fraternities of Literates. And men like Chester Pelton, owner of a department store, resent that their skills are needed. And he can do something about it. He’s a senator in the North American Confederacy.

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