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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