Typewriter Killer

And with this my look at H. Beam Piper and his works conclude.

Review: Typewriter Killer: H. Beam Piper, John F. Carr, 2015.

While you can a decent sense of Piper the man in this book, you get a clearer and more detailed look at Piper’s complete life in Carr’s earlier H. Beam Piper: A Biography. However, this book succeeds at giving you a better sense of Piper the published writer. In fact, I read this book first.

To be sure, Carr repeats some paragraphs from his early book, but he also condensed the account of Piper’s life before he became published. He also expanded the plot descriptions of Piper’s works, talks about the historical trilogy of 18th century Pennsylvania Piper worked on for decades, and expands the account of Piper’s friendships with other writers, especially with his most significant publishing outlet, John W. Campbell’s Astounding. The chapters are often titled after Piper’s stories and often give a timeline and account of Piper’s problems with a particular work. There is less on Piper’s wife Betty Hirst.

Carr, with the help of Piper’s abortive biographer Mike Knerr (who met Piper in 1959), talks about the business side of Piper’s literary career. He also makes clear that Campbell’s promising Piper’s agents “bonuses” for his work is clear evidence that Campbell used the alleged readers’ votes in Astounding’s AnLab to pay his favorite authors more.

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H. Beam Piper: A Biography

John F. Carr wrote two biographies on H. Beam Piper, this one and, later, Typewriter Killer: H. Beam Piper. (Thus, he has to write another book on Piper to comply with Robert Silverberg’s Law of Research.)

Review: H. Beam Piper: A Biography, John F. Carr, 2008.

A biographer of Piper has a challenge. Piper was a man of habitual secrecy, compartmentalization, and deceit. A habitual diary keeper, he burned years’ worth of diaries prior to his marriage late in life. And why did he divorce his wife? Was she really a golddigger who married him for a vacation in Paris? What did the convivial, hard-drinking Piper do for a living before he became a professional writer? His writing acquaintances variously thought he was a railroad detective or railroad engineer. He really worked for decades as the night watchmen in the yard of the Pennsylvania Railroad in Altoona, Pennsylvania. His friends didn’t even know what the “H.” stood for – Horace?, Henry?. It was really Herbert.

And why did he, on November 6, 1964, put one of his guns to his mouth and pull the trigger?

Carr met the challenge and presents us a biography of an interesting and fatally flawed man who produced some outstanding works of science fiction, a biography that surprised Carr associate Jerry Pournelle, a friend of Piper’s, with its revelation and the lies his old friend told. The sources are the reminisces of friends – sometimes as preserved by their children, Piper’s letters and diaries, letters from John W. Campbell, and the work of Piper friend and abortive biographer Mike Knerr. (Abortive because Knerr turned down the finder’s fee from Ace Books for turning over Piper’s lost manuscript of Fuzzies and Other People in exchange for them publishing the biography. They never did.)

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