One of my favorite Science Fiction authors is H. Beam Piper. He lived from March 23rd, 1904 until early November 1964, when he tragically committed suicide. He chose to kill himself because he – incorrectly – thought that his writing career was at a dead end.
Piper’s work can be divided into roughly two parts, or two “settings”, if you will. His “Paratime”storylines deal with alternate worlds and alternate timelines; the Paratime Police deals with incursions and problems in different timelines; their society jealously guards the secret of travel to parallel worlds while exploiting the same for their own benefit. If you ever read GURPS Time Travel (or the GURPS Infinite Worlds setting), you will find that Paratime was the main influence for their setting.
The other group of stories by Piper is usually referred to as the Terro-Human Future History. It’s basically an example of the “consensus cosmogony” that science fiction writers only needed – and still need – to hint at for the reader to make assumptions about the future of human history.
Piper’s Future History
The history of H. Beam Piper’s Science Fiction stories diverges early from our own timeline, the UN collapses and World War III leads to a follow-up organization, the Terran Federation. It is World War IV that completely devastates the Northern Hemisphere. The southern nations rebuild civilization, and the Hyperdrive is developed in circa 2126, finally bringing mankind to the stars.
Piper’s setting is notable because its society is not American-based. His characters are a very wild mix of nationalities, and for example major universities are in Australia and South America rather than the US and Europe. Culturally, there isn’t all that much difference, though.
Mankind’s early exploration of interstellar space is run by the Terran Federation, which charters company to colonize and exploit various worlds. So for example there’s the Chartered Uller Company, and so on. These companies act pretty much like their British equivalents that settled North America.
The Terran Federation expands and then fights a war against the System States Alliance, a group of worlds that declares independence. The resulting war eventually triggers the collapse of the Federation, and a long time of anarchy descends on human space before the Empire revives interstellar civilization.
A quick Terro-Human Future History Bibliography:
- Uller Uprising (1952): Details a native uprising on the planet Uller. (get it from Project Gutenberg.)
- Graveyard of Dreams (Short story, 1958): A boy comes home from Terra to tell his town’s people that the magic computer they are looking for does not exist. – later expanded into a novel as “The Cosmic Computer”. (Collected in Federation.)
- Four-Day Planet (1961): A modern whalers’ tale; the Sea Monster hunters’ collective is run by corrupt officials; things are stirred up when competition arrives from Terra. (Get from Project Gutenberg.)
- The Cosmic Computer (1963): Citizens of a planet covered by the remains of a lost war are starting a salvaging company to find a mythical supercomputer and jump-start the planetary economy as a side-effect. (Get from Project Gutenberg.)
- Space Viking (1963): After his wedding is crashed by gunfire and his newly-wed bride killed by an assassin, a space viking sets out to hunt down the murderer among the stars. (Get from Project Gutenberg.)
- Little Fuzzy (1962): Discovery of a new sentient species, and the question – just how do you define sentience?
- Fuzzy Sapiens (1964, originally The Other Human Race): Sequel to Little Fuzzy.
- Fuzzies and Other People (1984): Sequel to Little Fuzzy.
- Omnilingual (Short Story, 1957): How do you translate the language of an extinct alien species that has no cultural connection with you? (Collected in Federation.) (Get from Project Gutenberg.)
- Naudsonce (Short Story, 1962): A starship crew discovers a new sentient species. (Collected in Federation.) (get it from Project Gutenberg.)
- Oomphel in the Sky (Short Story, 1960): The natives are going berserk because they think the world will soon end… (Collected in Federation.) (Get from Project Gutenberg.)
- When in the Course (Short Story, 1982): (Collected in Federation.)
- The Edge of the Knife (short Story, 1957): (Collected in Empire.) A history teacher can see into the future, and gets into all kinds of trouble when he accurately predicts an assassination. The Edge of the Knife is used by Piper to lay out many concepts of his Future History.(Get it from Project Gutenberg.)
- A Slave is a Slave (1962): (Collected in Empire.) (Get from Project Gutenberg.)
- Ministry of Disturbance (1958): (Collected in Empire.) (Get from Project Gutenberg.)
- The Return (1954): (Collected in Empire.) (get it from Project Gutenberg.)
- The Keeper (Short Story, 1957): (Collected in Empire.)
There’s a magazine (fanzine?) article in which Piper published a rough timeline of his Future History, and is worth a look after you read some of his books:
- Zenith – Future History No 1 (1964) – Article in which H. Beam Piper presents a timeline of his Future History.
There are two Piper stories that are not, technically, part of Future History, but which fit really well:
- The Answer (1959): Two scientists are dropping an antimatter payload into the Argentinian wilderness to see what happens, and make an interesting discovery about the World War that devastated the Northern Hemisphere.
- Lone Star Planet (1958): Ambassador Steven Silk must find out who murdered his predecessor, and why, before he himself becomes the next victim. The setting is very similar to the Terro-Human setting; to make them compatible one would simply have to change the Solar League from Lone Star Planet into the Terran Federation, and change minor details of administration and policy. (Get from Project Gutenberg.)
Piper and Traveller
Piper’s works were among those that influenced the Traveller Role-Playing Game. Off the top of my head:
- The Broadsword class mercenary cruiser is obviously a Space Viking raider.
- The Sword-Worlds are directly inspired by Piper.
- Star Vikings in MegaTraveller… ’nuff said.
- Nomands of the World Ocean reminds me of Four-Day Planet
Ever since I discovered Piper – way too late in my life – his work has been a major influence on my own sicence fiction designs.
If you want to read Piper, my recommendations are:
- The Cosmic Computer
- Space Viking
- Uller Uprising
- Oomphel in the Sky
- Four-Day Planet
The other stories aren’t bad, but I think those are the best of the crop.