Creator / H. Beam Piper
Henry Beam Piper (March 23, 1904 – circa November 6, 1964) was an American SF writer, best known for the series Paratime
(which is about exploiting The Multiverse
for fun and profit); the Terrohuman Future History, or TFH, which is about the human race spreading throughout the stars, and the cultural rising and falling that happens as a result; and Little Fuzzy
, an arc within the TFH series about the discovery of intelligent life on a settled planet. A two-level real-life case of an Embarrassing First Name
— Piper told people he went by the initial because he didn't like the name Horace; his actual first name was Henry. He shot himself in 1964 because of financial problems.
A check was literally in the mail.
Tropes found in his works include:
- Accidental Truth:
- In The Cosmic Computer, Conn Maxwell returns from Earth with the results of his investigations into the rumors of an abandoned supercomputer on his home planet. He concludes that the device never existed, but rather than say so he organizes a search in order to stimulate the economy and improve morale. Then the computer is discovered....
- In Space Viking, Lucas Trask distracts his followers from their internal quarrels by spinning a conspiracy theory about his enemy Andray Dunnan trying to subvert and take over the planet Marduk. It is soon discovered that Dunnan is doing precisely that.
- Alternate Universe: A bare minimum of Once per Episode in Paratime.
- His first published story, "Time and Time Again" (1947), launched an alternate universe when the dying main character's consciousness was flung thirty years back in time to his then-thirteen-year-old body — and decided to change history to prevent the World War III in which he'd been killed. His plans involved having his father, Blake Hartley, become President in 1960; two later stories, set in '65 and '68, mention President Hartley, so the plan was successful to that extent at least...
- Another story, a sort of proto-Paratime, had a mysteriously vanished diplomat from our Earth stumble into a parallel universe where the American and French Revolutions failed.
- Although the one about the diplomat isn't explicitly labelled a Paratime story, the first specifically Paratime story makes an apparent reference to the incident as having been accidentally caused by a Paratime policeman. At least the dates and a one-sentence description of the events match up.
- The disappearance of Benjamin Bathurst in OTL is Truth in Television, and one of the Great Historical Mysteries, frequently bracketed with Judge Crater. This is because most accounts are confused about how quickly he disappeared; in fact, between the time he was last seen and when he was noted missing was plenty of time for him to be robbed and murdered, particularly since he was in a crime-ridden area. Piper's own story turns on its being a much shorter time than reality.
- Bottomless Magazines Piper provided the page quote once; nevertheless, generally an aversion in his work.
- Brown Note: The aliens in "Naudsonce" experience sound as physical sensations. The Terran expedition finds it necessary to bury their water pump because it gets the aliens blissed out to the point of neglecting their farms; their linguist is handicapped because her voice causes the aliens extreme discomfort.
- Continuity Nod: Carlos von Schlichten and Paula Quinton have a romance in Uller Uprising; the short story "Oomphel in the Sky" has a reference to a Paula von Schlichten Fellowship, which is in sociography, Paula Quinton's field.
- The short story "Naudsonce" named a exploratory starship Hubert Penrose after an important character in "Omnilingual."
- Crusading Widower: Lucas Trask in Space Viking. He slides right into What the Hell, Hero? by nuking cities and looting them to pay for all that crusading. Bonus points? He delivers the "what the hell" speech to himself.
- Death from Above: Dire Dawn in Uller Uprising.
- Death World: Fenris in Four-Day Planet comes very close, if not outright qualifying.
- Diplomatic Impunity: Treated with great realism in "He Walked Around the Horses."
- Due to the Dead: Are the Little Fuzzies intelligent? Well, they bury their dead.
- Earth That Used to Be Better: In ''Space Viking", the main character worries about his home planet's civilization declining, and a historian agrees: "That's what happened to the Terran Federation, by the way. The good men all left to colonize, and the stuffed shirts and yes-men and herd-followers and safety-firsters stayed on Terra and tried to govern the Galaxy."
- In "The Keeper", Earth is a backwater world of the Fifth Empire (Piper's other stories only cover his future history up to the glory days of the First Empire); most people, including most of its inhabitants, are unaware that it is the planet where humanity originated.
- Eternal English: Averted. Most of the TFH uses a kind of linguistic potpourri that's basically every modern language run through a blender at once.
- Fantastic Legal Weirdness: The Last Enemy gives us a society in which reincarnation has now been proven, so their view of death is far more relaxed. Assassination is a legal profession because of this (though there are certain rules, such as no nukes). Near the end of the story, lawsuits start to be launched by people trying to recover property they had in their past lives, though we don't see whether any succeed.
- Fantastic Slurs: Ullerans are known as "geeks". Partially through onomatopoeia from some local languages, partially because some Ulleran cultures kill small, iguana-like food animals by biting off their heads.
- The Khooghra of Yggdrasil are officially sapient, but so stupid that calling a Terran a "son of a Khooghra" once led to a shooting. The man so described knew he was being insulted.
- The Federation: The Terran Federation during the early part of the TFH.
- Hideous Hangover Cure: Not actually hideous or a hangover cure; the "alcodote-vitimine pill" won't let you get drunk at all.
- Homage: Traveller revises the Sword Worlds of Space Viking to suit the Traveller universe.
- Horse of a Different Color: Freyan oukry, which are used to make Westerns. Most people in the TFH seem to think horses are extinct; a minor news story in Four Day Planet mentions a movie shot using real horses.
- Human Aliens: The Freyans, spelled out in the novella "When In the Course..." They're human enough to interbreed with Terrans, despite the Terran doctor insisting it's impossible. Piper apparently had some explanation in mind, most likely some variant of Transplanted Humans, but it was never revealed. The story was Retconned out of Future History, and substantially rewritten to become Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen in the Paratime milieu.
- Although Paula Quinton from Uller Uprising states that she's part Freyan, so the concept wasn't completely eliminated.
- Also Martians, in the TFH: they died out 50 millennia ago, but statues, paintings, and mummified corpses in "Omnilingual" are specifically stated to look fully human. Considering the short story "Genesis" and the Paratime series both claimed Earth humans are descended from Martian colonists, Piper may very well have had this origin in mind for the TFH too.
- Humans Are White : Averted. While explicit physical descriptions of characters are rare, the prevalence of multiethnic names indicates that most of them are some shade of brown.
- Kinetic Weapons Are Just Better: Except in Paratime.
- Lie Detector: TFH law is based around the "veridicator", a 100% accurate lie-detector.
- Like a Duck Takes to Water: Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen. He quickly goes from State Trooper to Great King.
- Lucas Trask takes to being a Space Viking like said fish.
- Master Computer: Both played straight and subverted.
- Multiethnic Name: Particularly common in Uller Uprising, where just about every major character's given name and surname are of distinctly divergent ethnic origin. Justified by mass migration from the nuked northern hemisphere to South America and Africa following the Fourth World War.
- Mundane Utility: We're going mining on Fluorine-Tainted Niflheim, the Planetary Hell... volcano mining with atomic warheads.
- Narrative Profanity Filter: "I'll fix the expurgated unprintability!"
- Nuke 'em: Ship-to-ship combat in Space Viking, the climax of Uller Uprising.
- Our Souls Are Different: The Last Enemy involved a world where reincarnation was a proven scientific fact, and the resulting cultural changes. Most important: death was considered a temporary inconvenience at worst, leading to suicide parties being a socially accepted practice and frequent duels to the death taking place.
- Past-Life Memories: The retrieval of these by means of mediums channeling the souls of the recently deceased, proving one theory of reincarnation true in The Last Enemy. This leads to social chaos as people sue to reclaim property which they had in former lives.
- The Plan: "Ministry of Disturbance".
- Reincarnation: The focus of the plot in The Last Enemy, with an exploration of the social effects that result in its being proven to exist, along with two political factions fighting over their rival theories about how it works.
- Silicon-Based Life: Life on Uller, including four-armed humanoid reptiles and creatures like hexapodal pine cones.
- Society Marches On: "Omnilingual" was written on the 1950s and set in the 1990s. In it we have a multinational mission to Mars, with a gender-equal crew, and the female protagonist makes an important discovery. All these people have a cocktail hour after work finishes for the day.
- Space Pirates: Or, more accurately, Space Vikings. They don't board and rob ships, they nuke cities from orbit and loot any cities that chose to surrender.
- Standard Sci-Fi History: The Terro-Human Future History is one of the Trope Codifiers. Space Viking, for example, is not just a story of space barbarians raiding the ruins of the Old Federation, it's a story of the Space Vikings' raid-and-trade bases becoming the kernels of a new civilization.
- Stuff Blowing Up: Ranging from exploding bullets to fusion fireball bombs that destroy everything within a thousand miles with a miniature sun.
- Suicide Is Painless: In The Last Enemy, reincarnation is a proven fact, so attitudes toward death have become much more casual. People that want to move on to their next incarnation will often throw "suicide parties", saying farewell before they off themselves.
- Technology Marches On: The TFH stories include videophones, antigravity, faster-than-light travel... and... cameras that use film which must be developed before viewing and huge computers that fill whole rooms and are programmed via plugboards.
- Tomato Surprise: "The Return".
- The Masquerade: One of the primary tropes of the Paratime stories: you can go visit other universes, but you're not supposed to let the locals catch on that you're from another universe... It might cut into the 'profit' end.
- What the Hell, Hero?: Lucas Trask gives himself one of these moments in Space Viking.
- Trask also gets one from a comrade after gunning down a local who was grieving for a dead spouse. His response was that he was putting the man out of his misery, and included the words: "How many more happinesses do you think we've smashed here today? And we don't even have Dunnan's excuse of madness."
- He also says that he wished that Dunnan had done that for him, "so that none of this would have happened." (see Crusading Widower above.)
- Writer on Board: Piper believed in reincarnation and wrote a Paratime story about a world where it was proven to the hilt. Even with this, it was still a pretty good story.
- Perhaps more importantly, in that story? The problem's because reincarnation is proven to the hilt — and they've started to get too good for The Masquerade's sake at retrieving memories of past lives...