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Creator / H. Beam Piper

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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.

Works written by H. Beam Piper include:

  • Crisis In 2140 (co-authored with John J. McGuire)
  • "Crossroads Of Destiny"
  • Embedded
  • First Cycle (co-authored with Michael Kurland)
  • Four Day Planet
  • Fuzzies And Other People
  • "He Walked Around the Horses"
  • Junkyard Planet
  • Little Fuzzy
  • Lord Kalvan Of Otherwhen
  • Murder In The Gunroom
  • "Naudsonce"
  • The Other Human Race
  • Paratime
  • A Planet For Texans (co-authored with John J. McGuire)
  • "A Slave Is A Slave"
  • Space Viking
  • "Time and Time Again"
  • Time Crime (co-authored with John F. Carr)
  • Uller Uprising

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 Allan Hartley's consciousness was flung thirty years back in time to 1945 to his then-thirteen-year-old body — and decided to change history to prevent World War III in which he'd been killed. His plans involved having his father, Blake Hartley, become President in 1960; two later stories, "The Mercenaries" set in 1965 and "Day of the Moron" set in 1968, mention President Hartley, so the plan was successful to that extent at least...
    • "He Walked Around the Horses", 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 this story 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 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.
    • In "Crossroads of Destiny", several people brainstorm ideas for a TV series based on alternate-history scenarios. A bystander chimes in... and several clues (most notable the odd dollar bill he was carrying, showing a picture of George Washington much older than when he was, in the narrator's history, killed in 1777) imply that he was a person from our world somehow conveyed into another timeline.
  • Bottomless Magazines: Piper provides the page quote, from Uller Uprising; however, the quotation is actually to an aversion in that novel.
  • 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".
  • Deathbed Promotion: From Uller Uprising, the Gaucho (one of the Terran gun-cutters) catches a rebel-controlled ship, the Jan Smuts, and the Gaucho opens fire with cannon and rockets...which sets off the atomic bomb the Jan Smuts was carrying. Afterwards "there was no trace either of the Jan Smuts or the Gaucho" and the Terran general gives the order:
    Carlos von Schlichten: Paula, find out who was in command of the Gaucho; he'd be a junior-grade lieutenant. Fix up orders promoting him to navy captain, as of now. It's probably the only thing we can do for him, any more. And promotions of the same order for everybody else aboard that cutter.
  • Death from Above: Dire Dawn in Uller Uprising. One of the rebellious Ullerians worked on another planet for a time, on a human project. It taught him to make a very deadly, very old, weapon.
  • 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.
  • Everybody Smokes: Many of his characters are smokers. Lord Kalvan eventually breaks his pipe and lighter and is forced to use a local version with a flaming twig to light it off.
  • 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.
  • Fictional Flag: In the novella "When in the Course..." the new flag adopted for Hos-Hostigos is a quarter-arc rainbow on a white field, chosen so that anyone who was annexed later would at least be able to find his colors in the flag.
  • The Federation: The Terran Federation during the early part of the TFH.
  • Feudal Future: Used in a variety of ways in the later eras of the TFH. The "Sword Worlds", from where the titular raiders of Space Viking come from, are straight-up feudal with each planet either ruled by a king or split between several independent continent-sized duchies, which are divided up into a range of smaller estates down to baronies of farms or factories. The later Empire permits local planets considerable autonomy under a wide range of forms of government (as long as they acknowledge the sovereignty of the Emperor) from republics to "republics" to various forms of monarchy.
  • Genius Bruiser: Otto Harkaman in Space Viking, who's a talented historian and as big as a house.)
  • Genre Shift: While Piper mostly wrote SF, he wrote one mystery novel, Murder In The Gunroom. There is a very subtle reference to the Paratime stories, which he was working on around the same time.
  • Giving Radio to the Romans: Calvin Morrisson in Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen.
  • Hermaphrodite: The Ullerans in Uller Uprising are fully-functional hermaphrodites:
    ...they were all of the same gender, true, functional, hermaphrodites. Any individual among them could bear young, or fertilize the ova of any other individual.
  • 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 multi-ethnic 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.
  • Lost Language: "Omnilingual" is about decoding the dead Martian language. Martha spots a periodic table in a derelict library, and realises what it is. The names of the elements might not be much, but they're a start.
  • 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.
  • Master Computer: Both played straight and subverted.
  • 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".
  • Planet Baron: By the time of Space Viking this is more or less the norm among the Sword-Worlds. Most of the Sword-Worlds are either ruled by a planetary king, or else have lesser nobles actively vying to become planetary kings. The Space Vikings also establish planetary kingdoms or planetary princedoms on many non-Sword-World planets.
  • Planet Terra: Used throughout the TFH.
  • Public Domain Stories: Much of Piper’s work is out of copyright. It can easily be found at Project Gutenberg, among other places.
  • 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.
  • Space Cossacks: The Space Vikings appropriate the remnant of the System States Alliance's navy, take off to space, and settle on Abigor, a planet too far away that The Federation hasn't even heard of. Once said Terran Federation collapses, the Vikings start raiding its former territories.
    "At the end of the Big War, ten thousand men and women on Abigor, refusing to surrender, had taken the remnant of the System States Alliance navy to space, seeking a world the Federation had never heard of and wouldn't find for a long time. Eight centuries later, their descendants have begun raiding into the territory once held by the now-collapsed Terran Federation."
  • 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 'Verse: The "Terro-human Future History", including the novels Four-Day Planet, Uller Uprising, Little Fuzzy and its direct sequels, The Cosmic Computer, Space Viking, and various short stories, chronicling (albeit very intermittently) thousands of years of human history, including the rise and fall of the Terran Federation, the (eventual) rise of the First Galacticnote  Empire (a hardnosed but rather more benevolent than usual example of "the Empire"), and eventually (by the time of the final story by internal chronology that is generally including in this canon, "The Keeper") the Fifth Empire—by that point at least thousands if not tens of thousands of years into the future. These stories are linked by a common history (including a nuclear war on Terra which left the northern hemisphere devastated, meaning the human race's interplanetary and eventually interstellar civilization is based in South America, South Africa, and Australasia), the use of the "Atomic Era" to date things (its epoch being the first artificial self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction, in 1942 of the Gregorian calendar), various bits of shared tech (antigravity, invariably referred to as "contragravity"; "collapsium", a form of super-dense matter suitable for building armor that can withstand direct hits from nuclear weapons; and spaceships equipped with both "Abbott lift-and-drive engines" and "Dillingham hyperdrive engines"), and assorted call-backs and shout-outs from one work to another.
  • We Will All Fly in the Future: The existence of "contragravity" makes this one ubiquitous throughout Piper's "Terrohuman Future History". Buildings have "landing-stages" on their roofs; Little Fuzzy even describes a "streetless contragravity city of a new planet that had never known ground traffic". In Uller Uprising, there are "aircars" (and military "airjeeps"), tanks can all fly, and even "dump-trucks and powershovels and bulldozers" are equipped with contragravity and are therfore flying dump-trucks and powershovels and bulldozers. Space Viking has "egg-shaped one-man air-cavalry mounts". In Space Viking, a planet not having ubiquitous Flying Cars classes it as a "Neobarbarian" world, a place which has (at least partially) de-civilized.
  • 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."
  • 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...