About H. Beam Piper

H. Beam Piper

Henry Beam Piper was born in Pennsylvania in early 1904. In his teenage years, he decided to become a writer. It took him more than a quarter century of effort, including innumerable submissions and as many rejections, before he finally made his first story sale in 1946. From that point, he went on to write some of the greatest stories in science fiction history, including the widely-anthologized short story "Omnilingual", as well as classic novels like Little Fuzzy, Space Viking, The Cosmic Computer and Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen.

His two major series were the Terro-Human Future History and Paratime. The THFH chronicles mankind's expansion into space and across the Solar System, the development of hyperdrive and subsequent voyages out to the stars, until in the far future the entire Milky Way has been colonized. This expansion involves the rise and fall of a succession of universal states, divided by interregnal dark ages. The Future History begins with the Terran Federation, founded in late 1973 or early 1974 (Atomic Era 30 or 31), and ends with the Fifth Galactic Empire, about 30,000 years in the future.

The Paratime series involves a near-infinity of worlds of alternate probability, beginning with the ancient Martio-Human colonization of Earth. This colonization had five different results, from complete success to complete failure, thereby creating five main Paratime levels. Within these levels are innumerable Sectors and Belts, all in turn created by different outcomes of historical events. The series focuses on Home Time Line, a civilization which is descended from the completely successful First Level Martian colonization of Earth. After exhausting their own Earth's resources, the people of this timeline invented paratemporal transposition, enabling them to travel to and exploit the resources of other timelines. In order to keep their operations, and the existence of paratemporal transposition, secret, the Paratime Police were created. Their jurisdiction covers all five levels.

What set Piper's work apart from that of other authors was his deep knowledge of history and his large casts of characters. His knowledge of history gave his stories, particularly those in the Terro-Human Future History, the feel of moments in time within a vast expanse of real history; and his large casts of characters gave his individual stories the lived-in feel of real worlds and situations. In addition, he wrote in a neo-romantic style, which provided his stories with an underlying aura of optimism, and even fun. He was a great storyteller who knew how to engage, entertain and stimulate his audience.

In Piper's time, science fiction writers were not well paid, and even making a sale was an ongoing struggle. His fortunes rose and fell over the years, finally declining quickly after the death of his agent and friend, Ken White, in October 1964. Believing his writing career to be at an end, and by nature a gentleman who "always maintained his independence", Beam did not ask his friends or the State for assistance. Instead, this long-time collector of weapons, especially firearms, took his own life with one of his handguns, in November 1964. Apart from being a personal tragedy, his loss was also a loss to the science fiction community. We can only guess what other great stories Piper might have written, if he had only had more time.

About this Website

H. Beam Piper has been my favorite science fiction author ever since I first read Little Fuzzy and Space Viking in the summer of 1977. For 23 years, I simply enjoyed reading (and re-reading) his stories; but since the summer of 2000, I have also been researching them, in order to discover the sources of Beam's ideas. This has led to the writing of a number of papers about his works, which I would like to share with other Piper fans. And hopefully make some new ones.

My research has been very fruitful, providing answers to many questions about Beam's stories. If correct, these answers include his sequence of historical models for the early Terran Federation, thus revealing who Professor Edward Chalmers in "The Edge of the Knife" is modeled on and why Piper called his version of WWIII the "Thirty Days' War"; which nations are the Federation's enemy in WWIV and where General Lanningham is stationed at its outbreak; the origin of the Freyans, not only which planet, but even back to their ancestral homeland(s), why they have Greek-sounding names and their language is called "Sosti"; and Piper's model for Four-Day Planet, including how he derived the names Bish Ware, Glenn Murell, and Steve Ravick.

For the later Terro-Human Future History, answers include where Carlos von Schlichten's immovable monocle in Uller Uprising came from, as well as his personal combat with King Firkked of Skilk; who Captain Absalom Carpenter in First Cycle is modeled on and the reason his ship is named the Franklin; why, in The Cosmic Computer, the airship taking Conn home to Litchfield is the Countess Dorothy, the real reason Genji Gartner's ship is the Ouroboros and the capital of the planet is "Storisende"; in Space Viking, the origin of the characters Andray "Dunnan" and Sir Nevil Ormm; why the former's ship is the Enterprise and his ambition is to become "the Greatest Space Viking in History", and where the "expressionless" face of the latter came from; also in Space Viking, how Piper derived the names "Pedrosan Pedro", "Stolgoland", and possibly "Eglonsby", plus the hidden significance of the planet's name "Amaterasu"; the historical models for Galactic Emperor Paul XXII's Thoran bodyguard and the alternating Imperial dynastic names of Rodrik and Paul; and in "The Keeper", the derivation and hidden meaning of the names "Dranigrastan" and "Salsavadran", and why the capital of the Fifth Galactic Empire is named "Dremna".

Aside from Piper's well-known use of historical models, my investigation into his sources have also uncovered literary models (or at least influences), for such stories as Little Fuzzy, Space Viking, The Cosmic Computer, "Hunter Patrol", "The Keeper", First Cycle, Four-Day Planet, "Last Enemy" and Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen. Some of the above answers pertain to these sources.

About John Anderson

John Anderson is a graduate of Eastern Michigan University, and has experience in cartography, remote sensing and Geographic Information Systems. He has worked as a Supervisory Geographic Specialist with the U.S. Department of Commerce, and as a Research Scientist for the Environmental Research Institute of Michigan. As one might guess, John spends much of his spare time researching the works of H. Beam Piper. His essays "The Early History of the Terran Federation" and "Chartered Companies of the Terran Federation" were published by Pequod Press in The Rise of the Terran Federation (2017). He has recently become interested in the CoDominium future history series of Jerry Pournelle and John F. Carr. John lives in Westland, Michigan.