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Reporting from H. Beam Piper's Fiction

"That was Federation-wide news; the end of a fifteen-year manhunt for the most wanted criminal in the known Galaxy.  And who had that story, right in his hot little hand?  Walter Boyd, the ace—and only—reporter for the mighty Port Sandor Times."

— H. Beam Piper, Four-Day Planet

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Martian Joe's: Characters

Image - Omnilingual by Kelly Freas

Hubert Penrose, Martha Dane and Selim von Ohlmhorst, "Omnilingual" cover illustration by Kelly Freas.

H. Beam Piper gave us some remarkable characters in his fiction.  There were heroes like Allan Hartley in "Time and Time Again" (1947), Piper's first published yarn, and Verkan Vall, of the Paratime Police, who appeared throughout the Paratime yarns beginning with "Police Operation" (1948), and extra-territorial scientist Duncan MacLeod of "The Mercenaries" (1950), and Carlos von Schlichten and Paula Quinton of Uller Uprising (1952), and private detective Jeff Rand of Murder in the Gunroom (1953), and archaelogist Martha Dane of "Omnilingual" (1957), and computer engineer Conn Maxwell of "Graveyard of Dreams" (1958) and Junkyard Planet (1963), and Kwann-friendly journalist Miles Gilbert of "Oomphel in the Sky" (1960), and Walt Boyd, the cub reporter for the Port Sandor Times in Four-Day Planet (1961), and prospector "Pappy Jack" Holloway and the native Zarathustran Little Fuzzy of the three Fuzzy novels, and Space Vikings Lucas Trask and Otto Harkaman of Space Viking (1962), and, of course, the cross-time interloper Calvin Morrison of Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen (1964).  Piper also created other characters whose roles and motivations were more complex like Yorn Travann, Minister of Security in "Ministry of Disturbance" (1958), and sociographer Edith Shaw of "Oomphel in the Sky," and town-drunk-cum-federal-agent Gonzalo "Bish" Ware of Four-Day Planet, and villain-turned-patron Victor Grego of the Fuzzy yarns, and former rebel officer Klem Zareff of Junkyard Planet, and Hadron Dalla, Verkan Vall's former-and-once-again wife in the Paratime yarns.

Rivington Spaceport: Settings

Image - Gunpowder God by John Schoenherr

Calvin Morrison arrives in Hostigos, "Gunpowder God" cover illustration by John Schoenherr.

Much of H. Beam Piper's fiction occurs in two shared settings.  The Terro-human Future History is a series of linked science-fiction novels and stories published between 1952 and 1964 which chart an imagined future of human civilization from the first days of space exploration, through the expansion of humans from Terra (Earth) into interstellar space, to an era when Terra is a glaciated backwater of interstellar empire.  Besides Terra itself in each of the different eras of the Future History, there are hundreds of different planets in these yarns.

Piper's Paratime yarns of alternate, parallel universes patrolled by the cross-time-traveling Paratime Police were published between 1948 and 1965.  There are tens of thousands of different timelines in Paratime.

In addition to his Future History and Paratime settings, Piper published other speculative fiction, historical fiction and mystery fiction each with its own specific setting.


Image - Fuzzy Sapiens by Michael Whelan

Hiding from Big Ones, Fuzzy Sapiens cover illustration by Michael Whelan.

Piper's most richly developed background is that of the Terro-human Future History, which charts the future of Terro-human civilization from the first days of space exploration, through the expansion from Terra into interstellar space, and eventually on to an era when Terra is a glaciated backwater of interstellar empire.

Besides the thousands of alternate timelines of the Paratime setting Piper also described an extensive background for the cross-time travelling "First Level" civilization which stretches from its origins on Mars—or perhaps not—to a time when it is exploiting and policing thousands of those timelines from Terra's "Home Time Line."

There are a handful of other Piper yarns with shared settings—like the "Hartley yarns" ("Time and Time Again," "The Mercenaries" and "Day of the Moron")—and yarns like "Genesis" and "Crossroads of Destiny" and "When in the Course—" (and even the Hartley yarns themselves) which may be connected to other Piper yarns in unusual or unexpected ways.

Ghaldron-Hesthor Field-Generator: Technology

Image - Naudas (Naudsonce) by Rudolf Sieber-Lonati

Using the visibilizing analyzer, "Naudas" ("Naudsonce") cover illustration by Rudolf Sieber-Lonati.

Key science-fictional technologies underlie each of Piper's two main fictional settings.  For the Terro-human Future History it is the "Dillingham hyperdrive," a faster-than-light means of propulsion which enables interstellar travel.  In the Paratime setting it is the "Ghaldron-Hesthor paratemporal-field generator" which allows the Paratimers to travel from one timeline to another.

Piper portrays many other, traditional science-fictional technologies. There is "contragravity," which enables the Abbot "lift-and-drive" of flying, largely inertialess craft.  There is "collapsium," super-dense "collapsed matter" used as shielding for engines and as armor for warships.  There is "nuclear-electric conversion" which provides a seemingly unlimited power source and which can be used to make super-powerful batteries which are both small and long-lasting.  Personal energy weapons only appear very late in the Terro-human Future History in the yarn "The Keeper" but a Paratime Police officer is seldom caught without a handy "sigma-ray needler."

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