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Welcome to the Zarthani.net H. Beam Piper mailing list and discussion forum. Initiated in October 2008 (after the demise of the original PIPER-L mailing list), this tool for shared communication among Piper fans provides an e-mail list and a discussion forum with on-line archives.
 
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2097
pennausamikePerson was signed in when posted
05-31-2020
17:50 UT
Hi David:
I gave your reasoned response considerable thought, and I guess my short reply is that every author is entitled to a klunker or two. And for me, "Edge of the Knife" is one of Piper's klunkers, made possible by the author's personal flaw, rather than good story telling.

As far as your point about the twist, you're right. Without the commitment thing, there is no twist, and the story becomes more like "When In The Course..."; a straight forward telling of interesting events. Which isn't as big a problem for me as it is for many readers. There are a number of authors (none of whom I can dredge up from my memory at the moment) whose careers are built on recounting tales of life. Maybe no twists; but problems solved or lessons learned kind of thing. That's how I've always enjoyed WItC, and that is how I would have liked EotK if Chalmers hadn't made such a bonehead move. From a story telling viewpoint, maybe it would have made more sense for Chalmers to be buried away in a civilian contractor office in a basement somewhere, serving as a flesh-and-blood Merlin to the founders of the 1st Federation.
2096
Dave EdenPerson was signed in when posted
05-31-2020
04:21 UT

Good insights, guys. I often think about how Beam could've saved himself so many ways. But he did things his own way.

Thanks to the recipe John Carr shares in his book, I have a tradition of having a katinka on Saturday in honour of Beam.
2095
David "PiperFan" JohnsonPerson was signed in when posted
05-31-2020
00:43 UT
~
Mike "pennausamike" McGuirk wrote:

> So of course the Doctor signs the papers to ship him off
> to the funny farm. WAIT, WHAT?! (Needle slides
> across the record right here!) Why in the name of Dralm
> would he DO that? And I literally mean that; why would
> Chalmers see commitment as his ticket to safety?

I have also always found this to be an absurd choice but putting aside the fact that it gives a dramatic twist to the end to the yarn--which may have been what an editor wanted--I've often wondered if this was also Beam signalling that perhaps Chalmers wasn't as sane as Chalmers believed he was after all.

I mean it's clear that throughout the yarn his "memories of the future" are getting the best of him, whether it's him believing that he wrote down "remembered future" details that he cannot subsequently find or him blathering in class again even after he realized he needed to be more careful about not doing so or recklessly rambling on to Pottgeiter even later in the yarn.

We believe Chalmers' "future memories" because we've read the other Terrohuman Future History yarns but the internal evidence in "Edge" itself suggests Chalmers is at best an unreliable narrator. It's possible both that his "future memories" are accurate ~and~ that he is, nevertheless, losing his mind (perhaps driven to madness by these very "memories of the future").

> I believe the answer lies in the psychology behind Piper's
> decision to quit the PRR when the Altoona shops got slow.
> H. Beam Piper may have only been a night watchman, but
> he worked in a Union shop, and his employment would
> have been determined by seniority. He would have had
> to bump his way through various positions as people were
> laid off. A pain to be sure, but it would have meant a
> steady paycheck, probably some version of healthcare,
> however minimal-some pension, and if carried to
> termination, an earned right to unemployment
> compensation. WELL! H. Beam Piper wasn't going to
> stand for all that inconvenience and indignity, no sir.
> He would grab the bull by the horns and handle it
> RIGHT NOW! By quitting.

That's an interesting perspective.

I agree Beam "chose . . . poorly" and that his choices were driven, in part, by his peculiar "self-reliant" philosophy but whether or not a similar sort of dynamic is how he was writing Chalmers, intentionally or unintentionally, is a good question.

I'd like to believe that Beam was writing a better story, along the lines I've suggested above (and perhaps within the editorial constraints of the story sale) but you may have it right here.

That would make the sad tale of Beam's life even a bit more sad.

> These are two instances, one real and one fictional, where
> Piper's self-reliant man crosses over into bad decisions
> based on hubris or pride-driven laziness ("I'm too good to
> be bothered with all that rigmarole) and the self-reliant man
> hands himself over to the whims and actions of others.
> Piper's better (read, my favorite) characters don't make such
> life-destroying choices, and the stories are better for it.

This is true too, so wouldn't that tend to suggest that Beam was a more self-aware and better-skilled writer than the writer who would write "Edge" the way you've suggested? Don't these many other examples suggest that perhaps Beam was doing something intentional in the way he wrote Chalmers besides simply channeling his own inner psychic dysfunction?

I suppose we'll never know but I'd like to think so.

Cheers,

David
--
"There had been the time he'd mentioned the secession of Canada from the British Commonwealth. . . ."- Edward Chalmers (H. Beam Piper), "The Edge of the Knife"
~
2094
pennausamikePerson was signed in when posted
05-30-2020
07:26 UT
I'm in the middle of re-reading my Piper collection for the umpteenth time; something I probably do every two to three years. Sometimes I read everything, other times just my favorites. This time I'm reading everything I have, including reading through the two Piper biographies written by John Carr. It is funny (to me, at least) how my favorite Piper stories mirror my favorite attributes of Piper the man, and my least favorite stories tend to mirror Piper's personal characteristics that I find the most flawed or least admirable. Which brings me to the most flawed character I think Piper ever wrote; or maybe to say it better, the character who makes the most flawed, life-changing decision Piper ever wrote. I'm speaking of Professor Edward Chalmers of "The Edge of the Knife". I think Chalmers' decision to have himself committed as insane was every bit as poor a piece of decision making as Piper's choice to just up and quit the Pennsylvania Railroad rather than let the layoffs and closings proceed naturally. Although we don't see the results of Chalmers' choice play out in the story, I think a reasonable assumption of how it played out versus how it could have been (if Chalmers simply wasn't committed) is easy to extrapolate. In both the story and in Piper's real life, I feel the protagonists (Piper and Chalmers) each thought he was making some bold choice to be the master of his own destiny, when in fact, both Piper and Chalmers blindly relinquished control of their own lives with a choice that subordinated them to the will of others.

In "The Edge of the Knife" (I'm not summarizing the whole story, assuming people on the Piper forum already know it) future-seeing Professor Chalmers is being interviewed by the state psychiatrist for possible commitment as insane. Because Chalmers is actually able to see the future and also is actually sane, he is on the cusp of being declared sane when he "sees" that in the near future the college he teaches at will be destroyed in the upcoming war he envisions, but the area around the mental hospital he will be sent to if he is judged insane will survive. "Ha Ha Ha!" he laughs manically, "you can't commit me because I'm blah, blah, blah!" So of course the Doctor signs the papers to ship him off to the funny farm. WAIT, WHAT?! (Needle slides across the record right here!) Why in the name of Dralm would he DO that? And I literally mean that; why would Chalmers see commitment as his ticket to safety? (No, I donít believe it was to stay safe from the intelligence officer, because I believe Chalmers successfully placated him in the same way he did the state psychiatrist.) I believe the answer lies in the psychology behind Piper's decision to quit the PRR when the Altoona shops got slow. H. Beam Piper may have only been a night watchman, but he worked in a Union shop, and his employment would have been determined by seniority. He would have had to bump his way through various positions as people were laid off. A pain to be sure, but it would have meant a steady paycheck, probably some version of healthcare, however minimal-some pension, and if carried to termination, an earned right to unemployment compensation. WELL! H. Beam Piper wasn't going to stand for all that inconvenience and indignity, no sir. He would grab the bull by the horns and handle it RIGHT NOW! By quitting. And likewise, Professor Chalmers couldn't be bothered with proving his sanity, keeping his job, squaring away his personal belongings, looking for a place to live in the vicinity of Northern State Mental Hospital, getting time off work and then moving to and settling in to a new area. No sir; he'd get himself trucked right up there by the men in white coats RIGHT NOW! He then warns his friend Max of the impending disaster, so now poor old fuzzy-thinking Max is the one who has to get Chalmers' notes and belongings collected and move up to the Northern State area. Sorry, but I don't think either Piper's or Chalmers' decision was a particularly wise one.

To start with Professor Chalmers, he asks the Doctor if he can take his notes and work on them, and the Doctor agrees. But how do you think that's REALLY going to work out? My opinion is that Chalmers will be tormented and distracted in his attempts to continue recording his future history. Orderlies will keep him from working on them at the least (meal time, lights out, etc) and taunt him and take his notes at worst. And psychiatric doctors will examine his "work" and then try to medicate and shock him until his "delusions" go away. It is far more likely that Chalmers' brain would be turned to mush, than it is that he would be seen as a seer who should be released, once the wars unfold as he predicted. How much better off he would have been if he had maintained his freedom to choose his own path. Although different in some ways, the circumstances Piper thrust himself into by his decision to quit the PRR were similar in that they put him in the subordinate position to those around him. Although the effects of no-reliable income weren't immediate, Piper eventually saw his opportunities and independence whittled down to near-nothing. He lost authority to his equally strong-willed wife and he turned writing from an avocation and source of pride to a vocation from which he could not eke out a living wage. The sad part is, the Altoona shops never closed. Part of their work was sent to Juniata PA, but in the years leading up to even today, the Altoona shops were reinvented a number of times, and still employ 1,100 people. Poor Beam; if only he had exercised a bit more patience, he could have possibly worked his way into small but steady income to carry him between stories.

These are two instances, one real and one fictional, where Piper's self-reliant man crosses over into bad decisions based on hubris or pride-driven laziness ("I'm too good to be bothered with all that rigmarole) and the self-reliant man hands himself over to the whims and actions of others. Piper's better (read, my favorite) characters don't make such life-destroying choices, and the stories are better for it.
2093
Gordon JohansenPerson was signed in when posted
05-24-2020
17:42 UT
What a fun post from Jon. I had forgotten that he had gone through that. It certainly looks like he beat the curse.
2092
David "PiperFan" JohnsonPerson was signed in when posted
05-23-2020
17:09 UT
~
From the Archives: "Carr: Are They Telling Me I'm On The Wrong Time-Line?"

Below, another message to the old PIPER-L mailing list, from way back in May 2001, in which John recounts what may be a bit of interference from his favorite Paratimer:

---
SOMETIMES THEY CALL ME JOHN FORD, SOMETIMES THEY CALL ME JOHN F. LAST, AND
SOMETIMES THEY EVEN CALL ME JOHN F. CARR!

Let me preface this post with a little backstory. On April 14, 1998 I had
open-heart surgery, for a 'routine' valve replacement. It wasn't
un-expected: I was born with a congenital heart defect, a damaged heart
valve. Through luck, determination not to have my chest ripped apart, and a
healthy life style, I managed to delay this operation for about 34 years
beyond my original cardiologist's prediction in 1954 of open-heart surgery
in early 60s! To make a long story short, the operation was a success and
when I came out of anesthesia and was walked (they don't coddle heart
patients these days!) into the post-op room, I was greeted by Dr. Yan, head
of my 4-surgeon surgical team. His first words were: "You very lucky. We
found aortic aneurysm: you had between 2 seconds and 2 weeks to live. If
your aneurysm would have blown out, we could not have saved you on the
table. Very lucky man."

Well, I don't need to belabor the point to tell you that I've felt VERY
lucky ever since -- my wife calls me her "Walking Miracle." The facts that
I hadn't seen a cardiologist (or any other doctor) for 16 years before going
to Dr. Ryman, that I hadn't had health insurance at any time in the previous
33 years (since I left my parent's home!), and that the job I had with Coast
Federal Bank only lasted 4 months beyond my health insurance qualification
period of 90 days (Coast was merged in March '98 with Home Saving/then
WAMA -- as Washington Mutual Bank is know unaffectionately here on the
Westcoast by anyone who's had to deal with the bastards!) gives you an idea
of just how many odds I beat. If I did this well on a roulette table in
Vegas I'd own the whole town before I left!

On top of this, I felt in wonderful shape -- no symptoms of the failing
heart I was told by my doctors I would soon have to deal with in a year or
two, leading to congestive heart failure. The fact that is I'm one stubborn
S.O.B. when it comes to not getting myself filleted, well, you get the
picture. If Dr. Ryman wasn't equally pig-headed, I'd probably not be here!
It was when she told me "get this operation now, or you'll need a transplant
in a year-and-a-half, that convinced me to 'face reality,' so to speak.

I talked, bullied my way out of the hospital in 4 days -- my wife still
calls this my 'Exorcist' period! -- and healed at home in the comfort of my
own bed. Not having taken drugs all my life -- I sometimes think I was the
only straight rock musician in the 1960s, and certainly the only one who
remembers it all! Well, I had a very bad reaction to the pain medication,
which I didn't even need thanks to a very high pain threshold -- and got a
bit snippy in the hospital, as my wife tells it. (Actually, she puts it a
little coarser, but we won't go into that!) Victoria finally convinced the
nurses I didn't need the pain pills and they gladly let me leave early!

The doctors don't like you to do much for the first 3 months after
open-heart surgery (especially driving cars, since upon impact with the
steering wheel bad things happen and chest cavities have been know to
unexpectedly and unhappily open up -- something they don't talk about! My
wife asks a lot of questions so I got in on this little bit of information,
I'd rather not have known.) so I had a LOT of time to think over my close
call with the grim reaper and life in general.

Needless to say, my overall mood was very good. However, after 25 years of
studying Beam Piper and writing several novels in Paratime, it couldn't help
but think about Beam's own death and the Piper curse, as some people call
it -- for example, my friend Bill Tuning died less than a year after the
publication of "Fuzzy Bones." My question was: how did I escape, or did I?

Are there time-lines where John F. Carr died sometime in April 1998...?
This is why, to this day, I celebrate my Re-Birthday on May 1, which is
exactly 2 weeks from my surgery and my longest possible lifespan after April
14, 1998. Don't worry, I don't really dwell on it: it's just a day for my
wife and I to appreciate the fact that I'm in actuality a walking poster
child for Miracles of the Week! (Maybe I ought to do a television
treatment -- nah, just kidding!) No presents: we just go out for a nice
dinner and enjoy our time together. My natal birthday is Christmas so it's
not much of a birthday, even if my initials are JC... Let's not even go
there.

No religious conversions, no new truth 'to bring back from the void' -- just
a better appreciation for life and how short it can be, for any of us.

Now, what brought all this on -- besides my Re-Birthday about a week and a
half ago -- is the latest issue of 'Science Fiction Chronicle' where they
review "Kalvan Kingmaker" in Don D'Ammassa's Critical Mass: Book Reviews,
P-36. The good news is KK is the lead review and it's a positive review.
The bad news is they changed my name to John Ford about halfway through the
review -- I won't even bother to dwell on the fact that they dropped the
last half of the Pequod address and included my e-mail address instead of
the website! I know Don and I suspect it was the meddling that happens to
good magazines when you try to shorten a piece so that it fits on the page
and don't always pay attention to what gets cut.

I probably wouldn't have paid the name change much mind had Ace not also
changed my name, on the Copyright page of "The Complete Paratime," from John
F. Carr to John F. Last -- see what I mean, it's like a message.

Maybe Verkan's behind all this and letting me know that Beam wasn't just
writing fiction! John Ford, the director, has been dead for years and John
F. Last -- well that's obvious.

So maybe this is the Fourth Level, Europo-American, John Carr Time-Line and
on all the other Europo-American time-lines fate and/or the Paratime Police
caught up with me and I'm moldering in a box six feet underground --

Now hear this Verkan, wherever you are, I'm onto you and I'm not taking the
hint -- I'm going to continue writing Paratime yarns. Your agents
dispatched Beam, Bill and Richard Meredith -- I just want you to know that
I'm not going quietly into the night. I know you're behind the Ace Piper
re-issue ban and all the saucer sightings in the US. I don't know about the
cattle mutilations, but we're still investigating... This is one
time-line -- maybe the root Europo-American time-line, where you're not
going to get away with it!

Don't take this too seriously, this is just good fun. I woke up this
morning and this entire post blossomed in my mind. However, sometimes late
at night, after writing all evening, like last night -- when scenes and
visions of Aryan-Transpacific and First Level drop into my mind like I'm
patched into a 'broadcast' from another world, I sometimes just wonder if
maybe Beam wasn't onto something...

John F. Carr
Paratime Chronicler
-----

John's original message is available here:

https://web.archive.org/web/20080310041446...r-l&T=0&F=&S=&P=663

Cheers,

David
--
"Unsolved mysteries are just as good as explanations, as long as they're mysterious within a normal framework." - Verkan Vall, ~Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen~
~
2091
David SoobyPerson was signed in when posted
05-01-2020
01:24 UT
David Johnson wrote:

> ...the explanation for why Merlin can only be "spoken to" by specialists...

I submit it would be quite dangerous to give Merlin a method of interacting with normal people with a speech synthesizer and speech input. Proper inputs to Merlin must be written, or phrased, in strict rules adhering to formal logic, and the average person is neither trained in that nor thinks that way. We computer programmers have a saying: "Garbage in, garbage out." In other words, if the data fed into the computer program is erroneous or is nonsense, then the output will be too. Someone who wasn't a trained computer specialist who asked Merlin a question that wasn't phrased precisely correct might result in an answer which appeared to be reasonable, but which was completely wrong.

Not dangerous for Merlin, but dangerous for anyone acting on such an analysis or answer!
Edited 05-01-2020 05:56
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