H. Beam Piper

From Academic Kids

Henry Beam Piper (March 23, 1904 - November 11, 1964) was an American writer of science fiction. He was largely self-educated; he obtained a deep knowledge of science and history: 'without subjecting myself to the ridiculous misery of four years in the uncomfortable confines of a raccoon coat.'" At age eighteen, he went to work as a laborer for the Pennsylvania Railroad's Altoona yards. He is best known for his extensive future history series of stories, and a shorter series of alternate history stories.

another source, has his name as "Horace Beam Piper" and a different date of death.

Piper published his first short story, "Time and Time Again", in 1947 in Astounding Science Fiction, and was primarily a short story author from then until 1961 when he began a productive but short-lived foray into writing novels. Then, burdened by financial hardships in the wake of a divorce and the mistaken perception that his career was floundering (his agent had died without notifying him of multiple sales), he committed suicide.

On Monday, November 9th, 1964, H. Beam Piper shut off all the utilities to his apartment in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, put painter's drop-cloths over the walls and floor, and took his own life with a handgun from his collection. In his suicide note, he gave an explanation that "I don't like to leave messes when I go away, but if I could have cleaned up any of this mess, I wouldn't be going away. H. Beam Piper'"

His output was eventually purchased by Ace Science Fiction and reprinted in a set of paperbacks in the early 1980s. Many of these have since gone out of print, though his two best-known arcs were again reprinted by Ace in 1998 and 2001.

Late in his career, Piper corresponded with a young Jerry Pournelle.

He was also a collector of guns, and wrote one mystery, Murder in the Gunroom.


Themes and Hallmarks

Piper's stories fall into two camps: Stark space opera, such as Space Viking, or stories of cultural conflict or misunderstanding, such as Little Fuzzy or the Paratime stories.

A running theme in Piper's fiction is that history repeats itself: That past events in history will have direct and clear analogues in the future. His novel Uller Uprising is the clearest example of this, being based on the Sepoy Mutiny. And of course the clear link in the very name of Space Viking.

Piper's characterization was rooted in the notion of the self-reliant man: An individual able to take care of himself and willing and able to tackle any situation which arises. As a result, Piper's yarns tend towards the heroic, and the conflict is usually driven externally.

Terro-Human Future History

The Terro-Human Future History is Piper's detailed future history of the next 6000 years of human history. The year 1 A.E. (Atomic Era) is 1942, and in 1973 a nuclear war devastates the planet, eventually laying the groundwork for the emergence of a terran federation once humanity goes into space and develops antigravity technology.

The story "The Edge of the Knife" (collected in Empire) occurs slightly before the war, and involves a man who is seeing flashes of the future. It links many key elements of Piper's series.

Most of the stories take place during the next millennium, during the age of the two Federations. Most notable among these novels are the three Fuzzy novels (starting with Little Fuzzy), which concern the recognition of a peculiar alien species as sentient, and the efforts of the two species to learn to live together on the Fuzzies' home(?) world of Zarathustra.

The Federation collapses in the System States War and following Interstellar Wars (a bit of which can be seen in The Cosmic Computer), leading to a lengthy interregnum during which there is no central human power. A key period during the interregnum is portrayed in Space Viking.

The interregnum ends with the founding of the first Empire. At least five empires rule humanity during the next four thousand years, but only a handful of short stories (collected in Empire) depict this period. Piper generally portrays these empires as benign, ruled by enlightened despots.

Piper's future history resemble in some ways Isaac Asimov's Foundation Trilogy, and were probably influenced by them, especially since both authors wrote for John W. Campbell.


A much shorter series of alternate history stories is Piper's Paratime sequence, whose short stories were collected in Paratime, followed by the novel Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen. These stories concern the Paratime Police, a law-enforcement outfit from a parallel world which has learned how to move between timelines. They jealously guard the secret of this travel, even as they mine other worlds for their resources. Notably, none of the alternate worlds they've discovered have discovered the secret of interstellar travel. Also notably, it appears that humanity are in fact Martians who escaped a calamity on Mars and migrated to Earth.

Unlike many alternate histories, these stories tend to focus on points of divergence far back in the past. For instance, Lord Kalvan involves a police officer from our world who is accidentally transported to a world where the ancestors of modern Europeans failed to move into Europe. Instead the nomadic tribes migrated across Asia and into North America. The people living on the eastern coast of North American in this novel settled the area from the west, and still live in a medieval society.

The short story "Genesis" (in The Worlds of H. Beam Piper) suggests that the Terro-Human Future History universe is in fact an alternate world in Paratime where the Martians' escape from Mars resulted in their forgetting their heritage and having to start over.

Published works

Terro-Human Future History

Federation series


Fuzzy series

  1. Little Fuzzy (1962) ISBN 0441484980,
  2. Fuzzy Sapiens (1964, originally The Other Human Race) ISBN 0441261965
  3. Fuzzies and Other People (1984) ISBN 0441261760

Two sequels to the first two Fuzzy novels have been written: Fuzzy Bones (1981) by William Tuning ISBN 0441261817, and Golden Dream: A Fuzzy Odyssey (1982) by Ardath Mayhar ISBN 0441297269. Both books were contradicted by the eventual discovery and publishing of the manuscript of Piper's Fuzzies and Other People ISBN 0441261760.



Other novels

  • Murder in the Gunroom (1953, not science fiction but rather a murder mystery) ISBN 1882968026
  • Lone Star Planet (1958, originally A Planet for Texans) expanded by John J. McGuire ISBN 0441248926 In 1999, the novel won the Prometheus Award, Hall of Fame Award for Best Classic Libertarian SF Novel. This tongue-in-cheek tale features a planet of Texans whose dinosaur-sized cattle that have to be herded with tanks, and whose system of government has some unique features. The protagonist is a Machievellian diplomat who was appointed as ambassador to this planet after the previous ambassador was assassinated. The crux of the story is the trial of the assassins -- under a legal system which classifies the shooting of a politician as justifiable homicide.

Short stories

  • "The Edge of the Knife"
  • "A Slave is a Slave"
  • "Ministry of Disturbance" (with John J. McGwire)
  • "The Keeper"
  • "Omnilingual"
  • "Naudsonce"
  • "Oomphel in the Sky"
  • "Graveyard of Dreams"
  • "When in the Course—"
  • "He Walked Around the Horses"
  • "Police Operation"
  • "Last Enemy"
  • "Time Crime"
  • "Temple Trouble"
  • "Time and Time Again" (1947)
  • "The Mercenaries" (1950)
  • "Flight From Tomorrow" (1950)
  • "Operation R.S.V.P." (1951)
  • "Day of the Moron" (1951)
  • "Genesis" (1951)
  • "Dearest" (1951)
  • "Hunter Patrol" (1959, with John J. McGwire)
  • "The Answer" (1959)
  • "Crossroads of Destiny" (1959)
  • "The Keeper"


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