Science forgotten

Posted in Reviews at 12:08 by RjZ

The most interesting thing about reading vintage science fiction is how apparent the things people took for granted are. H. Beam Piper is one of the giants of early science fiction and his stories are elegant and fascinating. While reading The Worlds of H. Beam Piper, a collection of short stories, I particularly enjoyed his frequently recurring self-made, personally responsible, characters. In Piper’s future, heroes will be libertarian!

Piper is also interested in the effects of time travel and many of his stories offer an alternative view to the results of going back and forward in time. In the most interesting, the hero and villain are actually one and the same, cleverly woven together through a fascinating fold in time. Even then, the now permanent time loop keeps repeating and we never learn the true ending to the tale.

What remains interesting though, is that, in spite of Piper’s tremendous attention to detail and huge leaps of imagination, he still sees a future where gentlemen smoke a pipe and information is presented from tape on visiscreens (TVs). Weapons change and medicine improves, but the world is still divided into the Soviet bloc and the free western world. Piper is not so pedantic that he assumes the same bad guys in the future, but the fact is, his future isn’t much different than his present, but rather a plausible extension.

The challenge, however, for science fiction writers, is to imagine a world that is plausible enough, alright, but one in which the things really does grow and change, perhaps in unexpected ways. It’s not easy to imagine the internet or what happens after the Singularity, but no one forced them to take the job. Still, Piper’s writing about an imagined future tells us more about his present than he may have intended. After all, that’s whom he was writing for in the first place.

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