Mapping H. Beam Piper, Part 6: Total Chaos

I’ve remarked on Piper’s inconsistent travel times before. Most of the times when Piper gives us “distances” for travel, he actually uses hours spent in hyperspace. The problem with this is, we can never be sure if he means “real” time, or shipboard time. Shipboard time is also inconsistent:

Four Day Planet:

Belsher’s been on the ship with Murell for six months. Well, call it three; everything speeds up about double in hyperspace.

Uller Uprising:

“Well, it takes six months for a ship to go between here and Nif,” Prinsloo considered. “Because of the hyperdrive effects, the experienced time of the voyage, inside the ship, is of the order of three weeks.”

We can of course assume that he usually means “real” time. There are problems with this, too. For example, in Space Viking, Trask remarks of his crew:

“They’ve been in hyperspace for three thousand hours.”

It’s quite clear that he means real hours, because a ship logs a light year an hour and Gram and Tanith are three thousand lightyears apart:

“The Duke of Wardshaven,” Harkaman reminded him, “is on Gram. We are here on Tanith. There are three thousand light-years between.”

If time speeds up in hyperspace, Trask’s men would have spent 1500 hours in hyperspace – as this was used as a reason for their shore leave.

Piper probably dropped the “hyperspace time speedup” in later works, after all it doesn’t really add anything and makes things more complex. Space Viking in particular throws a lot of travel times around, as an essential element of tracking down Dunnan. Adding the time difference would have made the story needlessly complex, probably to the point that it might be impossible to follow.

It still means that, if I wanted to really stick close to “canon”, I’d have to revisit every statement of travel times and attempt to infer from context whether it’s “shipboard time” or “real time”.

The more time I spend with this, the more I begin to doubt the feasibility of actually creating any kind of canonical star map for Piper’s universe – what I used as the basis for my star map project is probably as good as it’s going to get…


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