Tag Archives: H. Beam Piper

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…


Mapping H. Beam Piper, Part 5: The Dislocation of Nu Puppis

As stated in Part 3, H. Beam Piper’s Nu Puppis – the star around which Niflheim orbits – does not match current understanding of the star’s position. I’m inclined to move Niflheim to a star that’s closer to Earth, matching the Piper-Nu Puppis as much as possible, but there’s also a reasonable argument to just go with the in-fiction-truth.

Let’s look at the math to see what both mean to the Piper universe.

First, we need some numbers. Piper’s Nu Puppis is described as:

The planet named Niflheim is the fourth planet of Nu Puppis, right angle 6:36, declension -43:09; B8 type star, blue-white and hot, 148 light years distant from Earth.

Doing the math this works out to:

Real Nu Puppis-37,633-115,478-45,486129,7016861219
Piper Nu Puppis-13,182-40,383-15,94945,3748716874

That’s in parsecs, with Real Nu Puppis shown for comparison. Dist is distance from Earth.

Piper’s Uller is described as:

It is the second planet of the star Beta Hydri, right angle 0:23, declension -77:32, G-0 (solar) type star, of approximately the same size as Sol; distance from Earth, 21 light years.

Again, doing the math, we get:

Real Beta Hydri3,277-4,719-4,7837,4749588877
Piper Beta Hydri2,825-4,062-4,1196,4379502305

That’s a parsec off, too, and gives us a new question to ponder: Do we use Real Beta Hydri or Piper Beta Hydri? I guess if we accept Piper Nu Puppis we must also accept Piper Beta Hydri. Of course, my “favorite” Nu Puppis replacement is Epsilon Hydri. It has almost the same spectral class (B9) as Nu Puppis (B8), and both are Giant stars (class III). Epsilon Hydri’s position is:

Epsilon Hydri10,489-30,898-33,76946,9575395402

Distances between these stars are these:

Real Nu PupPiper Nu PupReal Beta HyPiper Beta HyEpsilon Hy
Real Nu PupN/A84,318124,892125,54598,015
Piper Nu Pup84,318N/A40,83541,41731,111
Real Beta Hy124,89240,835N/A1,03739,718
Piper Beta Hy125,54541,4171,037N/A40,718
Epsilon Hy98,01531,11139,71840,718N/A

Note how beautifully Epsilon Hydri’s distance to Earth and to Beta Hydri match the distances of Piper’s Nu Puppis to Earth and to Beta Hydri. Let’s visualize:

The little gray shadow of Beta Hydri is the Piper Beta Hydri, almost a Parsec closer to Earth than the real Beta Hydri. The numbers attached to stars are their z-Coordinate.

I still think that Epsilon Hydri would provide for a better “outgoing” vector than Piper’s Nu Puppis, but from this simple map it’s clear that Piper’s Nu Puppis is not in an absurd position (which for example the other side of Terra would be).

So where’s your Niflheim at? If you want to stick to the Piper “canon”, it’s clearly where he says it is, at a Nu Puppis that doesn’t really exist. If you want to consolidate Piper’s material with real star data, Epsilon Hydri is the way to go. Since switching Niflheim to Epsilon Hydri only violates the star name mention in Uller Uprising, and fixes more problems than it causes, I will assume that Piper made a mistake in the star name.

In the end, since everything else we know about Piper’s Terran Federation is very, very vague, it won’t affect the final map much in either case.

Mapping H. Beam Piper, Part 4: Hyperspeed and Niflheim Revisited

I actually found another figure that shows how weird Piper’s distances are. It’s six months from Uller to Niflheim, according to 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.”

But it’s also six months from Uller to Terra – which is 21ly!

“He’d get away with it for just welve months—the time it would take to get the news to Terra and for a Federation Space Navy task-force to get here. And then, there’d be little bits of radioactive geek floating around this system as far out as the orbit of Beta Hydrae VII.”

This is inconsistent in the extreme, as Niflheim at a described 148ly from Earth can’t possibly be 21y from Uller. Surely, the Navy wouldn’t take, say, eight months or more to get a task force ready.

Of course, it is telling that the text passage mentions Beta Hydrae, not Beta Hydri. Beta Hydrae is another star, at 370 +/- 40ly from Earth!

Overall it’s quite clear Uller actually is at Beta Hydri, though.

So ignoring that flaw (the two names are easily confused after all) and assuming “half a years” consists of a rounded 180 days – since it’s also unclear where Niflheim actually is, we can’t really use it to calculate the speed of the hyperdrive. Note that the time difference between hyperspace and realspace was a concept that Piper dropped later.

If we assume that the travel time for earth is correct, we get roughly 0,005 to 0,007 ly/h.

Four Day Planet states that a light-year takes about 60 hours:

All the news is at least six months old, some more than a year. A spaceship can log a light-year in sixty-odd hours, but radio waves still crawl along at the same old 186,000 mps.

Note the “sixty-odd”, so it’s not exactly sixty.

Later in the book, it’s stated that Walt will go to Terra for six years; five years on Terra itself for studies and one year for the round trip.

If we calculate 180 days * 24h = 4320 hours, and travel 650 light-years during that time we get 0,15 ly/h. All’s well, right?

Not quite. The problem arises when we calculate 650 light-years times 60 hours per light year. That’s 39000 hours, or 1625 days, or almost four and a half years – for a one way trip! Clearly there’s something broken here. 0,15ly/h works out to 6,67 hours per light year. Factor of ten issue, but which one do we believe? It’s got to be the higher speed, because I can’t imagine that many people would travel all the way to Fenris if it took them 9 years to get home.

This seems so blatantly wrong that I wonder if I have a glaring error in my math.

Anyway;  using Four Day Planet’s figure of sixty hours per light year for the trip from Uller to Terra. that voyage should take ~53 days. That’s a far cry from the “6 months” mentioned in Uller, but 106 days plus preparation time is still too long a time to depend on if your natives are revolting.

Space Viking states quite bluntly that a hyperdrive travels at roughly 1ly/h:

A ship in hyperspace logs about a light-year an hour.

Again, this gives us some leeway in our interpretations – it’s not exactly one light year. It could be less, or more – 10% either way, at least.

Little Fuzzy gives us an indirect figure for hyperdrive speed:

They’re on Terra, five hundred light-years, six months’ ship voyage each way.

Assuming 180 days for half a year, we get a speed of about 2.78 light years per day, or 0.115 light years per hour. Fits pretty well with the assumed 0,15ly/h from Four Day Planet, especially if it’s slightly more than 500ly and less than half a year. At 0,15ly/h the trip from Zharathrustra to Earth would take 138 days.

Ministry of Disturbance has a very vague figure:

A ship on hyperdrive could log light-years an hour

Since it’s plural, that means 2ly/h or better. It probably needs to be much more if the Empire is truly galactic.

StorySpeed (ly/h)
Uller Uprising0,005 – 0,007 ?
Four Day Planetlikely 0,15
Space Viking1
Little Fuzzy0,115
Ministry of Disturbance2+

Even with the rough numbers we have, it’s clear that there was a tenfold increase in hyperspace speed between the early days of the Terran Federation to the time of Space Vikings, and probably another such jump in drive performance by the time of the Empire.

Mapping H. Beam Piper, Part 3: To Niflheim!

Here’s something we already knew: Science Fiction authors don’t always get their science right.

The planet Niflheim, a hell-planet, features prominently in H. Beam Piper’s fiction because the name of the planet has become a swear-word. According to Uller Uprising, Niflheim is the 4th planet of the B8 star Nu Puppis, 148 light-years from Earth.

And the problem? Nu Puppis is actually 422.5 light-years from Earth.

It’s pretty clear that the figure given in the book is the intended distance of Niflheim from Earth. In fact, even the closer figure may be a problem – a trip to Uller, at Beta Hydri, is described as taking half a year, and that’s only 21 light years from Earth. So if travel times are linear, that would mean 2.5 years for the Terra-Nifflheim trip. There is also regular Niflheim – Uller traffic; ships from Niflheim stop over at Uller on their way to Terra.

On the other hand, Piper’s hyperdrives were not described consistently. In Uller, ships in hyperspace experience time at a slower rate. This is never picked up again in later books, but travel times have to be taken with a grain of salt in Uller Uprising.

The basic data on Niflheim stems from a short writeup by one Dr. John D. Clark, so the source of Piper’s error is easy to find. However, we still need to figure out what went wrong, and how to compensate for it in our little mapping project.

The coordinates are clearly correct for Nu Puppis, it’s just the distance that makes no sense. It is possible that Nu Puppis was thought to be much closer to earth when Uller Uprising was written. But we have to live with the broken data, and somehow get it back in sync with reality.

Unfortunately there are no other stars in the Puppis constellation that match type and distance, so we can’t claim a simple case of getting the name slightly wrong. So what is there in the sky that matches the star type and approximate distance? Not a whole lot:

758810144472Alp EriAchernar1,63-57,2444,09-2,77B3Vp
25428354971791112Bet TauAlnath5,4428,6140,18-1,37B7III
1060214228674Phi Eri2,28-51,5147,480,18B8IV-V
74785135742568527Bet Lib15,28-9,3849,07-0,84B8V
132091757383841 Ari2,8327,2648,900,16B8Vn
113963218045878154Alp PegMarkab23,0815,2142,81-0,67B9.5III
90185169022687920Eps SgrKaus Australis18,40-34,3844,35-1,44B9.5III
1239416978806Eps Hyi2,66-68,2747,010,76B9III

Here, distances are listed in Parsec (I am too lazy to convert all of them). 148 light years are 45.38 parsec. Beta Tucane can be quickly discounted, as it is a weird multiple-star system and this would’ve come up in the descriptions in the story.

phi Eridani is about the right distance, and is the “best match” for coordinates to those figures from the description given by Dr Clark, but since the original values do match Nu Puppis the error in the document must have been confusing two stars, not getting the coordinates wrong. Still, phi Eridani is as reasonable a pick as any others.

Kaus Australis (Epsilon Sagittarii) is actually listed as 188 light years distant in Hipparcos, so it’s not a very good match. It also seems that the star is really too bright for a B class, and might be in the process of dying. Now, humans are short-sighted creatures, but I’d like to think we would not establish a permanent colony around such a star. Of course, in an advanced interstellar society, and close-up observations we may decide that the star has millions of years left and settle planets in its system anyway.

However, there is the distance issue, and we do have an even better match.

Epsilon Hydri is B9III and we’ll need to work out whether this could actually possess a planet at the described orbit, but it matches the distance fairly well and it’s in the same very general direction as Beta Hydri (by virtue of being in the same constellation), which would make it plausible that an incoming ship would stop over at Uller. There isn’t much information on Epsilon Hydri on the web, but I guess it’s a good choice.

I will go with Niflheim being in orbit around Epsilon Hydri when trying to work out a map of Piper space.

Do you guys have any opinion on what might be a better choice?

Mapping H. Beam Piper, Part 2: More Planets

More planets, more connections. I think this does cover all Piper stories.

And again as a PDF: piper-systems

A lot of the planets are just mentioned by name, never in actual relation with any of the other worlds.

One thing I did not include in the chart yet is that Marduk is probably relatively close to Baldur, at least the two exchange diplomats. Still, since ships regularly make 3000+ light year jumps, that does not necessarily mean actual proximity.


Mapping H. Beam Piper, Part 1: Some Basics

I love H. Beam Piper’s sci fi stories, and I always wanted to map out the Terran Federation. Well, there’s not enough source material for any kind of reliable map, but I’ve collected as much info as I could without re-reading every book:

The chart is probably self-explanatory; it maps distance and in a few cases directional relationships between the planets. Some planets are mentioned without any other info, those are free-floating boxes. These are not complete, there are a few planets mentioned by name that are not on my schematic yet.

And as a PDF: piper-systems PDF

There is some material I did not check yet, so this will get updated eventually. And do let me know if I you are aware of any data not included yet!

H. Beam Piper’s Terro-Human Future History

One of my favorite Science Fiction authors is H. Beam Piper. He lived from March 23rd, 1904 until early November 1964, when he tragically committed suicide. He chose to kill himself because he – incorrectly – thought that his writing career was at a dead end.

Piper’s work can be divided into roughly two parts, or two “settings”, if you will. His “Paratime”storylines deal with alternate worlds and alternate timelines; the Paratime Police deals with incursions and problems in different timelines; their society jealously guards the secret of travel to parallel worlds while exploiting the same for their own benefit. If you ever read GURPS Time Travel (or the GURPS Infinite Worlds setting), you will find that Paratime was the main influence for their setting.

The other group of stories by Piper is usually referred to as the Terro-Human Future History. It’s basically an example of the “consensus cosmogony” that science fiction writers only needed – and still need – to hint at for the reader to make assumptions about the future of human history.

Piper’s Future History

The history of H. Beam Piper’s Science Fiction stories diverges early from our own timeline, the UN collapses and World War III leads to a follow-up organization, the Terran Federation. It is World War IV that completely devastates the Northern Hemisphere. The southern nations rebuild civilization, and the Hyperdrive is developed in circa 2126, finally bringing mankind to the stars.

Piper’s setting is notable because its society is not American-based. His characters are a very wild mix of nationalities, and for example major universities are in Australia and South America rather than the US and Europe. Culturally, there isn’t all that much difference, though.

Mankind’s early exploration of interstellar space is run by the Terran Federation, which charters company to colonize and exploit various worlds. So for example there’s the Chartered Uller Company, and so on. These companies act pretty much like their British equivalents that settled North America.

The Terran Federation expands and then fights a war against the System States Alliance, a group of worlds that declares independence. The resulting war eventually triggers the collapse of the Federation, and a long time of anarchy descends on human space before the Empire revives interstellar civilization.

The Books

A quick Terro-Human Future History Bibliography:

  • [amazon_link id=”B0046RELVC” target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Uller Uprising[/amazon_link] (1952): Details a native uprising on the planet Uller. (get it from Project Gutenberg.)
  • Graveyard of Dreams (Short story, 1958): A boy comes home from Terra to tell his town’s people that the magic computer they are looking for does not exist. – later expanded into a novel as “The Cosmic Computer”. (Collected in [amazon_link id=”0441231918″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Federation[/amazon_link].)
  • [amazon_link id=”1153622793″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Four-Day Planet[/amazon_link] (1961): A modern whalers’ tale; the Sea Monster hunters’ collective is run by corrupt officials; things are stirred up when competition arrives from Terra. (Get from Project Gutenberg.)
  • [amazon_link id=”1612790542″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]The Cosmic Computer[/amazon_link] (1963): Citizens of a planet covered by the remains of a lost war are starting a salvaging company to find a mythical supercomputer and jump-start the planetary economy as a side-effect. (Get from Project Gutenberg.)
  • [amazon_link id=”B004L9L6DQ” target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Space Viking[/amazon_link] (1963): After his wedding is crashed by gunfire and his newly-wed bride killed by an assassin, a space viking sets out to hunt down the murderer among the stars. (Get from Project Gutenberg.)
  • [amazon_link id=”1461068150″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Little Fuzzy[/amazon_link] (1962): Discovery of a new sentient species, and the question – just how do you define sentience?
  • [amazon_link id=”0441261965″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Fuzzy Sapiens[/amazon_link] (1964, originally The Other Human Race): Sequel to Little Fuzzy.
  • [amazon_link id=”B000K3ZGL0″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Fuzzies and Other People[/amazon_link] (1984): Sequel to Little Fuzzy.
  • Omnilingual (Short Story, 1957): How do you translate the language of an extinct alien species that has no cultural connection with you? (Collected in [amazon_link id=”0441231918″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Federation[/amazon_link].) (Get from Project Gutenberg.)
  • Naudsonce (Short Story, 1962): A starship crew discovers a new sentient species. (Collected in [amazon_link id=”0441231918″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Federation[/amazon_link].) (get it from Project Gutenberg.)
  • Oomphel in the Sky (Short Story, 1960): The natives are going berserk because they think the world will soon end… (Collected in [amazon_link id=”0441231918″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Federation[/amazon_link].) (Get from Project Gutenberg.)
  • When in the Course (Short Story, 1982): (Collected in [amazon_link id=”0441231918″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Federation[/amazon_link].)
  • The Edge of the Knife (short Story, 1957): (Collected in [amazon_link id=”0441205585″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Empire[/amazon_link].) A history teacher can see into the future, and gets into all kinds of trouble when he accurately predicts an assassination. The Edge of the Knife is used by Piper to lay out many concepts of his Future History.(Get it from Project Gutenberg.)
  • A Slave is a Slave (1962): (Collected in [amazon_link id=”0441205585″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Empire[/amazon_link].) (Get from Project Gutenberg.)
  • Ministry of Disturbance (1958): (Collected in [amazon_link id=”0441205585″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Empire[/amazon_link].) (Get from Project Gutenberg.)
  • The Return (1954): (Collected in [amazon_link id=”0441205585″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Empire[/amazon_link].) (get it from Project Gutenberg.)
  • The Keeper (Short Story, 1957): (Collected in [amazon_link id=”0441205585″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Empire[/amazon_link].)

There’s a magazine (fanzine?) article in which Piper published a rough timeline of his Future History, and is worth a look after you read some of his books:

  • Zenith – Future History No 1 (1964) – Article in which H. Beam Piper presents a timeline of his Future History.

There are two Piper stories that are not, technically, part of Future History, but which fit really well:

  • The Answer (1959): Two scientists are dropping an antimatter payload into the Argentinian wilderness to see what happens, and make an interesting discovery about the World War that devastated the Northern Hemisphere.
  • Lone Star Planet (1958): Ambassador Steven Silk must find out who murdered his predecessor, and why, before he himself becomes the next victim. The setting is very similar to the Terro-Human setting; to make them compatible one would simply have to change the Solar League from Lone Star Planet into the Terran Federation, and change minor details of administration and policy. (Get from Project Gutenberg.)

Piper and Traveller

Piper’s works were among those that influenced the Traveller Role-Playing Game. Off the top of my head:


Ever since I discovered Piper – way too late in my life – his work has been a major influence on my own sicence fiction designs.

If you want to read Piper, my recommendations are:

  • The Cosmic Computer
  • Space Viking
  • Uller Uprising
  • Oomphel in the Sky
  • Omnilingual
  • Four-Day Planet

The other stories aren’t bad, but I think those are the best of the crop.


Idol’s idols

“I was going to write like James Branch Cabell, which would have taken a lot of doing. Before that, I was going to write like Rafael Sabatini, and like Talbot Munday, and like Rider Haggard, and even, God help us, like Edgar Rice Burroughs. …  Eventually I decided to write like H. Beam Piper, only a little better. I am still trying.”

H. Beam Piper, The double:bill Symposium interview

What I’m up to

I thought I’d give you a little update on current projects and status. The past year or so has been a little hard on me “in the real world” but all that is sorted out now and things are on the up again. On the other hand, it hasn’t left me so much time for world-building: Besides my new real-life job keeping me busy, NaNoWriMo ate up a lot of free time in November. That’s done and over, and with the holidays coming up I should have a good amount of time to write and build.

  • My Wacom tablet needs to be replaced, but I am not yet sure which one to get, and what size. They get expensive really quickly once you go beyond A6. I have some maps to draw!
  • I’ve been consolidating settings. At least two, probably three, and perhaps four of my worlds will be merged – details to follow…
  • I am totally into science fiction right now. This comes from reading everything H. Beam Piper that Gutenberg and Librivox could throw at me, but it is also related to finally playing role-playing games again; in this case we’re up to our ears in the Star Wars Saga Edition. I’m playing a shard in an IG-86 chassis with a severe identity crisis.
  • I’d like to complete short “world books” for what I consider my main worlds. Say something on the order of 48 pages each.
  • With the death of imaginaryworlds.net and the disappearance of Paul of the Shakespeare & Dragon podcast, I’d like to expand enderra.com to include more how-to’s, more discussion, more interactivity. This is more of a long-term goal, we’re definitely talking mid-2010 here. Anybody who’d like to get in on this, drop me a line…