H. Beam Piper was an American science fiction writer. He was born in 1904 and died in 1964. During his lifetime, he was never more than marginally successful as a writer. At his best, he was Robert Heinlein's understudy.
He grew up in Altoona, Pennsylvania, and when he turned eighteen he went to work in the Pennsylvania Railroad's rail yards there. Altoona is the kind of place you've heard of if you're from Pennsylvania, but only because there aren't very many places in Pennsylvania to talk about. Piper never had any formal education beyond high school. Instead, he taught himself history and science as best he could. He dodged Spengler only to fall under the spell of the great crank historian Arnold Toynbee.
Piper also collected weapons: Swords, guns, knives, and so on. When his agent died unexpectedly in 1964, the accounts were impenetrable and Piper's income dried up entirely. Piper couldn't bring himself to sell his collection, but after all, weapons are handy things. He was able to sustain himself for a while by shooting pigeons from his window and eating them. When that got old, he arranged what few affairs he had and shot himself. Legend has it that a royalty check was even then in the mail.
Not much else about his life is known. He was married and soon divorced in the late 1950s. He was known, well remembered, and much missed by other science fiction writers like Poul Anderson and Jerry Pournelle.
As a writer, Piper's was preoccupied with history, with emphasis on military history. The balance of his work concerned a vast and detailed "TerroHuman Future History". Don't mistake this for a knockoff of Heinlein's Future History: Heinlien wrote about human beings first, and ballistics second; Piper wrote about wars, uprisings, revolutions, and raids. His characters were mostly heroes and ideologically unsound (i.e. anti-colonial) strawmen. He was about as firm a monarchist as a quasi-libertarian can be and still keep a straight face. His future was a vast drama of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century colonialism played out under the weird rays of strange and distant suns. Later, there were Space Vikings, after the science-fictionally inevitable collapse of civilization.
Why do people write science fiction? Because they want to see the whole universe crumble into ruins, and they'd rather not have to leave the house to see it.
He also had a "multiple universe" series going at the same time.
Piper's estate was tangled until 1976, after which some work found its way back into print, and there was a minor resurgence of interest in his work. He was not a great prose stylist, and he painted with a very broad brush. He was never a major figure, but he was always entertaining.
Here's a brief and probably incomplete bibliography:
- TerroHuman Future History
- The Cosmic Computer
- Empire (short fiction)
- Federation (short fiction)
- Four Day Planet and Lone Star Planet (short novels, printed as an Ace Double two-fer
- Fuzzies and Other People
- Fuzzy Sapiens
- Little Fuzzy
- Lone Star Planet
- Space Viking
- Uller Uprising
- Multiple universes
- Lord Kalvan of OtherWhen
- Paratime (short fiction)
- First Cycle (thanks to m_turner for reminding me of this one)
- Murder in the Gunroom (his only mystery, possibly the first novel he wrote)
- The Worlds of H. Beam Piper
The Linkoping Science Fiction and Fantasy Archive
- Jerry Pournelle and John F. Carr, Preface and Introduction (respectively) to the 1981 Ace edition of