BOOK REVIEW: Gunpowder God, by H. Beam Piper

 

gunpowder.jpg

Publisher: Sphere

Genre: Time Travel

Pages: 189

Publication Date: 1965

Verdict: 5/5

 

Calvin Morrison is lost in time. Finding himself in another reality where his knowledge makes him the most powerful man on the planet, he soon rises from nothing as the famous Lord Kalvan. But while his people love and revere him, his enemies will stop at nothing to see him dead . . .

Finally, after over a decade of searching, I have managed to get my hands on a second H. Beam Piper novel. and let me tell you, it was more than worth the wait. While a very different book to Space Viking, this is well worth your time.

Gunpowder God, also released as ‘Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen’ is set in Piper’s ‘Paratime’ universe. This setting posits the existence of an infinite number of realities, each one slightly further removed from our own than the last. In some, Rome never fell, in others, it never rose. there are Earths where humanity never evolved, others where humanity has spread to the tsars. It’s a setting with enormous potential, and it is a tragedy that Piper never got the chance to explore it further.

Watching over all timelines is the Paratime Police, and organisation not too dissimilar from Asimov’s Eternals, though far more self-serving in their goals. It is through the actions of the Paratime Police that our protagonist is set adrift from his home time. While they do recur as both observers and antagonists, the focus is very much on Calvin Morrison. or, as he soon styles himself, Lord Kalvan.

I’ve always been a fan of the self-made man forging an empire. From his novels, it’s clear that Piper was too. Like Lukas Trask, Kalvan wastes little time in asserting his authority, using his superior knowledge to dominate the less-advanced natives of his new home. While never evil of cruel, it is clear that Kalvan is motivated to act is his own interest. he’s far from a typical hero, but he’s a man who earn’s the readers respect without ever demanding it.

Aside from the time travel element, this largely reads as a historical novel. Gunpowder is a revolutionary technology, employed to devastating effect. Battles are glossed over, the focus on the political aftermath or cunning tactics employed. For a novel almost entirely about war, there’s surprisingly little action on the page. It makes for a very unique style, but one I would desperately like to see more of. Piper has a gift for conveying a great deal of information in a single, simple sentence.

It’s difficult to say more about a short novel without giving away the story. So I won’t. What I will say is this: read this book. Read others like it. Piper is a name that deserves to be more widely known, and I am sure there are more like him out there. Classics that have been forgotten. With so many new books released each year, it can be hard to keep up. But make time for older works. They have a lot to offer, and may just surprise you.

Gunpowder God is different to most of what I read, but I’m glad I finally read it. Hopefully it won’t be the same wait before I find my third Piper read.

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