Sunday, July 3, 2011

H. Beam Piper's Guide to Life

He spends the somber midnight hours patrolling through the Altoona shops, watching out for trespassers and possible fires.

At 7 A.M., he goes home to the third-floor apartment he shares with his aged mother, and gets into pajamas and drinks a glass of black Jamaica rum––"not Porto Rico––I'm very bigoted on the subject of rum," he says.

"Then I light up my pipe with Serene tobacco––been smoking that brand the last thirty years––and either go over what I wrote the previous day or plan out what I'll write that afternoon. I usually go to bed around 8:30 A.M."

"I wake up about 3:30 or 5 P.M., depending on how much sleep I've been doing without the past few days. I have breakfast, which consists of a bottle of 7-Up and a pot of coffee––black, of course. Then I get to the typewriter, and work two to four hours, which gives me time to have dinner and report to work at 11 P.M."
That's an excerpt from a 1953 article about H. Beam Piper, perhaps my favorite science fiction author (and a huge influence on my own Thousand Suns). The article appeared in The Pennsy, which was an in-house periodical for employees of The Pennsylvania Railroad Company, for which Piper worked as a night watchman. The article included the following two photographs, both of which I think are just awesome:

In addition to being a night watchman for the PRR and a writer, Piper was an avid collector of weapons, owning 80 antique pistols and 50 bladed weapons of various sorts, such as the 450 year-old French sword shown in the photo above.

Piper was a true original. They don't make writers like him anymore.

14 comments:

  1. I've long liked Piper. Many of his works are available online for free from places like Project Gutenberg.

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  2. Wow. I didn't know he was from Altoona. I've probably been around his home and didn't even know it. They definitely don't advertise him.

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  3. I just wish he wrote more. His short story work varied from solid to fantastic but his sci-fi novels were the best ever written.

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  4. Still by far my favorite author. I reread his Cosmic Computer and Space Viking about once a year. And thanks to Project Gutenberg, I have just about all of his work on my phone with me all the time.

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  5. Twenty-six years of writing before his first sale. That sticktoitiveness is reason enough for applause.

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  6. I have not read much of his work, but his Little Fuzzy captured the imagination of this 11 year old boy 28 years ago and has since been the fuel for my fires.

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  7. Thanks for pointing out the article. I hadn't run across it before. I just re-read Space Viking and Little Fuzzy.

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  8. @Dan, Piper was a hard core Pennsylvanian. The protagonist of his Lord Kalvan stories is a Pa State Trooper.

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  9. I am not so sad they don't make them like him any more. He seems a bit nutty. So many pulp authors seemed determined to prove that in order to write good material you had to be maladjusted somehow, and I don't buy it.

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  10. What a cool little profile of Piper. I didn't know much about him. So sad that he took his own life. I'll definitely have to read more from Piper.

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  11. One of my favorite authors from my favorite period of science fiction. I recently reread "Uller Uprising," his fictionalization of the Great Mutiny in India. Just a fun story.

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  12. I wonder if he bought any of those weapons from the Bannerman company in New York. I used to have a 1980 reproduction of the 1927 Bannerman Military Goods catalog. It was awesome. Full of pre-1927 rifles, pistols, exotic weapons from all points of the world, swords, armor, machine guns, I think some cannons, too.

    All at 1927 prices that made them seem amazingly affordable for a 1980 ten year old kid. ;^)

    The Bannerman company had a store on Broadway in NYC, and eventually built a castle on an island in the Hudson to store their arsenal.

    Here's a book about Bannerman castle on Google Books, which talks about the company's history:

    http://books.google.com/books?id=v_MRQdW-bmoC&lpg=PP1&dq=bannerman&pg=PA25#v=onepage&q&f=false

    Page 25 has an interesting diagram from the 1966 100th anniversary catalog, which traced the development of the helmet from 600 AD to 1600.

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  13. @Brandon: Now *there's* a depressing sentiment. God forbid our writers (not to say human beings in general) have any quirks or eccentricities...

    I haven't read any Piper, but he seems like an interesting individual. His adherence to his daily regimen reminds me a bit of P.G. Wodehouse.

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  14. I was just talking about Piper & his suicide last week. Macarbe but telling.

    a little cut&paste from wikipedia:
    He committed suicide in November 1964 in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, bringing his career to a premature conclusion. The exact date of his death is unknown; the last entry in his diary was dated November 5 ("Rain 0930"), and the date his body was found is reported as November 9 or November 11 by various sources. According to Jerry Pournelle's introduction to Little Fuzzy, Piper shut off all the utilities to his apartment, put painter's drop-cloths over the walls and floor, and took his own life with a handgun from his collection. In his suicide note, he gave an explanation that "I don't like to leave messes when I go away, but if I could have cleaned up any of this mess, I wouldn't be going away. H. Beam Piper'"

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