Today, we have a guest review from Cirsova Contributor John Gradoville–be sure to check out his fantastic raygun romance Ascension Star in the Summer issue of Cirsova, out now! Temple Trouble, by H. Beam Piper, can be found here on Archive.org.
H. Beam Piper’s SF is some of the finest ever written. He is celebrated for his “Terro-Future History” stories and the “Paratime” parallel worlds stories. He hit his peak in the 1950s and was one of John W. Campbell’s greatest successes. As the editor of Astounding Magazine Campbell nurtured writers like Piper who could combine the colourful descriptions and robust action of the pulps with more technologically literate stories. Piper was one of the pioneers of Alternative History SF.
Published in 1951, Temple Trouble is a novella set in Piper’s Paratime Universe. Piper’s Paratime postulates that multiple universes exist alongside each other, like lanes on a highway. One scientifically advanced Earth has found a way to travel across those universes. This is the Paratime Secret that has to be protected from all other Earths at all costs. The Paratime Police are charged with doing this.
In Temple Trouble, the Paratimers have setup a uranium mining operation on an Earth which is in an early medieval stage of development. The country with the uranium is a near-eastern monarchy, bow and arrow soldiers, wooden carts hauled by mules, ferocious and jealous gods. To cover their operation the Paratimers have setup their own god and religion. Their temples are covers for the Paratime “conveyors” gateway machines which ferry people and materials to and from the homeworld, using Paratime radiation.
Our story opens in the temple of the Paratime God, Yat-Zar. Once all-powerful, Yat-Zar’s worshippers have been humbled by the followers of a vengeful and sadistic crocodile god, putting the uranium mining operation at risk. Verkan Vall, Paratime Police troubleshooter, arrives, travelling across timelines from Homeworld.
Vall is one of Piper’s favourite characters and appears in many of the Paratime stories. He is hereditary nobility, deputy head of Paratime Police, a crack shot. His weakness is that he cannot keep away from field operations, has a thirst for action. I always like it when Vall appears in a story because he never met a technologically advanced weapon he didn’t like, or like using.
Temple Trouble then segues into a three-handed dialogue between the Homeworld uranium mining executive, Verkan Vall and the “High Priest” of Yat-Zar, who is of course a Paratime operative. This conversation does two things. We learn how this culture is organised and how Paratime operate. There is a lot the reader needs to know and the dialogue is a painless way to impart the information. Secondly it serves as the engine of the story. As each member of the trio reveal more of what they know, the scale of the problem becomes worse and worse. By the time the conversation is finished, we realise that something more than inter-priesthood rivalry is afoot. That the entire operation is deep in the manure and that the lives of many of the Paratimers are at risk.
Knowing this, we are tipped into the second act of the story, how the hell can this mess be resolved. It’s the tone that makes this story so good to read. It’s obvious from the start the Paratimers are itching to go in guns blazing. Piper makes very imaginative use of the advanced technologies he has given his characters, especially the cross-time gateways. Not to mention blasters of all kinds. The Paratimers, morally confident, courageous and competent in the use of super-science, take on a deadly challenge. Temple Trouble is pure classic pulp. Its characters have a moral certainty and a predatory attitude towards their enemies that are no longer in vogue. But those attributes makes for a fast-moving pulp SF adventure. Old-school and a great read.