Story Time Reviews H. Beam Piper

If you like post-apocalyptic fiction, you’ll enjoy Story Time Reviews H. Beam Piper. Piper’s short story, “The Answer,” first appeared in the December 1959 issue of Fantastic Universe Science Fiction. This review is of the LibriVox public domain recording. Approximately 30 minutes in duration, it is the first story in LibriVox’s Five Sci-Fi Short Stories by H. Beam Piper audiobook.

The Story

Redstone Missile test firing from 1950's evokes the mood of the story discussed in Story Time Reviews H. Beam Piper.
Test Firing at Redstone Test stand In Early 1950’s. Public Domain.

The snap of a screen door wakes Lee Richardson from a dream he wants to remember. Dream glimpses of a woman with a dachshund are precious to him, they were all he had for the last fifteen years. His colleague, Alexis Pitov, a Russian calls out to him.  

Fifteen years earlier, in the autumn of 1969, the United States and the Soviet Union had been “blown to rubble.” Russian believes the US sent first bomb. The US believes the Russians launched the attack, though, they wondered why only the Russians had sent only one bomb until hours after they launched the counterattack.

Alexis assures Lee that the Russians did not launch the first strike. Lee believes him. 

Lee and Alexis are in Buenos Aires, taking part in a “scientific experiment.” “Professor Doctor Lee Richardson and Comrade Professor Alexis Petrovitch Pitov, getting ready to test a missile with a matter-annihilation warhead.” It was not a weapon, but the result of studying and constructing negative-proton matter. It was a way to dispose of the products of that study.

Through the back-and-forth conversation between these two characters we learn how they survived the annihilation and what they’d lost. And how they are each tortured by the question of who sent the first nuclear bomb to Auburn, New York. And how Lee has certain suspicions about what they’ve constructed and what had happened fifteen years ago.

No, I’ll not spoil the twist at the end.

LibriVox

LibriVox.com “sees itself as a library of audiobooks. Because the books we read are in the public domain, our readers and listeners should be aware of many of them are very old, and may contain language or express notions that are antiquated at best, offending at worst.”

Most of the narrators for LibriVox are volunteers. I could not discover the name of the narrator of this story. He was superb. He clearly conveyed the different characters and the tone of the story.

H. Beam Piper

Public Domain image of H. Beam Piper for Story Time Reviews H. Beam Piper

American science fiction author H. Beam Piper  (March 23, 1904—November 6, 1964) wrote “The Answer.” The H stood for Henry. His first published story “Time and Time Again” appeared in Astounding Science Fiction, April 1947.

The most descriptive and detailed biography I’ve read online was John Carr’s “The Last Cavalier.”

Piper worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad and wrote stories.  According to “The Last Cavalier,” Piper was a self-educated man who “probably read more books than any professor.” He was a hunter, a hiker, “inclined to stubbornness, atheism and given the idea of creating an aura of the Victorian about himself most of the time.” He studied history and visited obscure historical sites.

He unfortunately did not manage money well. And the small sums he made writing were not enough to keep poverty at bay. He died of an apparent suicide.

My Opinion

I had not read this story before. And I loved it. H. Beam Piper’s writing style is vivid and thoughtful, with characters I grew to love. The story relentlessly builds tension and suspense to a twist ending that satisfies.

Would I call this a dystopian story? No. The society that these characters live in does not place burdens or restraints upon the characters. It is a post-apoc story. 

Conclusion

Story Time Reviews remembers that special time when an adult reads to a child and recognizes that as a grown-up, we need to reward ourselves with a story time now and then. This blog series offers reviews of stories read aloud. See Story Time Reviews Ray Bradbury.

I hope you enjoyed Story Time Reviews H. Beam Piper. If you haven’t read (or listened) to any of H. Beam Piper’s fiction, I highly recommend it. You can find his bibliography on Wikipedia. If you like post-apocalyptic stories, especially if you’re of the age that remembers The Cold War, you will find “The Answer” a satisfying read.

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