Monday, January 27, 2014

The Edge of the Knife by H. Beam Piper

When the future becomes the past
H. Beam Piper
Despite the rather noir title, this novella is not a mystery or horror story, but rather a work of science fiction. The Edge of the Knife was originally published in the May 1957 issue of Amazing Stories. The knife edge referred to in the title is the infinitesimally narrow boundary between the past and future, a line that is inexplicably blurred in the mind of the story’s protagonist. Ed Chambers, a professor of history at Blanley College, experiences unexplained visions of future world events. In one of his history courses, he inadvertently refers to some of these future occurrences as if they were historic events that had already taken place. When word of this slip reaches beyond the classroom, Chambers’ reputation is on the line. The college president demands his resignation and even questions his sanity. Chambers lawyers up and refuses to budge. Matters become extremely complicated when one of the future events Chambers referred to in his lecture becomes a concrete reality.

When is a science fiction story not a science fiction story? This work may be the answer to that question. The book has more to do with university politics then it does with time travel. In fact, no instances of time travel actually take place, and the cause of Chambers’ clairvoyance is never explained. However, the issues discussed throughout the book are entirely in the realm of theoretical science and parapsychology. The plot largely consists of a chain of tense, huddled conversations within the halls of academia, as Chambers, his colleagues, the college president, and other parties attempt to capitalize on the incident to their advantage. The dialogue is both realistic and compelling. Despite being written over a half century ago, it reads like a 21st-century thriller. The only thing that’s dated about the book is the fact that it’s set in 1973 and discusses the late 20th century as if it were the future. Author H. Beam Piper’s imaginative vision of world history never came to fruition, obviously, but that won’t stop the reader of today from marveling at how imaginative and fascinating his vision was.

Piper wrote a series of works called the Terro-Human Future History, in which he outlines an elaborate fictional timeline of political events and wars that take place over the next six millennia of human history. The Edge of the Knife is sort of a companion piece to this series, as it refers to events in the Terro-Human chronology. No prior knowledge of this fictional universe is necessary, however, to enjoy this great story as a stand-alone piece. I myself am a newcomer to Piper’s writing, but after reading this tale I am looking forward to delving deeper into his body of work. Much of Piper’s work, including this story and others in the Terro-Human saga, can be found in The H. Beam Piper Megapack, an inexpensive e-book collection from Wildside Press.

If you liked this review, please follow the link below to and give me a “helpful” vote. Thank you.

No comments:

Post a Comment