Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Flight from Tomorrow by H. Beam Piper

Seeking refuge in the past
H. Beam Piper’s novelette Flight from Tomorrow was originally published in the September/October 1950 issue of the pulp magazine Science Fiction Stories. A hundred centuries from now, the great dictator Hradzka is overthrown by a rebellion and hunted down by his enemies, led by the military leader General Zarvas. Hradzka escapes in a time machine and ends up in our present century, where he attempts to blend in. Hradzka was clearly not a benevolent ruler in his own time, and he looks down on the people of the 20th century with the same tyrannical attitude. They are merely ants to be squashed on his way to world domination. Having such a protagonist is fun for the reader because half the time you are rooting for him to succeed with his nefarious plans, while the other half of the time you loathe him enough to want to see him destroyed.

This excellent science fiction story happens to be an exciting and suspenseful thriller, but not at the expense of the science. Time travel is not merely a plot element employed to set up action sequences, but an integral part of the story. Piper does a great job of balancing the cat-and-mouse fun of a good chase with some thought-provoking theorizing on what happens when the future clashes with the past. Like any pulp tale from the ’50s, the years have imparted a certain degree of unintentional campiness, but Piper’s sci-fi visions have held up well over the decades, and his well-crafted prose elevates this piece above the typical standards of genre fiction. Today’s sci-fi fans will still find it an engaging and entertaining read.

If you are downloading the free Kindle file from Amazon (with the red and tan cover image), you’re only getting this one story. There have also been one or two paper collections of Piper stories entitled Flight from Tomorrow. Amazon’s web site may jumble the reviews for these various editions, so check to make sure what you’re getting before you download. If you want a sizeable, inexpensive e-book collection of Piper’s work, I would suggest The H. Beam Piper Megapack from Wildside Press.

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