Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Genesis by H. Beam Piper

Two men, six women, and a whole lot of ammo
Genesis, a short novella by H. Beam Piper, was originally published in the September 1951 combined issue of the pulp magazines Future and Science Fiction Stories. Piper is perhaps best known for his Paratime series and his Terro-Human Future History series, but Genesis is simply a stand-alone story and a darn good one.

As the story opens, a spaceship is approaching the planet Tareesh. It has come from the dying world of Doorsha, and is loaded with colonists who intend to transplant their civilization to a new home. They are perhaps the final hope for the future existence of their species. On board the craft, army officer Kalvar Dard and Air Force lieutenant Seldar Glav are performing their routine duties, working and chatting with six attractive young women named Olva, Varnis, Kyrna, Analea, Dorita, and Eldra. Shortly before entering the atmosphere of Tareesh, the ship is struck by a meteor. The eight colleagues pile into an escape pod and aim for the surface of the planet. As the mother ship explodes behind them, they realize that they are the only survivors. It is up to them to perpetuate their race upon this new and unknown world.

Is this the ultimate male fantasy (circa 1950) or what? As in many of Piper’s books, the treatment of women is far from politically correct by today’s standards. Here the female characters aren’t even given last names. They are depicted in much the way women are treated in motion pictures of this era. Their main function is to be flirted with and seduced by the men, or vice versa. At least that’s true in the beginning of the story. To his credit, however, Piper does depict them as independent women who work and fight alongside their male counterparts.

Piper’s visionary science fiction tales of time travel and the future are often very intricate and complex. Genesis, on the other hand, is a rather straightforward adventure novel. Once the party touches down on the planet they fight for survival as hunters and gatherers, like some kind of outer-space Swiss Family Robinson. Tareesh is a brutal world, and to adapt they must themselves become brutish. Like many other castaway stories, all they’ve got to work with are the few items they managed to grab from the ship before departure. Piper, an inveterate gun nut, makes sure everyone is well-stocked with weaponry and keeps the reader constantly apprised of the ammunition inventory. The story is more than just action and violence, however. Piper is one of the most intelligent sci-fi writers of the pulp fiction era, and he definitely leaves the reader with ample food for thought.

I’m a fan of Piper’s work, but I don’t unconditionally love everything he does. Genesis grabbed my attention from paragraph one and held me riveted until the very end. It’s an exciting and memorable story, and more serious than his typical fare. Though it’s brief enough to easily read in one sitting, it may be one of Piper’s strongest works.
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