Friday, May 20, 2016

Graveyard of Dreams by H. Beam Piper

Home-planet boy makes good
H. Beam Piper’s novelette Graveyard of Dreams was originally published in the February 1958 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction magazine. The story takes place within the fictional universe of Piper’s Terro-Human Future History series, but no prior knowledge of that series is required to read and enjoy this work.

In the 9th century of the Atomic Era (2837 AD), mankind has spread out across the galaxy and colonized other planets. Conn Maxwell graduates from an Earth university and returns to his home planet of Poictesme. As far as interstellar politics and economics go, Poictesme is a bit of a backwater, like an Old Western village on the verge of becoming a ghost town. Once an important strategic military base, the Terran Federation’s forces have since departed, and Poictesme’s main industry is now salvaging the equipment they left behind. The citizenry of Litchfield, Conn’s hometown, has pinned its hopes on the bright young man. He was sent off to college with the specific mission of discovering the key to reviving the stagnating world’s economic prospects. Upon arrival at his home spaceport, his family and friends greet him with a celebration fit for a conquering hero. All this fuss makes Conn terribly uncomfortable, especially since he has returned to his home world the bearer of bad news.

If you’re looking for action and excitement, this is not the Piper story for you. Graveyard of Dreams consists almost entirely of conversations, with none of Piper’s usual futuristic gunplay. The main attraction here is the intricate world that Piper has created and the authenticity of the characters that reside within it. The reader sympathizes with the people of Litchfield in much the same way one would the residents of a town in Pennsylvania after their steel mill has closed. The idea of a whole town resting their hopes of the future on the shoulders of one college student may seem corny to a 21st century audience, but it’s probably not so far-fetched for rural towns of a century ago. In addition to the story of Conn and Litchfield, Piper also lays some foundation for the back story of the Terro-Human Future History timeline. The pseudo-historical details he provides of humanity’s interplanetary diaspora will be of interest to fans of that series.

Piper would eventually develop this story into a novel entitled The Cosmic Computer, published in 1964. I have not read that novel, so I can only judge the shorter story on its own merits. Graveyard of Dreams does feel a bit incomplete, like it was cut off before it finished what it had to say, so it would probably benefit from a lengthier elaboration. Nevertheless, as it stands it’s a well-crafted story. It’s not one of Piper’s most thrilling tales, but fans of Piper’s brand of visionary sci-fi speculation will certainly find this brief work worth their time.
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