Tuesday, November 27, 2018
Rebel Raider by H. Beam Piper
Entertaining nonfiction Civil War biography
I’m a fan of H. Beam Piper’s writings in science fiction, and I read this work as the final piece in The H. Beam Piper Megapack, a collection of nearly his complete works published by Wildside Press. Rebel Raider was originally published in the December 1950 issue of True: The Men’s Magazine. It tells the story of real-life Confederate guerrilla John Singleton Mosby who commanded a party of irregular partisans, known as Mosby’s Raiders, that made incursions into Union-held territory to antagonize and terrorize the Union Army.
Although I was fully aware that this was not a work of science fiction before I began reading it, I expected it to be a work of historical fiction. Instead, it appears to be an almost entirely factual nonfiction account of Mosby’s life and career, as researched and rewritten by Piper. Only the slightest amount of fictionalization is injected into battles or conversations to make the reader feel as if he or she were a spectator at these historical events. The characters, including Mosby himself, don’t amount to much more than names augmented by biographical facts, with little or no hint of their personalities, just essentially a resume of deeds done and missions accomplished.
Although I do enjoy reading history I am by no means a Civil War buff, but even a layman like myself can find much to appreciate in Rebel Raider. Piper was an arms collector and self-professed ballistics expert, and his gun nuttery is often apparent in his science fiction works. Here, however, although he does mention the arms used in various situations, he doesn’t get overly carried away with technical details of the weapons like he does in his mystery novel Murder in the Gunroom. You don’t have to be a hardcore military buff to enjoy Piper’s narrative and learn an interesting fact or two in the process. This chronicle of Mosby’s war record provides an interesting perspective on the Civil War, and his post-war career, briefly touched upon here, is also fascinating.
Obviously, Rebel Raider is an anomaly in Piper’s body of work, and fans of his impressive career in science fiction need not feel compelled to read it, but it is a good, brisk, and entertaining read for those interested in American history.
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