The Complete Paratime
by H. Beam Piper
  

Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson

Ace: New York, 2001
424 pages

September 2001

  
The Paratime series
Temple Trouble, H. Beam Piper - Astounding April 1951 cover by Hubert Rogers (small)

The Complete Paratime collects the six science-fiction stories of H. Beam Piper's excellent Paratime series, ranging in length from short story to novel. Paratime is a thoughtfully-developed alternate-worlds universe, in which there are effectively an infinite number of time-lines running side by side, branching and re-branching as key events happen one way — and another way.

A civilization on one of the time-lines millennia ago discovered the secret of paratemporal transportation that allows it to exploit the endless resources of these alternate Earths, via sidewise or lateral time-travel across the myriad time-lines. This First Level civilization also considers itself obliged to police their citizens across all these time-lines: the task of the Paratime Police. Varied police investigations and the related adventures provide the basis of the Paratime Series — but there are some real surprises.
  

The sources, & this edition

These stories appeared in Astounding Science Fiction in 1948-1955 and (as renamed) Analog in 1964-1965. They should be read in the order that they appeared, and as here collected in The Complete Paratime; it's not so much that the plots build on previous ones, but the reader's comprehension of what Paratime is, how it works, and why the Paratime Police is important, progresses through the series.

Murray Leinster's ground-breaking "Sidewise in Time" from 1934 is clearly a model, but H. Beam Piper is one of the great fictional theorists of alternate worlds.

Careless combination of two earlier paperback editions, the Paratime collection and the novel Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen, has given us a book with the Paratime contents page, and running page heads that say The Complete Paratime rather than the individual story titles. So if you have the hardcover edition from the Science Fiction Book Club without the dust jacket, you will be pleasantly surprised when you get to page 247 and find that there's a whole novel yet to read that's not listed in the Contents ... unless you've noticed an addendum to a footnote in the Introduction!

Proofreading is notably lacking in Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen, first published in book form in 1965 after Piper's death, and after many years still not a clean text; an error such as "reining" for "reigning" requires a second look in a novel full of both horses and kingdoms.
  

Five very neat alternate histories

"He Walked Around the Horses" opens the Paratime series; it's a short story set in 1809, based on the actual disappearance of English diplomat Benjamin Bathurst in Perleburg, Prussia, during the era of the Napoleonic Wars; he walked around some horses in the courtyard of an inn and was never seen again. Somehow, he was displaced. Piper details the event in letters and official documents, and unlike most such tales, he breathes such life into the documents to make it all feel contemporary, clear, and vivid. "He Walked Around the Horses" does not mention Paratime, but the Fortean concept clearly was percolating in Piper's mind. The paratemporal process behind the Bathurst disappearance is discussed in other stories, one of which alludes to Bathurst's own situation. This is a little classic.

"Police Operation" is a police procedural novelet, introducing Verkan Vall of the Paratime Police, the main character and principal organization of the series. "Police Operation" is set in a world-line that may well be ours, and a familiar kind of State Police and game-warden team also are tracking a very dangerous beast that got away from a paratimer, a Venusian nighthound. Edd Cartier's illustration of the fearsome nighthound in Astounding would be a great addition to reprints of "Police Operation". In this adventure we're given the basic explanation of Paratime and how it works.

"Last Enemy" is a different kettle of life-lines altogether. "Last Enemy" is a 1950 novella with a thoughtful discussion of reincarnation — in a fast-paced science-fiction adventure that combines the reality of reincarnation in an advanced civilization; a professional Society of Assassins; rival political parties based on different theories of reincarnation; an impressive gun-battle inside a country mansion; and the very competent Verkan Vall of the Paratime Police and his sometime wife, the smart, lovely and rather explosive Hadron Dalla. Everything is treated in an absolute matter-of-fact manner. "Last Enemy" is an astounding classic — pun intended.

"Time Crime" was a two-part serial in Astounding Science Fiction, with charming illustrations by Kelly Freas. Again, this novella is a police procedural, but this one has much rich detail about the Paratime-travelling "First Level" civilization and its Paratime Police, and why they're necessary. A very solid story about slavery and different levels of civilization, and anti-slavery. Piper develops some of the scarier ramifications of his concept. In "Time Crime" we see more of the ethical side of Piper's hero Verkan Vall, of his lady Hadron Dalla, and the Paratime Police.

"Temple Trouble" is a slighter novelet but still enjoyable. Crooked Paratimers masquerade as religious leaders in a vulnerable timeline. Piper's dislike of superstition and false idols comes across strongly.
  

Temple gunpowder in North America

For the novel that concludes the Paratime series, please read the Troynovant review of Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen.
  

The Complete Paratime is a fine collection. It's good to have all these stories in one volume; they should be read together.

  

© 2001 Robert Wilfred Franson

  
Astounding April 1951 cover
by Hubert Rogers

  
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