Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen
by H. Beam Piper

Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson

portions originally appeared as —
"Gunpowder God", Analog, November 1964
"Down Styphon!", Analog, November 1965

Ace: New York, 1965
192 pages

collected in —

The Complete Paratime

September 2001

The Paratime novel

Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen is the final installment and only novel in H. Beam Piper's excellent Paratime series. 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 diverging in parallel as key events happen in alternate ways.

The first two-thirds of Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen were originally published as "Gunpowder God" and "Down Styphon!" in Analog. The novel certainly can be enjoyed by itself, but it will be more meaningful if you approach it having absorbed the full background of the earlier stories in The Complete Paratime.

Temple gunpowder in North America Down Styphon (Analog Nov 1965 cover) - Kelly Freas - Piper (small)

Although the Paratime Police, and Verkan Vall and Hadron Dalla of earlier stories, have parts to play in Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen, the hero is Calvin Morrison of the Pennsylvania State Police, an organization that Piper knew well.

Morrison is accidentally transposed (like Benjamin Bathurst in Piper's "He Walked Around the Horses") from a time-line which is ours or very like it, into a contemporary Pennsylvania but whose civilization corresponds roughly to that of early-modern Europe. In this alternate world, the Aryan migration went East rather than West, following the Aleutian route into North America. Technological development has been slower, so we have Fifteenth Century European-style small kingdoms in and around Pennsylvania.

Well, dropping policeman Calvin Morrison into this setting is like dropping a cat into a catnip patch. Morrison is a minister's son, a Korean War veteran, an intelligent, practical, and competent fellow but not scintillating in his home time-line's environment. Morrison, like Piper himself, has a good knowledge of European history and especially military history; he is familiar with the history and technology of hand-weapons and artillery, and both guns and swords are comfortable in his hands. Particularly important, he knows the simple chemical formula for gunpowder, its homely ingredients, and the kitchen-table processes to make it.

On this time-line, gunpowder was a minor discovery of the Temple of Styphon, used for flash-and-bang ceremonial purposes before an experimenting priest realized its value for weaponry. By the time of Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen, Styphon's gunpowder monopoly has generated a network of rich temples selling gunpowder — but not the secret of its manufacture — to the little kingdoms in North America. Styphon has become the Gunpowder God.

Competence; battles & romance

This situation, and this time-line, clearly is H. Beam Piper's idea of Heaven on Earth, and he allows his hero to make the most of it.

We're given a good deal of romance, history of technology, weaponry, realpolitik worthy of Machiavelli, and battle scenes. One of the battles is closely based on the offset battle-lines in the fog at Barnet, 14 April 1471 (see Barnet overview and map (pdf) from Wargames Journal; and Barnet detailed history from the Richard III Society) during the English Wars of the Roses; Piper tells this well.

The focus in Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen is largely on Calvin Morrison's impact on the society into which he's plunged; he truly finds his calling. The Paratime environment is pushed somewhat into the background. We may liken this story to L. Sprague de Camp's 1939 classic Lest Darkness Fall where the hero has a similar challenge in Imperial Roman times.

Piper perhaps did not have the chance to polish Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen as much as we'd like, but it's quite an enjoyable story for anyone who likes alternate-history, or an adventure of how a supposedly ordinary fellow, informed and competent, strives to make a new life for himself in his very familiar place — but a quite different time-line.


© 2001 Robert Wilfred Franson

Analog November 1965 cover
by Frank Kelly Freas

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temporal philosophy and travel

Notes to a Proofreader:

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; each error such as "reining" for "reigning" requires a second look in a novel full of both horses and kingdoms.


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