Oomphel in the Sky
by H. Beam Piper
  

Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson

Analog, November 1960
  

collected in —
Federation
The H. Beam Piper Megapack
January 2015

  
Respect

"Oomphel in the Sky" is a science fiction novelet by H. Beam Piper, a minor work on a major theme. This is respect, a virtue that sometimes seems more talked about than realized in thought or action, but on the other hand often more demanded than deserved.

Piper may derive oomphel from omphalos, which is Greek for "navel", a concept that is central in some religious systems: the navel of the world as a source of life or focus of energies. It also may signify a religious artifact.

The story's setting is an extra-solar planet with intelligent natives in a religious agricultural society learning to live with a human colonial administration. Their confrontation echoes many such in human history and in our own times. Since the humans claim to live in the sky whence they appear bearing a cornucopia of marvelous material goods and devices, the locals' impression of the newcomers also resembles that of the Cargo Cult on South Pacific islands in the mid-Twentieth Century.

The crisis develops out of a recurring astronomical situation with more or less disastrous effects reminiscent of the setting of Hal Clement's novel Cycle of Fire (1957). Piper does not provide nearly as detailed a background as Clement does at novel length, but since Piper's characters, both human and alien, are more mature and reasonable, his plot is more satisfying.

"Oomphel in the Sky" is a straightforward story, with only touches of the sparkle and humor and action which H. Beam Piper does so well elsewhere. Its strength is from Piper simply creating believable individuals willing and able to see each other and different ways of thinking with empathy and respect. Perhaps if this really were simple more writers would do it.

  

  
© 2015 Robert Wilfred Franson


 

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