I finished your biography of Piper this morning. Outstanding job! Your work evidences a truly massive amount of research, made no easier by your subject's inclination to blatantly lie to people about his life!
I exploded with laughter at some of the scenes in the book. I particularly liked Piper's comment, "I would be perfectly willing to trade any woman in Christendom for a cask of hundred-year port..." I smile to think of H. Beam Piper and Jerry Pournelle, probably a bit unsteady on their pins anyway, accosted in their search for additional alcohol by a switchblade-wielding mugger. I would love to have seen Piper extract his cane sword with a flourish and threaten to run the blackguard through!
But your book has some very moving passages, like Beam's comments after his first futile pursuit in love. "You know, we never love more than one woman. We love, at different times, different manifestations of her--" My heart bled for him. But I wept for Piper after he divorced and moved to Williamsport, when I read the single-word diary entry that you chose to end chapter 26: "Alone." What a heartrending acknowledgment by Piper of the terrible price he paid to reinvent his life after his marriage dissolved. He was so isolated for the last part of his life! Your description of "a recluse working madly to get his fevered dreams down on paper" is perfect.
Piper's cavalier manner with money baffles me; it seems like an odd trait in an otherwise self-reliant, competent man. He quits his job when he might have received a pension or severance pay, he spends most of each check immediately then lives on tapioca, he never considers getting another part-time job to remove the basic stress of keeping food on the table while writing. He did, as you put it, "like to poke fate in the eye," despite fate always poking back.
I grew to like both Ferd and Don Coleman immensely as I read your book. Is Don still with us? How about Mike Knerr? I was also curious, since Piper accidentally happened upon Hemingway in a bar after he returned from France, whether Hemingway's later suicide might have firmed up the option in Piper's mind? And is it possible that Piper was really buried with that bottle of Myer's rum, nestled by his side in the hearse?
The binding and printing of the book is superb. The front and back cover art is outstanding--Alan Gutierrez did a bang-up job and I think Piper would have liked the result I also appreciated the rare pictures that you included, especially of Verkan Vall, the dachshund. If Piper's dog really did manage to star in a movie with Brigitte Bardo, I'm heading down to Blockbuster.
I was about a third of the way into your book when I ran across a well-preserved oak desk in a secondhand store. I bought it on the spot, and after moving the desk into my study I began sitting at it each evening as I read your book. When I got to the point in the story where Piper went to a used furniture store near Williamsport and bought an old desk, I crawled underneath my desk to look for some kind of manufacturer's information. Here's what the center drawer had printed on the underside:
"Lycoming Furn. Industry, Williamsport, PA, Model B, 311-55/34."
By the spear of Odin, it has to be fate. Thanks for making H. Beam Piper real to me,
Scott T. Schad
H. Beam Piper A Biography, by John F. Carr
I met Beam Piper in the early 1960’s. He was twice my age, but we became instant friends: we shared an historical perspective, an interest in obscure historical details as well as the vast sweep of history, and a rather dry sense of irony. I knew him for about four years, during which we saw each other at conventions and exchanged letters. At that time my interest in science fiction was as a reader; my career was in the aerospace industry.
Beam committed suicide in 1964. When I learned of that I was convinced that it had been murder, so much so that I telephoned the chief of police in Beam’s home town. He soon convinced me that it was all true. Beam shot himself. Over time a raft of stories came out as to why.
Ten years later John Carr came to work for me as my Senior Editorial Associate, and over a dozen years we put out well over a score of anthologies and collections of both original and reprint stories from short works to full novels.
John became interested in Beam Piper and his works, and went on to become the world’s leading expert on the life and times of my late friend and colleague. He has now written the definitive biography of the late H. Beam Piper; and I learned a lot from it. It turns out that many of the personal stories Beam told his friends about his life were not only untrue, but deliberate lies. Carr goes into this in great detail.
One surprise to me was that Beam had essentially no education. He never claimed otherwise, but I had always assumed he was a graduate of some Pennsylvania university; he certainly knew more history than most college graduates, and he had read and was familiar with details of more books than almost anyone I ever knew (Robert Heinlein excepted). There are other surprises in Carr’s well written biography.
Beam Piper is largely forgotten now; but for those who have any interest in his life, this is the proper book.