The Conservatives are, and always have
been, unfit for any honest purpose.
“Police Operation” by H.Beam Piper:
a Book Review
by Jeff Fullerton
Attribute to L. Neil Smith’s The Libertarian Enterprise
Been a very manic week since my return to work last Sunday. Maybe because the way the newsfeed is running. As it has been since the crisis we are in began and even before. It seems we keep getting slammed with one thing or another and every time it looks like things have turned for the better another crisis or issue rears it’s ugly head and plunges us into another cycle of hopelessness and despair.
Last weekend concurrent with a late submission that did not make it into the Journal I vowed I was going to do a book review of what has become my favorite H.Beam Piper short story ; “Police Operation” that I’ve listened to several times in the last year going on two. However it has been difficult to get going with this project between my highs of working on and accomplishing significant things in private life and lows where I’m drowning in pessimism precipitated by a news-bit here and there. You all know what I’m talking about. It’s been a rough week and Liberty is on the ropes. My desire to do a review of “Police Operation” has been ongoing for quite a while along with plans to do some other SF classics of the Golden Age. And my latest reading in which I studied the story in detail was born of an attempt to wind down on a sleepless night a few days before the end of my last vacation.
I’ve really got to stop letting the craziness of the ongoing Crazy Years foretold by Robert A. Heinlein’s future history timeline get me down and stymie my enthusiasm for life. Does this mean I’m bipolar? That could be a chicken vs egg question but I digress.
I’m going ahead with this. Can’t let environmental determinism ruin my life even before the commies champing at the bit to get into power actually get there! And maybe it’s not so bad. Heinlein’s Crazy years are still way better than the reciprocal period in H.Beam Piper’s Terro-Human Future History which had a nuclear war circa 1974 that is the backstory in another short piece by Piper I’ve read; “The Answer”.
So here goes what has become my first foray into Mr Piper’s Paratime multiverse: “Police Operation” featuring Verkan Vall of the Paratime Police published in the July 1948 issue of Astounding Magazine. Set in the much more upbeat setting of that time as World War II had just ended and America is poised for a long overdue era of recovery and prosperity after being bottled up by wartime rationing and the Great Depression beforehand. It starts off on the Strawmeyer Farm with two Pennsylvania State Troopers and a district game protector investigating a series of strange livestock mutilations—a dead heifer and a dog that were throat slashed and disemboweled by an unknown predator.
Center stage is the conservation officer from the Game Commission: Steve Parker who photographs the carcass of the cow and dog for evidence and the farmer ; John Strawmeyer who is vociferously complaining about his losses and the raw deal that “a farmer always gets in this state”! And he goes on to repeat again “I don’t like to use profane language…
“Then don’t”, Parker the game warden snaps back. “Don’t use any kind of language. Just put it in your claim and shut up”!
And the warden and the two cops get into a police car and drive off leaving behind the angry farmer who continues to sputter his complaints and proceed to drive on in search of the mysterious beast which Parker suspects might be a bobcat—though one of the policemen who is a recently returned war veteran suggests it might be the work of a crazy man with a machete. Along the way they encounter a man by the name of Richard Lee who is described as a dashingly handsome stereotypical “Bobby socks idol” who is armed with an unusual rifle and is also out hunting for the “Whatsit”.
In their conversations the curiosity of the game protector is drawn to Lee’s rifle which is of a design unlike anything he or the two policemen have ever seen. Lee explains that it’s action is either Czech or German and that it’s a product of a west coast gunmaker chambered for high velocity wildcat loads. On loan from a friend.
It is already known to one of the policemen that Mr Lee is a new resident in the area renting a local farm. Unbeknownst to all—Richard Lee is an alias for Verkan Vall of the Paratime Police from the First Level timeline on a mission to deal with a situation created by another member of his society who Illegally transported an alien predator—a Venusian Night Hound to this Fourth Level Timeline in the Europo-American subsector of Paratime.
The Night Hound is a semi domesticated carnivore originally native to the planet Venus that was the pet of a Green Seal Noble by the name of Gavran Sarn who died in a car crash and the creature ejected alive and well enough to go on a feral killing spree of livestock in the backwoods of central Pennsylvania. There is mention of many locations familiar to the author and myself as well. I’ve heard of Hyndman and Copperhead Mountain that are the setting for the farms where the livestock killings take place.
Verkan Vall has already cleaned up some of the mess with the body of Gavran Sarn which he posed as a relative to claim, but the feral Night Hound must be taken down before it does more damage—and worst of all gets shot by a local farmer or the authorities and ends up on public display which could jeopardize the secret of Paratime which the Paratime Police are duty bound to protect along with preventing members of their own society from exploiting or abusing the inhabitants of other timelines or interfering in their culture or politics. The peoples of the First Level enhance the prosperity of their own world by engaging in limited trade by way of shadow businesses set up on the parallel earths of other alternate probabilities under the stipulations of the Paratime Code.
Vall lingers a while at the scene after the game warden and the two state cops depart where he collects some evidence of the Night Hound in the form of casts of the footprints at the scene which he kept quiet about the whole time during the conversation. He takes those back to the farm where his Paratime Conveyor is sequestered in a secret room of an ordinary barn and sets off on his return trip across Paratime back to the First Level.
It’s an interesting affair something like the the Time Machine that is the namesake of the well known H.G. Wells novel. Only this machine travels between alternate worlds that are the outcomes of different histories that are otherwise identical in the basic physical features of the natural world—weather, climate and geography. It’s the same cloud formations and mountains on the First Level as the Fourth. There is however lots of shifting between forests and various human infrastructures that come and go as he transits various individual timelines and belts and levels.
Some number of para years off he encounters a vicious looking—what is later determined to be a private army stormtrooper from a religion and race based hate group called the Christian Avengers that is the outcome of the “Hitler Victory of 1944”. It’s a somewhat anxious moment as this soldier stumbles through the field of the Paratime Conveyor and is briefly carried along and dropped off in another timeline. Later analysis of the data recorders determines the incident to be benign because the “passenger” ended up in another closely related world where military conflict is also ongoing and will likely be shot on sight for having the wrong uniform. And so no damage is likely to that continuum.
And there are atomic wars happening as Vall nears his home continuum passing through the Second Level. The religious fanatics of the barbaric—though more technologically advanced than our culture—the Khiftan civilizations are at it again. Likely to bomb themselves back to the Stone Age this time around.
Paratime travel is dangerous for reasons like that and because of what can be picked up enroute. Like the stormtrooper from the Fourth Level timeline. A similar incident also spawned the storyline of Piper’s great novel : “Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen” involving Pennsylvania State Policeman Calvin Morrison being dragged along and dropped off in another alternate world with a radically different history from his own and Medieval tech level.
For reasons like that; Paratime terminals are heavily guarded and returning missions are met with a show of force and thorough scrutiny much like incoming travelers in the Stargate TV franchise. Two armed policemen inspect the conveyor for hitchhikers or even wild beasts that sometimes get picked up in transit and Vall himself is subjected to a medical examination that involves quick analysis of a blood sample for the unique colloid patterns that are incorporated into all members of his society at birth for biometric identifiers to make sure “I’m your Verkan Vall and not someone else’s”!
That could get messy I thought if there are other First Level timelines with the same technology of Paratime travel. So much for protecting the monopoly. Maybe they collaborate with each other like the timelines in the Jet Lee movie—“The One”?
After the formalities of arrival, Vall has a somewhat amusing exchange with two young ladies—workers from the Hagraban Synthetics Works which is the plastics factory in named for the First Level city located on the same site as the farm on the Fourth Level. One of them complains “When are you going to get that thing out of our restroom” in regard to Vall’s conveyor that was placed in the space because it’s in the same exact spot as the barn he is using to conceal the machine on the other end. The girl described as a “pert redhead” goes on to complain that she’d be taking a show right now had their restroom not been commandeered. To which Vall responds “You just were a few paraseconds off” as he saw another version of her doing as he was coming in. To which she responds with feigned indignation calling him a “Parapeeper”!
But it’s all light hearted cattiness and the girl ends up walking with him to catch his rocket flight and Vall has thoughts about meeting up with her later as the story nears its end.
A very good description of the nature of the various levels, sectors, sub-sectors and belts and individual lines of Paratime that is useful in understanding Piper’s other Paratime works can be had from the conversation between Vall and the rocket pilot who ferrys him to the headquarters of the Paratime Police on the far side of the planet.
At the headquarters in the city of Dhergabar he delivers his evidence and other intel to his mentor—Chief of Paratime Police Tortha Karf and more conversations ensue revealing more information on the ongoing mission and the nature of the Paratime Police and their mission to protect the secret of Paratime. Had the loose Night Hound escaped into a more primitive timeline—a supernatural explanation would be generated to explain its existence but a more rational and scientifically advanced society like mid 20th Century America which was likely to develop interplanetary travel in the near future would ultimately find these creatures in the wild state once they reached Venus and then the question would arrives as to how this Night Hound ravaging cattle in the rural areas of Pennsylvania made it to Earth?
How that could jeopardize the secret of Paratime I’m not sure given that the recent flying saucer flap mentioned in the storyline was perpetrated by the Paratime Police to cover for sightings of scout craft launched by a mothership that transposed to that timeline from the First Level and were seen by many eyewitnesses!
With so many sightings of UFOs couldn't the arrival of the Night Hound on Earth be attributed to the extraterrestrials?
Never the less the removal of the Night Hound is deemed essential. For if someone figured out that someone had brought it over from an alternate timeline; research onto Paratime transposition technology might be stimulated and at some point in the future a Fourth Level civilization could have the ability to invade other continuums.
Before going back to his mission on the Fourth Level—Vall undergoes a hypnomech indoctrination that is the standard First Level means of education to acquire precise expertise on things like mastering the languages and customs of myriad divergent cultures across Paratime ; or in this case the basic biology and behavior of the creature he is hunting so he can devise an effective strategy to lure in and dispatch it promptly as time is running out. The cooler weather of fall is setting in and the Night Hound which comes from the hotter inner planet and is also a partially domesticated animal will become desperate to seek out warmer conditions to be had among human habitations and encounters with the locals will be inevitable.
What makes the story “Police Operation” especially good is the limitations that the Paratime cops must work with to accomplish their missions. Such as forgoing the use of more advanced weaponry of the First Level in favor of the weapons of the society they are interacting with or ones similar enough to not raise any significant suspicions or lead to undesired technology transfers should an agent be killed in action or lose something on a mission that might be later found and reverse engineered by the locals. Vall’s unusual rifle that drew the attention of the game warden and the two State cops was considered a near miss in that regard.
I won’t go any farther with the storyline because I don’t want to spoil what I think turns out to be a really great ending. One of the things that got me into the story was my initial impression of the Venusian Night Hound that sounded something like a cross between six legged lizard and a cougar on the loose in an area that I presume to be near the town of Hyndman in Bedford County PA where I’ve been on some of my herping and fish collecting expeditions. One of those is covered by an article I wrote in this journal a few years back. That Strawmeyer fellow in the opening scene of the story could easily be your stereotypical deplorable hick / “Bedford Countian”! It was a different world then but in many ways very much the same.
That was five decades ago from our time. Science Fiction writers then were entertained rosy prospects for life on other planets in our own solar system. In the Paratime novels and Piper’s Terro-Human Future History works—the planet Mars was the home of the original human civilization that colonized Earth and in turn died out as the natural evolution of the planet rendered it uninhabitable and the more advanced civilizations of the First Level timelines were the result of successful colonization of Earth in which the colonists never lost the memory of their extraterrestrial origin and continued to progress technologically unlike the others that regressed to varying degrees—some remembering where they came from down to us on the Fourth Level who forgot totally and regressed all the way back to the Stone Age and had to start all over again. And then you have the Fifth Level where there was total failure of Martian colonization or none at all and the earths of that level are all pristine wilderness.
The Martian civilization is also in another of Piper’s works : “Omnilingual” where it is the subject of examination by an archeological expedition from the Earth that goes on to found the Terran Federation of some of his later novels : “Uller Uprising”, “Little Fuzzy”, “Four Day Planet”, “Space Viking” and others. All worth reading.
And so what if there can be no such thing as a Venusian Night Hound in light of the fact that Venus is hot as an oven with a poisonous, corrosive and crushingly dense atmosphere. That was one of the great letdowns of my childhood years when the news of the data returns from Russian and American space probes crushed hopes for dinosaurs and civilizations of beautiful Amazon women fueled by the movie “Voyage to a Prehistoric Planet”!
Based on a Russian film “Planeta Burr” or “Planet of Storms” made in collaboration with Hollywood and there are two American versions—the other called “Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women” which features more scenes of the rather attractive female inhabitants. But the other one with the occasional wail of a siren’s song on the wind through the movie and the discovery of an artifact—a carved face of a beautiful girl found inside a broken rock sample during the hasty departure of the cosmonauts from the planet followed by the reflection of the female figure wearing a white gown and strange metallic head dress in the rain puddle afterward makes for a much more enigmatic ending hallmark of better science fiction.
And in my opinion—the planet Venus of H. Beam Piper’s “Police Operation” and some of his other stories as well as those of other 20th Century Golden Age Greats makes for nice escapist literature in times like these. There is still hope we as a civilization might still survive and go on find other worlds like that in other solar systems—or maybe on a future terraformed Venus!
And instead of an alien life form the Venusian Night Hound will be a GMO created by our future descendants. Might be more fun however to turn Venus into a planetary version of Jurassic Park!
With beautiful blonde Amazons for tour guides!
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