An Audiobook Review: History Repeats Itself… Repeats Itself… Repeats Itself


 

Uller Uprising

By H. Beam Piper

Published by LibriVox

Read by, Ralph Snelson, Morgan Saletta, Acacia Wood, Sean O’Hara and Anthony Wilson

 

The Book:

Uller Uprising has never been my favorite work by H. Beam Piper, however, in fairness there appear to be many who loved the book. Well it is not my fave, but I did not exactly suffer through the story either. Piper’s greatest story-telling strength may have been his reliance on history in order to tell stories set in the future. When you base a future on incidents that really happened it adds a certain solidity to a story and I doubt anyone did that better than Piper himself. And if I found this stiffer than the rest of his stories, well it may only be that this was also one of his earliest as well.

The incidents in this book are based on the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 which began when the rumor spread that the paper cartridges for the Indian soldiers had been greased with beef and pig fat. NB: those paper cartridges were customarily bitten off and thus such would be prohibited by the religious beliefs of both Hindus and Muslims.

The story is fairly good for military science fiction, especially for its time, but it does have its flaws, the greatest of which was to present everything strictly from the point of view of the humans and their allies. This is the Terro-human Federation at the height of its colonial period. The Humans are pretty much assuming everything is theirs for the taking and even the one liberal character in the book who comes to Uller to work for the rights of the Ullerans, rapidly turns around and starts referring to the natives by the derogatory term, ‘Geeks.” However, this is typical, I think, of fiction from the early 1950’s. These days we frequently go too far the other way and project societies as different from ones that ever existed as possible. The truth of what people will be like in the future is probably somewhere in between.

However, there have been changes to society and technology that no author of the 50’s ever imagined. In another sixty years I am sure that the stuff I write will be similarly dated, but I can only hope that my fiction will stand the test of time as that of H. Beam Piper. So in spite of a typical 1950’s cocktail hour and assumption that everyone smokes – at least Piper did not state it was healthy to smoke – his stories have a solid basis. His future is not a Utopia, it is just another time with people being people, so in Uller Uprising we see the Terro-Humans as the colonial exploiters. We see a hard and vicious clamp-down on what a more modern author might construe as a justified rebellion by natives standing up for their own rights, but the situation is never that simple and not all the natives are in rebellion.

It turns out that the Ullerans are just people too and some seek to improve their personal situations by allying with the Humans, just as some of the peoples of India allied with the British during the Sepoy Rebellion. I think the main reason I did not entirely enjoy Uller Uprising is that I did not sympathize with the humans much, but similarly, there was no one among the Ullerans I felt any kindness for either. This was, in part, a story about greed.

The story, however, is well written; the action begins at the very start and keeps right on going to end. So if you are looking for a solid military SF story, this might be the one for you.

 

The Audiobook:

 

I have been listening to quite a few LibriVox recordings as of late. They are free, always a good thing, and most of their reader-volunteers do a fine, if somewhat unpolished, job as well. I do prefer the books that are read entirely by one person, but most seem to be team efforts and with a volunteer project, that is to be expected.

Most of the readers of Uller Uprising did a reasonable job. Certainly none of them left me trying to claw my way out of listening to them, which is just as well since I listen to all of them while driving. However it can be a bit jarring when a track changes and suddenly you have a new voice reading to you, pronouncing or mispronouncing names and words differently than the last. I have found it easier to become used to mispronounced words and names – and I hear them a lot even on slick, professionally recorded books – when they are consistent.

Also the change in vocal mannerisms can be off-putting as well and, indeed, that happened to me each time the voice changed and that leads me to commending the job done here by a lady named Acacia Wood. I could not find out much about her, although that name sounds very much the pseudonym to me. However, after adjusting to her soft soprano voice, reminiscent to that of Marilyn Monroe, I found I very much enjoyed listenting to the tracks she recorded and happily, she recorded more tracks on Uller Uprising than anyone else, including the final chapter so while Uller Uprising is still not my favorite book by H. Beam Piper, it did finish up on a pleasant note.

Summing up: While this is one of Piper’s earliest works, it is the product of a talented author, albeit an early one, possibly still working on his voice. And LIbrivox’s recording of it should not leave any Piper fan displeased.

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5 Responses to An Audiobook Review: History Repeats Itself… Repeats Itself… Repeats Itself

  1. Joachim Boaz says:

    Could you expand on how he uses history? Always curious about history and SF….

    • In Piper’s case, he would base the conditions and activities going on in a story similar or parallel to those that took place under analogous conditions during various historical periods. Uller Uprising might be the most specific case in which he took an actual incident and adapted it to a SF story, but most of his stories do the same to one extent or another. The period of his Terran Federation is a colonial period with many parallels to the 18th and 19th centuries. In “Space Viking,” on the other hand he has a period in which raiders are plundering planets in a manner similar to how the Vikings ransacked many parts of Europe. Although the conditions of Space Viking are not direct parallels, the former Terran Federation has broken up into small confederations and single planets, usually monarchal in nature, so he equated the Federation to the Roman Empire and the time of the Space Vikings similar to the disunity found after the fall of Rome. His mirror is not a perfect one, but I think that makes it all the more interesting. If Piper’s settings were exactly like their historical counterparts, he might as well have been writing historical novels.

      • Joachim Boaz says:

        So, does he posit some sort of “theory of history” any more specific than it “repeats” itself (whatever that means exactly because a slightly closer look at anything will show how it’s different than something else). Yeah, I read Space Viking as a kid…. Thanks for the answer 🙂

      • I cannot say whether Piper actually believed that history will truly repeat itself although there is a strong element of an argument that similar situations might lead to analogous results. Mostly, however, I think it was a very clever writers’ method by which to impart verisimilitude to his future history.

      • Joachim Boaz says:

        Yup yup, that’s the impression I got from Space Viking. Thanks again for the response (I’m a medieval historian with a secondary SF obsession so I was curious).

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