The Edge of the Knife
By H. Beam Piper
Published by LibriVox
Read by Julio F Marchini (jfmarchini)
This has long been one of my favorite H. Beam Piper stories, although I must admit I have a lot of favorite stories by Piper. While not a novel (it is either a short story or novelette), Piper managed to pack a lot into this short work.
Professor Ed Chalmers of the Blanley College History Department has the interesting ability to “remember” historical incidents and their ramifications before they actually happen. Worse, sometimes he forgets which things he remembers are in his past and which are in the future. He has been able to shrug off the minor incidents, such as requesting a book that won’t be in print for centuries, but when he blurts out the details of an assassination of a Middle Eastern leader a month or so before it happens, his students take note and the college president demands his resignation.
Chalmers manages to weather the immediate storm, but when the assassination actually takes place people remember and Chalmers finds himself in the middle of a media storm, a renewed barrage from the college president and a military investigation.
Beyond merely being an entertaining story, however, this tale explores the nature of time – how the past is separated from the future by an infinitesimally narrow divider that we call the present, and even how the present is an illusion since by the time we are aware of it, it is already a memory of the recent past. Piper makes Chalmer’s “memories” sound so natural that one might wonder whether there might be those who can see the future in that manner.
The story also explores one of Piper’s favorite themes, that incidents of the past will either repeat or have close parallels in the future. Many of Chalmer’s memories will be recognizable to long-time Piper fans as incidents that happen in his “Terro-human” future history, including the formation of The Terran Federation, the uprising on Uller (based on the Sepoy Mutiny), the formation of the first Human Empire and more.
Even the present in this story presents a believable and compelling scenario not entirely unlike current developments in the Middle East. In all this story is a thought-provoking masterpiece of short fiction and a lot of fun to read as well.
It took me a while to get used to listening to Julio F. Marchini. He reads clearly and understandably, albeit with an interesting accent. I learned later that he was recording from Sao Paolo, Brazil which seems singularly appropriate since after the war that follows this story, nearly all of the surviving population of Earth in Piper’s future history lives in the southern hemisphere. However, I could not quite get out of my mind that it was obvious he did not have much in the way of professional equipment to record his reading with. There is a very slight echo to the sound tracks of this piece, much the same as you might hear when talking in an empty room. That is probably the only flaw in this recording, however, and just as with listening to many Librivox volunteers it does not take long to acclimate to the sounds and just absorb the story, so I would have to say he does a pretty good job of it, even if it does sound as though he was using an old cassette recorder to speak into. I can only imagine how much better he would have sounded if he had a studio to record with.
So, this is a really good story and Mister Marchini does an adequate to good reading of it. Definitely worth your time!