Four Day Planet
By H. Beam Piper
Published by Librivox
Read by Mark Nelson
As the back cover blurb says, “Fenris isn’t a hell planet, but it’s nobody’s bargain. With 2,000-hour days and an 8,000-hour year, it alternates blazing heat with killing cold. A planet like that tends to breed a special kind of person: tough enough to stay alive and smart enough to make the best of it. When that kind of person discovers he’s being cheated of wealth he’s risked his life for, that kind of planet is ripe for revolution.”
This is one of my favorite Piper science fiction stories. Of course I have a lot of favorite Piper SF stories, but this is one I have read several times. It is not great literature by any definition, but it is a story I enjoy reading and as in many good stories I find myself identifying with the main characters and living their stories with them. H. Beam Piper is not the only author whose stories do that for me, of course, but many of his stories naturally drag me in like that and Four Day Planet is, I think, one of his best, next to Little Fuzzy, of course. The story is a juvenile, so it leaves a lot out (such as there are hardly any female characters), but the story is a perfect picture of one of the more obscure worlds in Piper’s Terro-Human future history.
Four Day Planet is told in the first person by 17 year old Ace (and only) Reporter Walter Boyd. We first meet Walt as he heads for the local spaceport in order to meet a “famous author” visiting the world known as Fenris with the intent of writing about it. Walt doesn’t see his planet as all that interesting. It is a rough and tumble world not entirely unlike 19th Century New Bedford, Massachusetts. I was born and grew up in New Bedford so maybe that’s what grabs me about the story. (NB: very few reviewers agree with me, so…)
The main industry on Fenris is Monster hunting. Those great creatures yield a sort of body fat that can be used as a near perfect but light and flexible radiation shield, so naturally in the Atomic Age it is even more highly prized than whale oil was for lamps in the 19th Century. Monster hunting is highly dangerous job, but a successful trip can net a hunter a tidy sum. We have a close analogue in the 21st Century; fishing. Whether it is flatfish, scallops, swordfish, Alaskan king crab or anything else the men (and sometimes women) are after, working at sea in a fishing boat, no matter how large is a dangerous and frequently life-threatening occupation. Don’t believe me? Check out The Perfect Storm or that show (I forget the name) about the crab fishermen a few years back.
Growing up in New Bedford, I grew used to hearing the fish landings reported on the radio each morning and all too frequently during stormy weather there would be reports of lost or foundering boats. I visited the Archives of the Millicent Library in Fairhaven, Mass recently. There the Archivist, Debbie Charpentier, has been compiling an historical list of all the missing fishermen and their boats to post on a memorial web site. I have to admit I was shocked at how I knew most of the boat names from which men and, often, whole crews had been lost. It is very dangerous work, so next time you wonder why your wild tuna, baked scrod or crab salad is so much more expensive than it used to be, keep in mind you are still getting it at a bargain price. I don’t think Debbie’s Fisherman Memorial page is ready yet, but you can visit the Millicent Library online at http://millicentlibrary.org/
However, Fenris is not Greater New Bedford. Instead, it is a sort of mix of the worst of the American Wild West and of New Bedford. And unlike the whalers (or our modern-day fishermen) the monster hunters aren’t making more than a pittance even on a good trip because leadership of the Hunter’s Guild, the only outlet for Fenris “tallow wax,” is a bunch of crooks, using the Guild to line their own pockets.
The situation is ripe for revolution and that is, indeed, what’s about to happen; revolution with intrigue, double-crosses and surprise twists. It’s a fun story.
Mark Nelson, who has also recorded under the name, “Harry Shaw,” does a pretty good job of reading this book. He does slip into a trace of “Funny voices” once in a while, but is not obnoxious about it. Okay, there are one or two times I wonder just why he chose to use a certain voice, but as the reader that is his prerogative. And at least he does not try to assign ridiculously thick accents sort of based on the mixed nationality names Piper uses, such as Mohandas Gandhi Feinberg or Oscar Fujisawa. This reading is as good as any of the slick productions pumped out by the professional audio-book publishers.
In fact, I would go so far as to say that Mister Nelson’s reading fits the story as well as any reader can. He even reads it better for Librivox than he does as “Harry Shaw” for Audible, or maybe Audible did something in post-production. In the Librivox tracks, Mister Nelson truly makes Walt sound like a seventeen-year old in spite of the fully mature voice reading the lines, but in the Audible edition the voice sounds like a much older man and this by the same reader. Go figure.
So, maybe you’ll agree with me that this is one of Piper’s better stories or maybe not, but I’m sure you’ll agree than Mark Nelson gives it a darned good reading.