Oomphel in the Sky
By H. Beam Piper
Published by Librivox
Read by Mark Nelson
This is an interesting story in the classic Piper manner. Its situation, a native uprising on a colonial world, is based on historic precedent and features Piper’s signature class of character, the self-reliant man. The Self-reliant man is that guy who “…actually knows what has to be done and how to do it, and he’s going right ahead and doing it, without holding a dozen conferences and round-table discussions and giving everybody a fair and equal chance to foul things up for him.” That line, in fact comes from Oomphel in the Sky and is used to refer to one self-reliant man, by another.
Because the lead characters in piper’s work tend to be these self-reliant sorts, his stories, even the short ones tend toward the heroic with people dealing with conflict that comes from external sources rather than from within. I must admit to having been very much influenced by Piper’s stories when writing my own on a number of levels.
Oomphel in the Sky takes place in Piper’s Terro-Human future history during the Federation period and before the “System States War” mentioned in The Cosmic Computer. It introduces us to a young Foxx Travis, the “Napoleon of the System States War” although in this story he is just a supporting character.
On the distant world of Kwannon, the natives believe the world is coming to an end and seem bent on assisting the coming apocalypse. The planetary bureaucracy and the military are both in over their heads and it is up to a single newsman, Mile Gilbert to find a way to bring the natives back from their self-destruction.
It is a good solid story with good characters. It is also an excellent example of how you do not need a “bad guy” or even a definite antagonist to provide decent conflict. In this story there are no bad guys and to an extent no good guys either. What you have are people (humans and aliens are both people) doing what they believe is right. It’s just that people and their beliefs and goals are not always compatible. In the end it is up to Gilbert to work with the leaders of the aliens in finding a way the common aliens can be led back from the brink of self-destruction.
I have said before that Mark Nelson is one of Librivox’s best readers. He has a smooth, professional voice that he moderates just enough to differentiate characters from one another and rarely resorts to funny and irritating voices. This audio-book, is, of course, no exception and I thoroughly enjoyed Mister Nelson’s reading of it.
So, we have a classic story of science fiction by one of the acknowledged masters of the genre and it is read in a manner fully befitting that status. Enjoy it!