A Slave is a Slave
By H. Beam Piper
Published by Librivox
Read by Phil Chenovert
Where have all the Space Vikings gone, Long time passing? Where have all the Space Vikings gone, Long time ago? Where have all the Space Vikings gone? Gone to decadence every one. When will they ever learn? When will they ever learn?
…and I think that is a fair summary of what we can take from this story. Now for those who are not acquainted with Piper’s Terro-Human future history, I should explain a bit.
Like other SF authors, Piper worked out a future history of mankind and extrapolated it thousands of years into the future. While a lot of his short-term predictions did not come true (and I, for one, am happy not to have had to try to live through World War III or IV) the longer term predictions make for an excellent and quite believable setting for a host of stories.
Following the last World War, in which most of the world north of the equator was devastated, the surviving nations came together in the Terran Federation and began colonizing habitable worlds in many stellar systems with the help of hyperdrive, contra-gravity and other fantastic uses of atomic power. A few of those worlds were already inhabited by intelligent beings and in some cases there were the inevitable abuses and sometimes native uprisings and he wrote a lot of stories about them, but in time everything changes and eventually the Federation collapsed during a period called the Systems States Wars. In the aftermath of war, many of the old Federation planets fell back into neo-barbarism, although here and there were pockets of atomic civilization. One such group were the so-called “Sword Worlds,” (named after famous swords from human history and legends) and from there arose the marauders known as the Space Vikings. At first the Space Vikings were mere raiders and conquerors of the decayed worlds they found, but eventually they began to settle on them and rebuild civilization wherever the settled.
But then what? Well some fans (who are also authors) have been writing new Space Viking stories, just as some have continued Piper’s Lord Kalvan and Fuzzy series, but it was Piper himself who told us of the ultimate demise of the Space Vikings. Eventually, a space Empire arose and united the space once occupied by the Federation under a single imperial government. It was followed by successive empires over the millennia, but this story takes place during the expansion of the first such empire and the discovery of what I think is supposed to be the most extreme case of Space Viking decadence in which the Space Vikings who came there set themselves up as the lords and masters of their world and enslaved all the native humans. Piper takes that situation to a logical conclusion and the story is entertaining to boot.
Like all his future history stories, Piper based it on real historical situations, so while his future history is not always in the same sequence experienced as we learned world history in class, the situations are analogous, which gives the whole story a believable to hook to hang on. Piper also spends some time thoughtfully pondering just what a slave is; above and beyond a sapient being owned by another. It is a thought provoking story when you look below the surface.
I normally like listening to Phil Chenovert, but I am sorry to say this might not have been his best performance. Mister Chenovert has a folksy style of story-telling voice that frequently lends a warm color to a story, but in this case it came off as snarky and sarcastic. In his favor, however, he keeps the story moving and seems entirely comfortable with what he is doing. It may not be my favorite audiobook by him, but even his worst is quite listenable.
So, we have a very interesting story for the hard-core Piper fan with some interesting points of view for those who enjoy the challenge of thinking beyond mere dictionary definitions.