Flight from Tomorrow by Piper, H. Beam, 1950

Flight from Tomorrow by Piper, H. Beam - Book cover from Amazon.co.uk

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Flight from Tomorrow, a.k.a. Escape from Tomorrow is one of H. Beam Piper's very first novellas. It is very thoroughly pulp SF in that the characters are quite flat, the science is rooted in a juvenile understanding of physics, and while the plot is at least two dimensional, the resolution of the story depends on a hook that has nothing to do with the premise. However, the story is well written, its by a master of the early genre from the early years of his career, and it is an excellent contrast to Ward Moore's Lot and Lot's Daughter, reviewed elsewhere on this site, as the stories deal with similar themes scientific issues. Three out of three stars.

Flight from Tomorrow is a time travel story with a twist at the end centered on atomic energy. Since this story is so hard to find, like Moore's works noted above, Ill give you more of the plot than I usually would. Beam's story is about a deposed despot from the 100th century of the atomic age named Hradska. Hradska has dreams of enslaving the world, as all evil overlords do, but his regime is toppled by the good guys in the very first few paragraphs. With visions of his own corpse swinging from a gallows pole, Hradska steals to the top spire of the highest tower in his castle at the very last minute and escapes in a time machine. Before Hradska makes his departure, the old and wise man of science who built the thing for Hradska sabotages it so that instead of taking Hradska to the 52nd century A.E., he is whisked to the 1st century A.E., where the time machine explodes and burns.

Trapped in ancient days (approximately the 1950's), Hradska makes the best of his situation. Harboring dreams of conquest still, Hradska resigns himself to a menial start, and gets a job on a farm doing labor while posing as a deaf mute. Soon though the livestock, crops and farmers begin to take ill and ultimately die. Hradska escapes the farm before being discovered, and while on the run puts it together that he is somehow responsible for the death of the farmers and their animals. In little time the authorities put it together too, and put out an A.P.B. for the deaf mute laborer he was pretending to be. Hradska is found in town by the police, and in a deadly escape, runs to the forest where his time machine first landed. After slaughtering a few more police officers the National Guard get involved, and despite Hradska's energy weapon, soon overcome him.

Piper's twist at the end centers on human abilities to deal with nuclear radiation, and to a lesser degree, bacteriological warfare. His premise is that eventually life will evolve so that radiation is harmless. Hradska is a product of ten thousand years of evolution, and Piper posits that after that many years, after so many atomic wars, and use of atomic piles for power, and the intentional release of so many plagues during wars, the world had become so saturated with radiation and animals and men has become so saturated with deadly diseases that life had evolved to remain healthy in its presence. When Hradska was transported back to the 1950's, his saturated cells contaminated everyone and everything that they came into contact with, so that he was a carrier of death. The wise scientist foresaw this, and intentionally sent Hradska back to our era so that the authorities from our time would deal with him themselves. In the end of the story it is revealed that the Earth's main spaceport, which is basically a valley filled with concrete in ancient times, is probably Hradska's tomb. Despite the silly and dated view of radioactivity, Piper did take a bit of a step forward with his view of time. Unlike Wells' view in The Time Machine, in which time was depicted as a stream or a river which could be traversed by a machine like a boat. Instead Piper posited that time was not a medium and did not flow the way that humans percieved it, and the purpose of the machine was only to displace an area so that it and its contents could go to a different time. Piper was really none to clear how his view of time worked, but it definately was not a timestream view.

I think that this story is very important to us for one other reason, and that is that it is pretty much one of the last major mass-market releases of pulp SF that was written before sensibilities and audience desires changed to the more New Wave type fiction. Sometime after this point, 1950 that is, Other writers like James Gunn, Harlan Ellison, Chad Oliver, Cordwainer Smith, and many, many others began producing intellectual, psychological SF in quantities sufficient to put a final cap on the bottle of pulp SF for good. As a matter of fact, it was happening at the time that this story was written. Compare Ward Moore's post-apocalyptic stories mentioned above. Piper's point here is that radiation is nothing to worry about, and the science and genetics will fix whatever problem we encounter, while Moore holds, more realistically I think, that once the bombs fall, its all over for us all, so you had better watch out and take care not to wreck the world.

This is not to say that pulp was dead at this point. Not by a long shot actually, and I note quite a few pulpish throwback stories have even been published in the last few years, primarily by Kevin J. Anderson, Allen Steele and others. But it is at this point in the early 1950's that the genre really began changing from golden age adventure stories published in the pulps to full length novels and fix-ups with a more intelligent bent being published in book form for the first time. As a matter of fact, before Beam committed suicide in the mid 1960's even he saw the light and published the quite interesting anthropological fuzzy stories, starting a weird sub-sub-genre that I still donít to this day really understand.

Copyright © 2008, Gregory Tidwell

Reviewed by GTT · Rating Rating of 3 star(s)

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