Piper, “Uller Uprising”

This cover is way cooler than the book

H. Beam Piper, “Uller Uprising” (1952) – Well, I think after two books, I can put this dude on the list of “old scifi hands I’ve learned enough about, and who aren’t compelling enough to pursue anymore.” I read “Kalvan of Otherwhen,” one of the original “conquering a primitive alternate dimension” stories about a Pennsylvania state trooper conquering, like, Hittite Pennsylvania… a fun premise, but wasted in dull depictions of maneuvers across the map of the alt-Keystone State. I’ve now given the beginning of Piper’s Terra-Human Empire series a shot. The first novel is about humans who have lightly settled a pair of planets that supply some kind of space-resource. The natives have gotten restless! They’re, like, partially-silicate lizard people.

“Uller Uprising” is basically the Sepoy Mutiny, but in space, with humans taking up the role of British people and the space lizards as the people of India. But it’s a version of the Mutiny as told by a right-wing troll scifi writer. So the humans/British “only” want to mine their unobtainium (using lizard labor, effectively slaves but treated nicer than local practices, you see) and bring “progress” to the lizards, and dang old “progress-hating” “bigoted” (!!) lizards impelled by a lizard-prophet try to massacre them. At first the humans seem overwhelmed, but they get reinforcements and figure it out. Better, they steal a nuke mean lizards were going to use on them, so, you know, it’s ok when they use the weapon that readers still had a supernatural dread of in the early fifties. 

I say it’s trollish because Beam knows who actually had a grievance in India in the nineteenth century and he knows it wasn’t the British. He just likes the British side better, and likes stories of massacring mobs of “fanatical,” underarmed, underorganized opponents (still a popular trope, everywhere from zombie stuff to contemporary military stories), and wants a moral excuse to do so. Piper was known as a “contrarian” or whatever, like a lot of those old guys — Niven, Heinlein, whoever — were supposed to be, but they still always wanted the moral high ground, they couldn’t just tell stories about killing sentient beings for fun. So Piper goes out of his way to show how smart and sensible (but tough!) the human corporation in charge is, how irrational the lizards in the sway of their prophets are, how the “good guy” rational lizards (think a patronizing British depiction of the Sikhs) are treated fine, the few humans with lizard-liberationist leanings are fools who quickly learn the score and marry tough human army guys, etc. The main character is descended from Argentine Nazis and is meant to be a Prussian officer stereotype, just for fun. 

The action is better than in “Kalvan.” Piper could have had a good book here. It wouldn’t even have to be, like… “good” in some moral or political sense, not hardly. But the action quality is not enough to make up for the smirking and ultimate lack of originality- if you know what happened to the Mutiny, you know what’s going to happen here. And don’t give me some shit about the joys of non-virtuous writing, or whatever. I’ve probably read eight books by good “edgy” writers for every (likely shitty) one you have, and this ain’t it, chief, not with all the cheating in the rigging Piper does. **’

Piper, “Uller Uprising”

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