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Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen by H. Beam Piper

Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen (1965)

by H. Beam Piper

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen (1)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
4481323,330 (3.99)28
  1. 10
    Lest Darkness Fall by L. Sprague de Camp (DWWilkin)
    DWWilkin: The best story of Temporal Displacement
  2. 00
    A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain (DWWilkin)
    DWWilkin: One of the first time travel stories
  3. 00
    Great Kings' War by Roland J. Green (DWWilkin)
    DWWilkin: The continuation of the Saga
  4. 00
    Janissaries by Jerry Pournelle (bespen)
    bespen: The Janissaries series by Jerry Pournelle was directly inspired by Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen.
  5. 01
    The Cross-Time Engineer by Leo A. Frankowski (DWWilkin)
    DWWilkin: A plot that has a basis in Lord Kalvan

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» See also 28 mentions

English (11)  Italian (2)  All (13)
Showing 1-5 of 11 (next | show all)
I picked up this volume because it was mentioned in Armageddon: There Will be War volume VIII. Pournelle cited Piper as a great influence on his own work, especially his Janissaries series, and included in volume VIII was a sequel to Piper's trandimensional adventure story written by John F. Carr and Roland Green. That story was pretty good, so I picked up the original to see what it was all about.

I'm glad that I did. Piper told a great story, full of humor and action, but it is clear that he knew a great deal of history and science as well. Calvin Morrison is a Pennsylvania State Trooper who finds himself accidentally transported into an adjacent timeline by an industrial accident of a more advanced civilization, in the same place but another when. He immediately finds himself embroiled in a war between princes, and makes himself useful due to his interest in chemistry, military tactics, and industrial organization. He fights. He loves. He wins.

For a nerd like myself, this is a fun kind of counterfactual speculation: how could you shape the world differently if you knew all the secrets of modern science in a pre-modern world? There are a lot of ways to do this kind of story. Twain decided to go with a rather cynical satire. This is straight-forward adventure with a heavy dose of history and engineering. In addition to Jerry Pournelle, S. M. Stirling is a modern example of this same kind of story, which is immensely fun, and I also find very educational.

For example, I wondered once what kind of civilization you could rebuild following a technological disaster like the Carrington Event. Nearly all of our advanced technology could be destroyed by a sufficiently powerful solar storm. It turns out that Stirling's novels of the Change have asked almost exactly that question. I wish I had read Stirling sooner, I would have found some answers I was looking for.

This is hard scifi at its best. You take an insight about how the world really works, and you follow the implications in some interesting and otherworldly setting. In this case, it happens to be the Fourth Level, Aryan-Transpacific sector, Styrphon's House sub-sector. Since Piper lived and died at the height of American civilization, the gifts he brings are the first-fruits of industrialization, plus a boundless confidence in the methods of sociology and anthropology, unleavened by any fears of ecological or cultural collapse. If you want to try the latter, Stirling has explored that space pretty well.

While you can clearly see the influence of Piper on later authors, there are interesting differences as well. Religion plays a very different role on Tran than it does in the Stryphon's House sub-sector. Each author has their own take on what really makes the world work, and I've enjoyed them all so far.

I was saddened to learn that Piper took his life shortly after he wrote this book. It is a cracking good yarn, and I would have liked to enjoy more stories of Lord Kalvan. John Carr and Roland Green wrote several more books following on this one, one of which is the short story that brought me here in the first place. I'll pick up the sequels, with the expectation of a homage, true to the spirit of the original. ( )
  bespen | Oct 7, 2014 |
My reaction to reading this novel in 2002.

This was a fairly engaging book.

Its battle sequences were clearer than the action sequences of some of the Paratime stories in Piper’s Paratime. I didn’t really try to keep track of the corresponding geographical locations in our world as Lord Kalvan aka Calvin Morrison of the Pennsylvania State Police builds an empire along this alternate version of the Atlantic coast of America. (Piper does, at one point, give a geographical listing which would make such a reconstruction at least partially possible though no maps are given. I kept thinking I was missing some in-jokes like some of the battle sites were fought on the site of American Civil War or Revolutionary War sites. I suspect Nostor is the same as Georgia since there is a song called “Marching Through Nostor” which sounds suspiciously like “Marching Through Georgia” from our world.)

While this is certainly far from the first work of military sf or even, probably (though I don’t know for sure), the first sf work where a man displaced from his time or dimension builds an empire with his technological and historical knowledge, I suspect it was influential on Piper’s friend Jerry Pournelle and others.

The book comes off as a more cynical version of L. Sprague de Camp’s Lest Darkness Fall. Its protagonist prevents the decay of a society and introduces democracy and other things. Lord Kalvan builds an empire amongst medieval style states and introduces religious war, abides torture, suggests executing enemy priests at the mouths of cannons a la the British during the Sepoy Rebellion (and an awful pun is made about “cannon-ized martyrs”), institutes auto de fes and a secret police.

In Kalvan’s defense, he is taking steps to wipe out the oppressive Styphon’s House cult which has a gunpowder monopoly before he arrives and modernize his new home. I like Piper’s observations that governments’ decisions are only ratified on the battlefield, that states borrow time on credit and have to pay via war. It’s obvious Piper knew a lot about warfare, particularly the wars of Gustavus Adolphus which form so much of an inspiration. I kept thinking that many of the battles were modeled on historical ones, but am unsure (though Adolphus’ Battle of Lutzen is mentioned in connection with Kalvan’s Battle of Fyk) of which ones exactly.

Of course, there is a lot of wish fulfillment here. Kalvan gets to use his historical knowledge to build an Empire, knows the use as well as the theory of edged weapons, and marry a princess. And, of course, he learns the language implausibly fast. I found that a flaw in the novel (though a flaw of convention).

The other one was the description, by Paratime Cop Verkan Vall, of Kalvan as a genius. If he was such a genius and liked soldiering, why didn’t he stay in the U.S. Army (he’s a veteran of the Korean War) rather than become a policeman?

Piper clearly sides with the great man theory of history in this novel. ( )
  RandyStafford | Feb 3, 2014 |
To start I love this book. What I enjoy the most is the demonstration of how an individual might influence the world around him. Calvin Morrison is thrown into an alternate time-line, "Aryan Trans-Pacific", and has to deal with a seventeenth century society. So much to do, so little time!
I'm really so sorry that Piper was taken from us so quickly. Not the best decision by a mind that was otherwise so clear. Well if I ever get the Chrono-mobile up and running, this is one of the calls I plan to make!
I noted reading this 4 times, but it's like Forester's "The Gun", you can't put it down once opened! ( )
  DinadansFriend | Nov 9, 2013 |
Intrigante romanzo di fantascienza basato sull’idea degli universi paralleli. Un poliziotto della Pennsylvania si trova scagliato in una realtà alternativa in cui l’america è dominata da una cultura feudale. Grazie alla sua conoscenza superiore diventa un potente re, ma la polizia paratemporale che vigila sugli spostamenti accidentali tra le dimensioni è sulle sue tracce… ( )
  Zeruhur | May 26, 2012 |
Intrigante romanzo di fantascienza basato sull’idea degli universi paralleli. Un poliziotto della Pennsylvania si trova scagliato in una realtà alternativa in cui l’america è dominata da una cultura feudale. Grazie alla sua conoscenza superiore diventa un potente re, ma la polizia paratemporale che vigila sugli spostamenti accidentali tra le dimensioni è sulle sue tracce… ( )
  Zeruhur | May 26, 2012 |
Showing 1-5 of 11 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
H. Beam Piperprimary authorall editionscalculated
Maitz, DonCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Roediger, Susi-MariaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Whelan, MichaelCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Tortha Karf, Chief of Paratime Police, told himself to stop fretting.
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Disambiguation notice
Originally serialized in Analog as Gunpowder God; the book (with additional material) was published as Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen and (at least once) published as Gunpowder God. However, do not combine it with the non-series sequel Gunpowder God by John F. Carr.
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Book description
The Paratime Police patrolled the vast number of alternate time-dimensions. Their aim was to keep the existence of the alternate Earths a secret and prevent these Earths from mixing and destroying each other.
But the Time Police made mistakes sometimes and they made a big one when a seemingly ordinary Pennsylvania State Trooper named Calvin Morrison from the Fourth Level, Europe-American, Hispano-Columbian subsector, was accidently switched into the Aryan Transpacific sector, Styphon's House subsector.
In just a few weeks, MOrrison was being hailed as Lord Kalvan, and was masterminding a campaign that could blow the whole Paratime secret sky-high.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0441490530, Mass Market Paperback)

The last and best of the Paratime stories.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:47 -0400)

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