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He Walked Around the Horses by H. Beam Piper

He Walked Around the Horses (1948)

by H. Beam Piper

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Rating: 3.5* of five

The Publisher Says: In November 1809, an Englishman named Benjamin Bathurst vanished, inexplicably and utterly. He was en route to Hamburg from Vienna, where he had been serving as his government's envoy to the court of what Napoleon had left of the Austrian Empire. At an inn in Perleburg. in Prussia, while examining a change of horses for his coach, he casually stepped out of sight of his secretary and his valet. He was not seen to leave the inn yard. He was not seen again, ever. At least, not in this continuum...

My Review: A fun introduction to Piper's large series of stories about the Martian colonization of Earth. He posits that Homo sapiens is, in fact, the remnant of an ancient Martian exodus from a used-up and cooling planet. Since, in 1948, the mere notion of sequencing the human genome wasn't so much as a glimmer in Science's eye yet, this would fly...but of course that day is done, what with the discoveries of just how interconnected we humans are with all life on Earth, and how very, very much less complex our own genome is compared with that of the average plant.

But in 1948 the notion that we, an order of magnitude more sophisticated than our vanished and presumed to have done so without a trace relatives the Neanderthals, were alien colonists and they were the inferior Terrestrial attempt to match us, would have appeal. It was the year that George Wallace the elder ran for president on a racist "State's Rights" ticket, and the year that *shudder* Strom Thurmond was first returned to the Senate. Notably, all the people in the Paratime stories are white. Hmmm.

This story is told from the multiple points of view of the befuddled local-time-line officials who have to deal with a seemingly mad yet clearly genuine British diplomat bearing the most outrageously, insanely off-kilter credentials and spouting arrant nonsense with evident sincerity and admirable consistency and aplomb. It's a clear case of "not on MY desk" as Bathurst (whose local timeline self is away in the Crown Colony of Georgia) is passed higher and higher up the food chain. No matter how high he gets, the incumbent bureaucrat wants the terrifying responsibility for deciding what to do with the poor man to reside higher still.

In the end, poor Bathurst is confronted by Prussian madness doctors (chilling thought, isn't it?) with clear evidence...local newspapers...that his world is a delusion. Psychic crisis much? The ending is, in and of itself, a bit unfair; but as the story sequence moves on, it's clear in hindsight what actually occurred.

Flawed considered in itself, in the Paratime context, with its explicit laws about protecting the Paratime Secret of interdimensional travel, the story sets up a fun and often funny set of romps through all the possibilities of human history.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. ( )
  richardderus | Apr 12, 2014 |
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From Baron Eugen von Krutz, Minister of Police, to His Excellency the Count von Berchtenwald, Chancellor to His Majesty Friedrich Wilhelm III of Prussia.
25 November, 1809

Your Excellency:
A circumstance has come to the notice of this Ministry, the significance of which I am at a loss to define, but, since it appears to involve matters of State, both here and abroad, I am convinced that it is of sufficient importance to be brought to your personal attention.
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