Uller Uprising (Federation) by H. Beam Piper
Review by Steve
H. Beam Piper is in my opinion the greatest Science Fiction writer you’ve never heard of. He died alone and embittered at his own hand thinking himself an utter failure. He was wrong. He is one of the giants upon whose shoulders today’s science fiction writers stand. If it weren’t for writers like him I’d have never acquired a taste for Science Fiction.
It is as hard to write a review of “The Uller Uprising,” by H. Beam Piper as it is to review Rudyard Kipling because he wrote from so far outside today’s pieties of political correctness (1952). If you want to dismiss him as a racist imperialist on the most superficial of grounds here the are, this story depicts a bunch of white guys dealing with an insurrection of alien natives under circumstances not unlike the Sepoy Rebellion against the British Raj. (Was the British Raj unalloyed evil? Probably, but check with a widow who is reluctant to jump on her husband’s funeral pyre first.)
The story’s protagonist, Carlos von Schlichten, is unapologetically imperialistic and paternalistic toward the aliens.
The planet Uller is inhabited by indigenous aliens of presumably equal intelligence to humanity, but possessing technology roughly equal to the Middle Ages. Humans have arrived a generation before the story takes place, and have been trading with the Ullerians ever since. As a result the Ullerians’ standard of living has dramatically improved, humans act like they own the joint, and local despots’ authority has been undermined.
The local despots are not amused and they seek to rearrange the power structure on their own terms.
But first a word about setting. Piper devised two planets Uller and Niflheim. He delves into Uller’s biochemistry and unique weather. The Niflheim is where the story begins and it is an unpleasant place with a fluorine atmosphere and deadly ultraviolet radiation. Humans and Ullerians work together to mine the uninhabited planet’s resources and they do so with atomic bombs. If nukes give you the vapors, retire to your parlor and read something with sparkly vampires, because this is foreshadowing. One of the Ullerian employees happens to be a prince and he signed up for the job in order to learn human technology. This little fact nags the reader through out the conflict which follows.
The story shifts to Uller and you get to meet the humans who will go through the Uller Uprising. The hero is has a German surname, and a Spanish first name. This is true of pretty much all the humans. The reader should notice something else: all the humans are from Africa, Australia or South America. Why is this? Because the Southern Hemisphere didn’t participate in the nuclear wars that killed everyone in the Northern Hemisphere.
If there’s a moral to The Uller Uprising it is that nuclear bombs will make you and those around you dead.
The humans all act like you’d expect of the British Raj. They are thoughtful, idealistic imperialists who genuinely care about the Ullerians who are under their rule. They can point to the material and moral improvement of the Ullerians that they have caused. However, the Ullerian despots who see their authority eroding use religion to manipulate the Ullerian troops to revolt. Were the Sepoys similarly duped by their mullahs? I dunno.
After a stunning act of treachery, human leadership is decapitated and those who survive have to struggle to put down the rebellion. As you’d expect, they discover the aliens have nukes and scramble to develop a counter-force. 1952 was before the days of mutual assured destruction, so the purpose of the humans’ nukes is to destroy the rebel ringleaders’ and their arsenal first.
There is some clear thinking you don’t see nowadays in The Uller Uprising. Piper frankly looks at nuclear weaponry and notes two important things: nukes will kill those who fight wars with them, and one cannot put the nuclear genie back into the bottle.
There is also some unintentional hilarity. The future has changed in the last 60 years. Here’s a passage you might get a chuckle from….
Inside the office, one of Pickering’s engineers was sitting on the middle of his spinal column, a stenograph-phone in one hand and a book in the other. Once in a while, he would say something into the mouthpiece of the phone. Two other nuclear engineers had similar books spread out on a desk in front of them; they were making notes and looking up references in the /Nuclear Engineers’ Handbook/, and making calculations with their sliderules. There was a huddle around the drafting-boards, where two more such books were in use.
What are sliderules? Or drafting-boards?
To get your copy of Uller Uprising (Federation) please check out the following Amazon links:
UK: Uller Uprising
USA: Uller Uprising