Review: Null-ABC by H. Beam Piper and John Joseph McGuire

Hello again, Happy Readers! I have another H. Beam Piper book to discuss with you. It’s a novella, really. I have read some of the other stories I mentioned previously, and I do plan to do a combo review of those. This one deserves its own, though.

First, let me set the stage on this one a little.

This story was originally released as a two part serial novel in Astounding Science Fiction Magazine Volume 50 No. 6 & Volume 51 No. 1 in February & March of 1953. The story itself is now in the public domain and can be found for free

Project Gutenberg or Amazon.

I had a difficult time finding a blurb for this story other than the short one found on a few of the Goodreads editions:

There’s some reaction these days that holds scientists responsible for war. Take it one step further: What happens if “book-learnin'” is held responsible…? A startling science fiction novel by H. Beam Piper (author of the classic LITTLE FUZZY) and John J. McGuire!

Digging through the original magazines, I finally found the synopsis used before part II. I share that here to give a better understanding of the world in which the novel is set.

From Astounding Science Fiction: Volume 51 No. 1

There had been the World Wars, and the cold-war interbellum periods: huge armament budgets, tax-saturation, no money to spare for public schools already clogged by a rising birth rate. There had been fantastic “progressive” education experiments. Even by the middle of the Twentieth Century, in some of the larger cities, children were leaving grade school unable to read, and in a world in which radio, television and moving picture were supplanting the printed page, there was less and less incentive or desire to learn. By the end of World War IV, illiteracy had become the rule rather than the exception, and by the beginning of the Twenty-second Century, what little reading and writing was necessary to maintain a civilized order of society was being done by members of the tightly-organized Associated Fraternities of Literates. It was only natural that these should become targets for the resentment of the Illiterate public whom they served, partly because of their monopolistic practices and extortionate fees, and partly from a general attitude of anti-intellectualism which was one of the heritages from the ears and upheavals of the Twentieth and Twenty-first Centuries.

So, now you have a better idea of the premise of the book than I did going into it. You’ll get all that lore near the beginning if you read it.

Anyway, here’s my review of the book.

Null-ABC (Illustrated)Null-ABC by H. Beam Piper
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was both surprised and delighted with this novella. The premise seemed silly at first, but I thought it would be fun anyway. I soon realized that, although the idea of Illiteracy becoming a preferred state of being and Literacy becoming anathema unless you were prepared to be ostracized, the story points to a deeper trend of human nature. People are going to be people no matter what the situation. Some will always tend toward laziness, gluttony & greed. Some will always tend toward pride, envy, and wrath. Others will try to overcome these tendencies when they become so prevalent in a society that they begin to infringe too much on the liberties of others. The fact that this story, as outlandish as it might seem on the surface, shows the progression of these tendencies in its characters based on their situations is why it was still a great read. It also has good timing that brings in the intrigue to keep pulling you in further with the reward of action to keep you wanting more.

This is an excellent read, with oddly humorous views of what society might be in the future (as of 1953) that are half-right & half-wrong at the same time. In fact, here’s an interesting quote from near the beginning:

The results of last week’s election in Russia are being challenged by twelve of the fourteen parties represented on the ballot; the only parties not hurling accusations of fraud are the Democrats, who won, and the Christian Communists, who are about as influential in Russian politics as the Vegetarian-Anti-Vaccination Party is here….

Let’s hope the Vegan-Anti-Vax Party is never a thing here!

Anyway, the book is great. I highly recommend it! I give it four stars and call it a Head Shaking Read!

View all my reviews

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Matter conversion technology—Matt-Con—has broadened the scope of mankind’s existence. It has opened up the real possibility of viable colonies on other planets in our solar system, and even space itself. Anywhere matter can be captured or energy from the sun can be felt, the possibility of expanding human habitation exists.

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The space station Chariot of Helios—on its way to Mercury to become a power collection station for Earth’s growing need for energy to power matt-con tech—encounters a strange anomaly that threatens ship and crew.

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The sudden destruction of mankind’s first atmospheric terraforming platform leaves three unlucky exonauts struggling to survive in the skies of Venus aboard a cobbled-together airship. Meanwhile, the commander of the space station above battles obstacles that might keep her from rescuing her stranded husband and crew in time.