Friday, July 26, 2013

The Uller Uprising

I've mentioned H. Beam Piper before. Though he died tragically. he left behind a marvelous corpus of golden-age Science Fiction. One of his stories was "The Uller Uprising." What makes this story interesting is that it is a retelling in space of the Indian Rebellion, better known (to me) as the Sepoy Rebellion.

I have mixed feelings toward the British Raj. I thoroughly approve of the treasonous actions of George Washington, et al., in throwing off the yoke of British Rule. Individual people know how to run their lives much better than some commissar hundreds of miles away. Nevertheless, I think India is better off today than if the Moguls had remained unmolested.

In The Uller Uprising, a bunch of Earthlings are doing what I imagine that the British did in India. They're working with people from another culture, doing commerce, and making money. Since the Earthlings have a more advanced technology, they can pay better wages than the local despots who are into slavery and coercion. The Earthlings do a pretty good job of winning hearts and minds by improving everyone's standard of living.

On the other side, the local despots who see their power eroding have a clear edge in the tradition, and religion side of the hearts and minds equation. The Earthlings maintain cordial relations with the existing feudal lords who are being paid off to go along with continued trade and development. This seems to correspond to what little I know of the Brits in India.

The Uller Uprising predates multiculturalism and its notion that all cultures are morally equivalent. Thus we see abolitionist colonial officials depicted as morally superior to the slave-taking indigenous rulers. The story is written from the colonial government's perspective and by extension it made me feel more sympathetic of the Brits.

After a treacherous betrayal by a coalition of indigenous rulers, the Ullerans go to war and the primary interest of the Earthlings becomes surviving the unpleasantness.

As is usually the case, when two elites compete for supremacy on the battlefield, the non-elite common people do most of the dying.

In the aftermath of the uprising, the Earthlings' relationship with the Ullerans changes from a mostly commercial one to a more authoritarian one with a lot more soldiers and a much heavier hand.

Local rule is fine and all, but a tribal chief is screwing me over is not much different from some British dude screwing me over. And if my tribal chief is illiterate and that British dude is an Oxford grad, the latter will do a better job of  figuring out where to build roads and setting up public institutions.

The trouble with colonial rule is that the British dude will look primarily to his interests and not my interests. Of course, in a feudal society, the nobility's interests are just as divorced from the common people's interests as some foreign dude's. Same goes when the guys calling the shots are members of the "revolutionary people's committee." Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. Some animals are more equal than other animals. And all that.

Though you might think H. Beam Piper is a reprobate colonialist, he does not regard the indigenous alien Ullerans as any less capable than their human counterparts. The aliens manage to start with a roughly Middle Ages level of technological development and in short order figure out how to build nukes. And just for fun, the humans have to scramble to find blueprints for their own bomb--in the pages of a pornographic romance novel.

For these reasons I give The Uller Uprising 5-stars.

Like I said before, I have mixed feelings about the British Raj. My sympathies were as much for the colonials in The Uller Uprising as they were against the colonials in Thunder In The East. My friend from Delhi is adamant that independence--despite the murderous transition of the partition--is a good thing and good riddance to the Brits.

Yet, he plays the bagpipes and enjoys cricket. Maybe it would have been better if India kicked out the Brits when we did.
Or maybe not. Like I said, mixed feelings.


  1. I think I read this years ago but my memory is a little fuzzy.

    1. No, Little Fuzzies is another novel.


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