Hayford Peirce in his Tucson office in 2006
January 7, 1942|
Bangor, Maine, United States
Science fiction |
Hayford Peirce (born January 7, 1942 in Bangor, Maine) is an American writer of science fiction, mysteries, and spy thrillers. He attended Phillips Exeter Academy and received his BA from Harvard College. He has written numerous short stories for the science-fiction magazines Analog, Galaxy, and Omni, as well as mystery shorts for Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine and Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. Most of his stories are light-hearted and satiric in tone, with elements of black humor and occasional surprising grimness.
He has also written a number of science-fiction and mystery novels, some of which were published by Tor, and the others by Wildside Press. They have been translated into several languages. Typical of them are Napoleon Disentimed and Blood on the Hibiscus. His one spy thriller, written in London in 1968 at the height of the fictional spy mania, is The Bel Air Blitz.
Many of Peirce's short stories concern on-going protagonists. In the science-fiction field there have been collections of his Chap Foey Rider, Capitalist to the Stars stories, of his Jonathan White, Stockbroker in Orbit stories, and of his Sam Fearon, Time Scanner stories. In the mystery field, he has had two collections about protagonists living in Tahiti, Commissaire Tama, a chief of police, and Joe Caneili, a private eye.
Peirce has also collaborated with David M. Alexander on stories that have appeared in Analog.
The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction says "he established a name for lightly written tales whose backgrounds were unusually well conceived.... Napoleon Disentimed, his first novel, is an attractive example of what might be called the ALTERNATIVE WORLD hijinks tale... HP's titles are notably inventive....".
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Peirce was raised in a family of wealthy timber-land owners who were both cultivated and eccentric. His father, a recognized authority on Byzantine art, wrote several books on the subject in French. His mother was a would-be playwright and summer playhouse owner. His uncle, Waldo Peirce, was a prominent American painter and bohemian character. Peirce attended, with no great distinction, Exeter, Stanford, and Harvard. At age 22 he married a Tahitian girl and moved to Tahiti, where he lived for the next 23 years. At various times he was a part owner, and sometimes accountant, for a mother-of-pearl button factory, a garden center, a one-hour laundry, and an import business.
Peirce began writing in 1974, with the sale of a science-fiction short story to Analog. "Unlimited Warfare" is typical of the fairly short, somewhat sardonic, black-humored stories that he wrote for a number of years. It takes an unlikely premise—England wages an undeclared war upon France by destroying its vineyards, while France retaliates and ultimately wins the war by destroying the world's tea supply—and treats it with an apparently deadpan yet whimsical manner. The writing is clear and direct, modeled on that of his favorite author, Evelyn Waugh, with occasional jaunty overtones of P.G. Wodehouse and Raymond Chandler.
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Although highly improbable in their plots, all of Peirce's stories do fit into the category of science fiction rather than fantasy, as evidenced by the fact that they were mostly published in the "hard science fiction" magazine Analog. He was greatly encouraged in his writing by Ben Bova, the multiple-Hugo winning editor of Analog. It was Bova who suggested that he expand a short joke letter sent to Bova into what turned out to be five stories in the popular Chap Foey Rider series. "Chap Foey Rider", the name of an Anglo-Chinese businessman in New York City who gets Earth invited to join the Galactic Postal Union, is actually an anagram of the author's name.
As Peirce's career progressed, his stories became even more imbued with satire and irony, culminating in two stories written in the early 1980s, "Taking the Fifth" and "The Reluctant Torturer". The lengthy "Taking the Fifth" examines the process and the consequences of first promoting, and then achieving, an Amendment to the American Constitution that would permit the use of testimony in court derived from the application of a foolproof truth serum upon suspected criminals. "The Reluctant Torturer" considers the unintended consequences to the city of San Francisco, and to the luckless protagonist, of hiring a Municipal Torturer to deal with—initially at any rate—only those terrorists who threaten to destroy the city. A number of these stories were reprinted in anthologies such as Best Science Fiction Stories of the Year, Fifth Annual Collection, and The Best of Omni Science Fiction.
In 1987 Tor published his first novel, Napoleon Disentimed, a parallel-universe and time-travel story of some complexity. It is written with Peirce's characteristic wit, irony, and jauntiness and is almost Wodehousian in its zaniness and complications of plot. Two more novels followed swiftly. The Thirteenth Majestral, later reissued as Dinosaur Park, was another intensely complex time-travel novel, but this time written—in both style and theme—in the somewhat rococo manner of the great science-fiction stylist Jack Vance. Phylum Monsters, written in the first person, was far more straightforward than the first two books but perhaps even zanier in its plotting as well as having an unexpectedly poignant ending. "Phylum Monsters (1989) employs genetic engineering in a wryly irreverent fashion."
All of these books were translated into various languages and enjoyed a certain amount of success in Europe and Russia but none of them were commercial successes in the American market and Peirce returned to writing short stories, expanding into the mystery field as well. Drawing on his years in Tahiti, he wrote two series of mystery short stories, primarily for Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. One series features an American private eye (and ex-Foreign Legionnaire) in Tahiti, Joe Caneili, and his rather picaresque adventures. The other stars Commissaire Tama, Tahiti's fattest man and the Chief of Police of Papeete, its capital city. Both are written in the fast-moving but evocative style Peirce uses in his science fiction and involve unlikely plots that are unique to Tahiti, such as a banker falling dead upon the delivery of his own coffin to his front door, or the complete disappearance of a fastidiously constructed house from its foundations in the wake of a hurricane. Rich evocations of the modernized Tahitian culture and the lush Polynesian landscape are important elements in these stories.
All works are novels unless otherwise noted.
- Napoleon Disentimed, Tor Books (1987) ISBN 0-8125-4898-1
- The Thirteenth Majestral (1989), reissued as Dinosaur Park (1994) ISBN 0-8125-4892-2 (both editions)
- Phylum Monsters, Tor Books (1989) ISBN 0-8125-4894-9
- Chap Foey Rider, Capitalist to the Stars (2000) (short story collection)
- Jonathan White, Stockbroker in Orbit (2001) (short story collection)
- The Burr in the Garden of Eden, Wildside Press (2001) ISBN 1-58715-277-0 (first published in Germany as Ein Paradies mit Tücken, (1998), Heyne)
- Sam Fearon: Time Scanner (2001) (short story collection)
- Flickerman, Wildside Press (2001)
- The Spark of Life, Wildside Press (2001)
- Black Hole Planet, Betancourt & Company (2003) ISBN 1-59224-935-3
- Aliens, Betancourt & Company (2003) (short story collection)
- With a Bang, and Other Forbidden Delights (2005) (short story collection)
- The 13th Death of Yuri Gellaski, Wildside Press (2005) ISBN 0-8095-8944-3
- In the Flames of the Flickerman , Wildside Press (2011) ISBN 978-1-4344-3037-3
Mysteries and spy thrillers
- Trouble in Tahiti: Blood on the Hibiscus (2000)
- Trouble in Tahiti: P.I. Joe Caneili, Discrétion Assurée (2000)
- Trouble in Tahiti: Commissaire Tama, Chief of Police (2000)
- Trouble in Tahiti: The Gauguin Murders (2001)
- The Bel Air Blitz (2002)
- Some Thoughts on Matt Helm's Birthday, an analysis of when Donald Hamilton's fictional character, the counter-agent and assassin Matt Helm, was actually born.
- The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, edited by John Clute & Peter Nicholls
- Brian M. Stableford, Historical Dictionary of Science Fiction Literature (Scarecrow Press, 2004), 261.
- The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, edited by John Clute & Peter Nicholls, St. Martin's Press, New York, 1993 ISBN 0-312-09618-6