The early ’60s were a tough time to be a geek, in many ways. There was no computer industry, that great level playing field which allowed nerds with thick glasses to join the ranks of the rich and famous. There were a few science fiction movies around, and paperbacks and comics you could buy, but you generally didn’t want to be associated with those things, especially not if you had any hope of finding a date for Saturday night. Accordingly, there was a strong undercurrent of wish fulfillment in the science fiction of the day. Stories of heroes and heroines plucked from the mundane world to find adventure and excitement on another world, in another dimension, or in another time. And one of the best of them was a story by H. Beam Piper, about a corporal in the Pennsylvania State Police who is swept into another time, and a world far different than his own.
The hero of the 1964 novel is a regular 20th century American guy who finds himself transported to a parallel universe. In that world, a medieval kingdom rules Pennsylvania and gunpowder is considered a magic weapon.
Fortunately for our hero, he’s a Pennsylvania State Trooper and amateur military historian — just the kind of guy you want to be in a situation like that.
I wonder to what extent Kalvan influenced Charles Stross’s Merchant Princes novels? The hero of the first of those novels is not a state trooper or soldier or any such action hero — she is a Jewish-American tech journalist working in 1990s Boston. That’s one of the things that tickles me about that novel series: I was a Jewish American tech journalist working in 1990s Boston too.
When I suggest that Piper may have influenced Stross, I’m not suggesting anything shady. That kind of influence is often how creativity works in sf.