This little sf novel captures Texas' larger-than-life eccentricities.
By Scott A. Cupp
This is the 184th in my series of Forgotten Books.
As Greg Lake (of King Crimson and Emerson, Lake, and Palmer) so nicely put it, “Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends!” April and half of May have come and gone and there has not been a Forgotten Book column on the screen here at Sanford Allen’s Candy Skulls blog. I have been very busy! (Scroll up and read Tuesday’s Forgotten Film column for the full scoop and to learn about which Tarzan film had its initial theatrical release in 1958 and which was not shown in the US until 1966. Go ahead! We’ll wait! La-de-dah! La-de-dah! Repeat as needed.)
So, once again I say, “Welcome back!” This week, we reach back into our Wayback Bag to find a writer who was once very popular, fell out of favor, killed himself because of it, came back into favor, and is now forgotten again for the most part. H. Beam Piper wrote a lot of stories for Astounding and Analog before the New Wave made the engineer-solving-things story a little passé. He is probably best known for his novel Little Fuzzy, which had sequels prepared by Ardath Mayhar (Golden Dreams), William Tuning (Fuzzy Bones), and, most recently, by John Scalzi (Fuzzy Nation). Wikipedia tells me someone named Wolfgang Diehr has also published two additional Fuzzy novels, Fuzzy Ergo Sum and Caveat Fuzzy. And, let us not forget that Michael Whelan applied his very considerable talents (along with those of David Wenzel) to a children’s book about the Fuzzies (The Adventures of Little Fuzzy) in 1983 that is pretty wonderful.
Anyway, Piper wrote a lot to try and make a living. Some of his stuff is very good (try the Paratime stories), but of all of it is at least of professional quality. One of the odder pieces was a novelette titled A Planet For Texans, which he wrote with John J. McGuie. This is an entertaining yarn with some politics thrown in for fun. Stephen Silk is a career diplomat who works behind the scenes. When bored, he writes articles as Machiavelli Junior. One such article lands him before a group of senior diplomats, where he’s forced to explain himself. Rather than be fired, he allows himself to become the new Solar League Ambassador to the independent planet New Texas. New Texas provides superbeef and is known as the Butcher to the Stars. The giant cows won’t grow anywhere else, and the New Texans are mighty proud of their independent, cantankerous nature. The previous ambassador was shot and killed.
Also looking at New Texas is a new race in the galaxy, the z’Srauff, an aggressive bunch that resembles intelligent dogs. While the Solar League is not at war with the z’Srauff, it seems inevitable, and the League wants New Texas to be on board.
So Mr. Silk finds himself shipped off to New Texas with roughly three hours’ notice to pack and go. On his flight out, he meets Gail, who is also headed there. When he arrives, he is separated from her and ends up meeting his new aide Hoddy Ringo, a man returning to New Texas after having had some past “issues” that could have made him the late Hoddy Ringo.
One of the previous Solar League ambassadors is still on planet, Silk discovers. After serving a short while as ambassador, the man went native, renounced his League citizenship and became a New Texan. He had a family, which of course included a daughter named Gail, mentioned earlier.
Politics on New Texas is a little different. Not unlike politics in current Texas. They take personal rights very seriously, and if a law was to infringe on those rights, the New Texans can legally kill the lawmaker who brought the law into effect. Somehow, being an ambassador is seen as being a lawmaker and there is no diplomatic immunity.
Silk has to find out who killed his predecessor, make the guilty party pay, not get killed himself, convince the freedom loving New Texans to become part of the Solar League, incite the z’Srauff into breaking the peace, win the girl he loves and still find time to visit the Alamo. The New Texans did not build a replica; they brought the original over stone by stone. Ostentatious is a Texan byword now and then.
This is “not a novel of big thinks” as Mr. Joe R. Lansdale has described some books. This is a novel of true Texans and fun. I really enjoyed it and found it much too short. Originally, it was released as half of an Ace Double. The version I read had it bound together with Four Day Planet, another fun Piper book. So, copies should not be that hard or difficult to find. The Ace Double has the better cover.
Scott says check out Lone Star Planet or A Planet for Texans and H. Beam Piper while you can. Then go have a barbecue. Your mileage and acid reflux may vary.
Series organizer Patti Abbott usually hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of participating blogs. This week the lovely and talented Todd Mason is hosting it for her.