A Specter is Haunting Texas, Fritz Leiber Rothdas book review RSS
4.0 Stars

I picked this Leiber book to read next because, well, Texas. And I was rewarded for my faith!

One way to describe the novel is that it is Fritz Leiber does Fall Out. The story is set ~100 years after a massive Atomic war, as a traveler from the Lunar orbital visits the new nations of the mostly interdicted Earth. There is satirizing of existing tendencies (the Texans are basically Banks' Affronters, conquering and enslaving other peoples, using super-serums to grow themselves and their horses to enormous heights). There are speeches and battles and sword fights, as the main character, a skeletal, 8 foot tall Lunar 'Thin' that can only move about in gravity due to a powered-suit, joins and is used by the Mexes' revolution against the Tall Texans. The protagonist is something of a Grey Mouser character, vain-glorious, aesthetic, self interested, skilled in speeches and trickery and retreat, but also partly comical in the indignities that happen to him and with a bit of a soft heart. One element of the lunar protagonist that I particularly liked was the repeated attention paid to how strange a planet would be to someone who has spent their entire life in zero-G. This crops up in a lot of ways; attention to the lunar musculature, how flame and water behave differently on planet, differences in fighting and stagecraft and movement. None of it is scientific at all, but there is thought and creativity that went into it and this aspect provides several neat conceits and scenarios for the story. And in general this tale is more creative, crunchy, comical, and fast moving, closer to the Lankhmar adventures than to Our Lady of Darkness.

And now for the caveats and self-criticism session. As with the last book, every female character is evaluated primarily on their attractiveness to the main character. Everyone is age-appropriate this time around, which is great, and there are really only two female characters so the trend is less noticeable. As with the last book, things that Leiber does in a fantasy setting work less and less well the closer they get to reality. Farhred and the Grey Mouser talking about buxom wenches in a bar, fine. Less fine in a modern office setting. Sexy were-rats? Sure. Sexy 13 year olds? Yikes, too Republican for me. In this story the gender/sexual aspect mostly works, simply because it's a future badland and more of an adventure story than a realistic one set in a modern city.

The other element that crops up here is race, simply because there are a ton of gleefully racist characters in the story. And it's not that Leiber himself is some huge racist, the story argues for exactly the opposite, it's just something to be aware of going in that Leiber's going to be satirizing a bunch of current day terrible tendencies. As with the sexism, I think it works better the farther away it is from our real world. E.g. in Banks' _Excession_, the Affronter's interactions with their thrall races is treated somewhat, queasily, humorously, but if you bring that same treatment into the real world it becomes a lot less tasteful.

Which brings us to the final third of the self criticism session, Texas. I have to admit I'm something of a Texas parochialist, and it's unclear how well that sits with my other views. Like, just now I wanted to write that I was born here and I've done everything I can to avoid leaving the state. I didn't write that, but it was my first impulse. So some elements of the story I find enjoyable/funny, e.g. the date in the story being the 27th of Alamo, conquered Vancouver being renamed North Amarillo, etc. etc. But should I? Is that really appropriate or is that something I should try to change about myself?

Postscript: fires 6-shooters wildly into air, puts on cowboy hat and goes to the backyard to tend my oil well.