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Saturday, July 29, 2006

Science Fiction Book Review: Fritz Leiber, Specter is Haunting Texas

Leiber's Specter is a trivial specter haunting the sci fi Texana collection. What was hardly intended a a dystopian (see We, 1984, Brave New World etc.) satire but rather an attempt at parody but is ultimately vacuous slapstick. Written during the Lyndon Johnson presidency shortly after the JFK assassination and under some influence of Texas itself, Leiber tales a future fascist Republic of Texas that after the great world war 3 has spread to include Central America and most of the continent with designs on the world and beyond. Leiber reserves small republics for Blacks and Hippies in California and Florida.

The plot involves a young Mr. Christopher Crockett La Cruz coming from his ultra-lunar home to claim a lost mine. The plot is killed by Leiber's relentless chorus and staging of racism on the part of the ruling tall, Anglo Texas elite over the short, Mexican bentbacks, and others for that matter. Here's the case where less would have been more. He thus trvializes racism itself. Cruz's low gravity home scientists have equipped his with an exoskeleton to allow his 8 foot tall, thin frame to function on earth. Leiber's chronic attentions to the mechanism can further distract the reader, although others may find it intiguing. Cruz's leading role in promoting the "bentback" revolution against the racist leaders is diluted by its clonking from one scene to another. La Cruz's double love interests are at the end resolved by polygamy, which itself precludes what was a possible channel of literary closure, but left in dangling cuteness.

One of Leiber's short stories may provide a teaser to Specter, "America the Beautiful," when an English poet visits UT Dallas. Gather, Darkness, a better novel, may provide closure for dystopians. Texana collectors may also wish to acquire Leiber's Beyond Humanity that includes some Texas references.

Spectral "Texas" elements are merely superficial, invoking historical names, placaes, and events without depth or breadth, selected to sharpen his political diatribe. Leiber's family and personal background in the theater provides some little surcease of readers' pain as his stage directions and such provide some distraction.

Readers may wish to follow up by reading prepared for the Aggies' speculation: HORNY TOADS AND UGLY CHICKENS: A BIBLIOGRAPHY ON TEXAS IN SPECULATIVE FICTION. 20 September 2001. by Bill Page.
http://library.tamu.edu/cushing/collectn/lit/science/sci-fi/texfan.htm

Justin Leiber, the son, became a philosophy professor at U of Houston ( http://www.hfac.uh.edu/phil/leiber/jleiber.htm ) which lead to UH's Fritz Leiber Archival Collection (at least two folders of interest) at U of Houston described at:
http://www.lib.utexas.edu/taro/uhsc/00021/hsc-00021.html

Specter must have been an odd polemic thought at an odd moment for Leiber, otherwise a true fantasy and science fiction foundational writer of the 30s to the 90s. Another author, Daniel Da Cruz offers better Texas sci fi fare in his trilogy, if only for its fun and brighter Texan side.

1 comment:

Joan Hood said...

You're so right on the cardboard stereotypes used in excess. I wish Leiber'd been in a different frame of mind. I could have been so much better.