Del Rey, 1986, 293 pages, C$4.75 mmpb, ISBN 0-345-31659-2
For me, reading a good old-fashioned hard-SF novel is a lot like getting together with a few friends. Sure, it may not be all that great by Party Central standards, but at least I know everyone there, we pretty much agree on whatever we’ll be doing, the conversation will be about things we care about and however good or bad it’ll ultimately be, at least it’ll be a good excuse to see each other.
The more formulaic the hard-SF, the stronger this impression becomes. Sure, average hard-SF doesn’t spend much time on character complexity, symbolic meaning or deep emotional scenes. On the other hand, well, they usually play around with cool gadgets. And sometime, that’s pretty much all you need.
Texas on the Rocks is one heck of a good average Hard-SF novel. One simply has to read the back cover to be convinced: “Lone Star Republic to the Rescue! / In 2008, when the Russians ruled most of the world and the United States was suffering from a catastrophic drought, most everybody went to bed a little hungry every night. / But out in the South Atlantic Ocean, a Texican named Ripley Forte was riding herd on the answer to America’s deadly water shortage, hauling toward Matagorda Bay the only natural resource that could make the Republic of Texas rich again. / And while he was at it, Forte would teach the Russians a thing or two about surprise attacks. / To save the civilized world, all he had to do was to live long enough…”
Add to that the honking big “First time in print!” and the front-cover blurb “America was dying of thirst, and the whole world was hungry—but Texas had the answer!” and, frankly, you have to be a chump not to want to read this book.
Yes, it’s about this once-popular scheme to drag icebergs from Polar Regions to water the thirsty masses. As Texas on the Rocks begins, America is in deep trouble: The Soviets reign over most of the planet while America is mired in various problems, including a seceded Texas. Meanwhile, can-do American hero Forte is battling governmental regulations, dastardly weather and intractable financiers to extract oil from the Atlantic Ocean. No, it’s not all made up just for this novel: This story follows the author’s previous The Ayes of Texas, in which the independent republic of Texas fought (and won) a battle against the Soviet Fleet.
So, naturally, corrupt politicians, scheming women, double-crossing soviet agents, patriotic American engineers and a host of other characters will fight it out for control of a single iceberg. A fun time is had by all, especially the reader.
More than fifteen years after publication, the geopolitical context of the novel is completely obsolete, but that doesn’t really detract from the vigor in which the tale is told. Hero Forte (no mere “protagonist”, he) is a brawny, short-tempered Texan with good engineering instincts but bad business skills (mostly because the ones with the money are overwhelmingly evil in this book). He breaks heads and hearts alike as he moves mountains of ice to save the Good Old US of A (but first saving Texas). Call me old-school, but this kind of two-fisted American punch-fighting is always a lot of fun to read when it’s confined to fiction, and Texas of the Rocks is so grandiosely over-the-top that it’s hard not to enjoy. When Forte confidently states to the evil schemstress that he’ll keep her close to him even as she’ll try to destroy his enterprise, well, it’s hard not to crack a smile. When he adds that he’ll then marry her, it’s hard not to laugh aloud. At the conclusion, when he has his way with a now-very-willing schemestress, only to leave her fully satisfied and then deny her the pleasure of his companionship, well, game over; I’m sold.
Looking at the Encyclopedia of Science-Fiction and Fantasy, it turns out that Daniel da Cruz passed away in 1991, at the age of 70. I’m sure he would have enjoyed knowing that, even in 2002, readers would have such tremendous fun with one of his books. (FLASH ALERT! As I research this review, it turns out that a third volume exists: Texas Triumphant (Ooh! Aah!) Acquire! Acquire!)
[December 2003: I’m sad to report that The Ayes of Texas is less interesting and more ridiculous. There are interesting moments here and there, but the book ends up sinking in ridiculous caricature and cheap jingoism.]