In 1836, Mexican troops under Santa Anna defeated a small band of Texan defenders at the Alamo. The Americans, including Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie, were slaughtered to a man in the final downfall.
Now a rich oil field has been discovered just south of the Mexican border. As things stand, it belongs to the Mexicans. But if the Alamo had never fallen…
Through a top-secret process, 33 combat-hardened Vietnam vets are headed into the past. Their mission: To secure the richest oil land in history as American territory. They’re going back to 1836—but this time with submachine guns and grenades, tear gas and Uzis.
This time America is going to win.
This makes two books about Texas that I’ve reviewed. That is amazing. Texas and science fiction go together. It’s a natural relationship. I don’t know why. It’s just a thing I’m thinking. I suppose it’s because one can easily imagine a future Texas, with gatling lasers and bubble domes, say, that is still recognizably Texas. Maybe they have cowboy hats on their bubble helmets. Maybe cyber-horses. Whatever the case, I like future Texas even more than I like present Texas. And present Texas gave us Willie Nelson. Thank you, present Texas.
This book isn’t about future Texas, though. I was surprised. Yeah, I know it involves time travel. That much is evident from the cover. But one usually expects time travel to happen from the future. But no, this book makes it very clear that our time travelers depart from 1980, which was then the present day and is now in the hilariously deep past. It’s like reading a story where Cicero invents a time machine.
(That would be a neat story.)
The book had a large cast of people that were largely indistinguishable. The only person who stood out, and that’s giving the book a lot of credit, was the woman. Actually there were three women, but only one of them was a viewpoint character. Her name is Jessica G. Thompson and she’s a Vietnam hero, although her heroism was suppressed by a sexist War Department, so she didn’t get the medals she deserved. I think she saved some lives in the Tet Offensive. She did get some medals, but not nearly the ones she was owed.
Everybody else sort of ran together. There’s Brown, who is in command of this little expedition; Millsaps, who is the representative from the company that organized it; and various historical figures with which I’m sure you’re familiar. The problem is that even such recognizable figures as Colonel William Travis, Davy Crockett, and Jim Bowie weren’t especially interesting characters in this book. Davy freakin’ Crockett, one of the more interesting personalities in American history, barely had any personality in this narrative. He was barely even there, to be honest. He showed up at one point, introduced himself to Thompson, and then went back to the barricade he defended and died at in real life. I believe he was wearing his trademark coonskin cap, but there was no mention of how he kilt him a bar when he was only three.
The whole shindig is organized by a guy named H. Perot Lewis. Lewis is phenomenally rich, being the head of a major oil company (Texas-American), but he’s not the richest. He wants to be the richest. Person. In the world. That’s his dream. I guess that’s a decent dream. There’s just one little snag: he has cancer and about six months to live. He’s afraid that he won’t live to see his dream come true. But then it turns out that there’s a thing called time travel.
I don’t remember how he found out about it, but a group of scientists funded by Texas-American have figured out how to send things through time. By the time we meet them we see that they’ve managed to send a few things back, mainly recording devices. They even have footage of the “state-ordered execution of Jesus of Nazereth.” It bugged me that this mention was just a passing one. I feel like time-travel verification of the existence of the Nazerene would merit more than a half a line of dialogue.
On the topic of H. Perot Lewis: How likely is it that he’s some kind of stand-in for H. Ross Perot? Perot is a Texan, and he’s rich, but he didn’t make his money in oil like this guy did. Still, the name is very similar. And Perot was getting attention from the press as early as the sixties and seventies. I’m thinking it’s pretty likely, even if I don’t see what the point is.
Anyway, Lewis wants to make more money, and the way he wants to do it is by sending some combat-hardened vets back in time. Some large oil deposits have been discovered just south of the Mexican border, and he figures that if the Alamo hadn’t been lost that land would now be American territory.
God, that’s stupid.
Why send people to that moment in time? Why not any one of a million other possibilities? Go back further and defend it from practically nobody. Assassinate Santa Anna in his crib with his own wooden leg that you snatched from a different point in time. Heck, modify Mexican history so that it never existed at all. The possibilities, when it comes to time travel, are endless. And yet H. Perot Lewis picks one that’s fantastically dangerous for everyone involved, and not at all guaranteed to succeed. Typical.
I know, none of those other options would have made for a good story. But neither did this one.
A lot of the book involves standing around the Alamo while it gets shelled. There are comments on sexism, as well. Thompson has to deal with it at every turn. She’s almost not hired by some guy who thinks that women shouldn’t fight. And then she gets hired and proves herself to be one of the best soldiers, only to go back in time and have Colonel Travis tell her the same thing. So she proves herself again. She’s a Strong Female Character.
What got under my skin, though, is that she ends up having a relationship with her commanding officer, Brown. It’s not altogether icky, just a bit unprofessional, but it still grates. It’s made explicit that she doesn’t receive any protection or preferential treatment because of this relationship. Brown is constantly proving to Thompson, himself, and us that she’s an able woman who doesn’t need defending. Brown comes across as the author’s version of “Not All Men.”
Why even have that relationship in the first place? It had no effect on anything, other than adding a few scenes where boobs get mentioned.
Our mercenary heroes arrive at the Alamo a few days before the famous March 6. This gives them ample time to meet everybody, not that it did me any good. It also gives them time to prove to Colonel Travis that they’re a benefit to the defense of the Alamo, mainly through the fact that they brought weaponry with them from the future.
They never tell anybody in the past that they came from 1980. Still, they have automatic weapons and all that fun. Colonel Travis never once questions it, though. He’s just all “Wow, that’s a neat gun” and Brown or somebody goes “Yeah it’s fully automatic, watch this RATATATATATATATAT” and Travis is just “cool.”
You know what was a much better book than this, and had a pretty similar premise? The Guns of the South. Read that, if you haven’t already.
Back in 1980, we learn that there’s a problem with time travel. This was the best part of the book, because it was pretty original. Most time travel stories have a snag with the process. This one was new to me.
So the time travel machine works a little like a Star Trek transporter, or so I gathered. The problem arises with the fact that an object or person has their data, on a molecular level, stored in a computer. The longer a living creature stays in the past, the more its molecules will deviate from what the computer has, because cells are living and growing and dying and being replaced. The computer tries to compensate for this by leaving behind all the molecules that are different from what it expects. After more than, say, a few days in the past, a living creature retrieved in this way will pretty much just die because significant portions of their cellular structure are left behind.
There seems to be no way to fix this with 1980s technology. Our heroes are stuck in the past.
Meanwhile our heroes are decided that they’re not coming back to the future. They came to this conclusion independently. I suppose that’s convenient. Namely, they’re upset that they’re being ordered to change history so that some rich schlub can get even richer. The standard time travel tropes start to come into play: Can we change history at all? Will it fix itself? Does any of this matter?
It turns out that no, none of it matters.
The Battle of the Alamo takes place right when expected. The difference is that in this version of events, the Mexicans under Santa Anna are routed. It’s a victory! The Alamo is defended! One fewer thing to remember!
Millsaps, who I think I mentioned earlier, suggests that the Alamo defenders now go on the offensive and take the Mexicans’ land. This is, of course, the land that the oil will eventually be discovered on. Everybody tells him to shut up.
The mercs decide to leave the fort and say their goodbyes. Since they aren’t going home, they part ways, each deciding to make a living in America’s past and capitalizing on what they know will eventually happen. They make a solemn pact not to alter history in any way. Never mind the fact that their very existence is altering, um, pretty much everything. Has no one read that Ray Bradbury story where the guy steps on the bug? Seriously?
The next day, back at the Alamo, Santa Anna attacks again and history happens almost exactly as it did the first time, just a day later. After two hundred pages of narrative, we learn that nothing of importance was accomplished.
There’s an epilogue. The epilogue is dated to the year 5049, and it’s an internal memo written by a historian-archivist working for Texas-American. And they say nothing lasts.
This historian tells us that he’s aware of the time travel event and went back to fix things, so there’s nothing to worry about. We’re told that the mercenaries lived happy and full lives in the past and that H. Perot Lewis died rich but not richest.
Okay so that was all pretty disappointing.
I was hoping for something a lot more bonkers. Maybe some kind of extremism. I wanted the author to think that what was happening in his book was a good idea maybe. Or at the very least to have characters who thought so. Maybe they’d finish up and come back to a future that was so radically different that they had to go back and fix it. Sure, that’s a pretty standard, maybe even cliché, time travel plot, but it would have been better than this one.
What we got was some tolerable battle scenes, some proof that the authors know how to read history books, and some time travellers that don’t alter history in any way even though that’s what they’re sent to do.
We did get a pretty good line in the book’s prologue. I think it was “written” by the same historian-archivist from the end of the book. The prologue tells us about the Battle of the Alamo and sets us up for the rest of the book. It starts off by telling us that the Battle was “fought from February 23 through March 6, 1836” before giving us some of the whys and wheres.
Later it goes
One hundred forty-four years later, the Second Battle of the Alamo was fought from February 23 through March 6, 1836.
I love that!
There are two sequels to this book, set in Gettysburg and Little Bighorn, respectively. I’m not sure I’m interested in seeking them out specifically. Maybe they get better, I dunno.
What I do know is that I could only find much information on one of these authors. Kevin Randle wrote a fair amount of science fiction, either on his own or with somebody else, and has since gone on to tell us, at length, just what went on at Roswell. He’s apparently well-respected in UFO circles. This brings me to a new list I’ve prepared: authors I would and would not want to have a beer with.
Schlock Value Authors I’d Like to Have a Beer With
Lionel Derrick (Chet Cunningham/Mark Roberts)
…a bunch of others I can’t remember at the moment
Schlock Value Authors I Would Not Like to Have a Beer With
The sexist buttholes
The racist buttholes
Good night, everybody!