The Ayes of Texas by Daniel da Cruz
Del Rey/Ballantine Books, 1982
Price I paid: 90¢
It was 1994, but Gwillam Forte was an entrepreneur of the old school. Twenty-three disabled Veterans needed a reason to live, so he gave them a rusty hulk—the battleship U.S.S. Texas—and unlimited funds to make her beautiful and seaworthy in time for Independence Day, 2000.
But the world changed quickly and for the worse. By 1998, the Texas and her supermodern weapons were needed for duty far more important than guarding the National Monument in which she rode at anchor.
It’s Valentine’s Day, so I might as well address a topic that I love: science fiction books about Texas. This isn’t to say that I have strong feelings toward that state in either direction. Texas has produced a large number of things that I deeply appreciate, such as Willie Nelson, Mike Judge, ZZ Top, and chili without beans in it, but I have more important things to worry about than whether my state has a bigger dick than your state.
I do, however, challenge the assertion that the yellow rose of Texas beats the belles of Tennessee.
Oh wow, I just looked it up and it turns out that the origins of that song lie in RACISM.
A song about Texas that does not, so far as I know, involve racism is “The Eyes of Texas,” from which the title of this book is punned.
(Well, not direct racism. The song is sung to the tune of “I’ve Been Working On the Railroad,” early versions of which do have some racist lyrics—it, like “The Yellow Rose of Texas,” has origins in minstrel shows—but this just brings me to a new game I just thought up called Six Degrees of Racism.)
Folks, this book was great!
It’s beginning to dawn on me that some of the books I have enjoyed most throughout the lifetime of this blog have been books that are just pure entertainment that don’t try to be anything else. I love big idea books as much as anybody, books that challenge the way I think or make me realize things I wasn’t aware of. The thing is, when books do that right, they (often enough) become GREAT BOOKS, the kind I decided I read too much of and made me start this blog in the first place. When books try it and fail…well, I end up reviewing them too.
The Ayes of Texas, though, didn’t try to be anything more than pure Cold War entertainment. It’s got it all:
- Devious Commies
- Pinko East-coast media guys
- Particle beam weapons
- Naval battles
- Napalm tsunamis
This is a book that, for all purposes, didn’t have people like me in mind when it was written. I shouldn’t have liked this book. It was heavy-handed in its anti-Communist, right-wing agenda. Actually, that’s not entirely accurate. It was written to be entertainment for people with anti-Communist, right-wing agendas. Maybe because the author shared that agenda, maybe not, but there you go. I can’t judge.
Still, it was pablum for people I generally don’t share opinions with, and yet I can’t deny that I thought this book had a lot going for it. Good characterization without having anybody, on either side of the conflict, be too goody-goody or outright evil. A real plot. Excitement. Danger. Action. A terrific climax.
Our hero is Gwillam Forte. Sometimes he is called Will Forte and once he was called Gwilliam Forte. He’s a dude who went from bad circumstances to some of the worst circumstances but then pulled himself up by his own bootstraps and made himself one of the wealthiest and most powerful men in the United States.
In brief, he had a poor background, got into some trouble with the law, joined the Navy during WWII, was stationed on the U.S.S. Texas, and was involved in a battle where he lost both of his legs and one of his arms. He laid around for a while until he encountered a standard issue Wise Old Black Man who gave him some good advice and then died.
Gwillam took the advice, which was basically to study a lot, and made something of himself. Something big. By the time the story gets rolling around, he controls most of the industry in the state of Texas, along with a large chunk of the media. Because he’s a good guy as well as a ruthless capitalist, he’s also created a state-of-the-art veterans’ hospital and research center. It’s there that those who gave almost-all for their country are rehabilitated and, like Gwillam himself, given the best artificial limbs money can buy.
A doctor pulls Forte aside on one of his visits and says that a group of veterans at this hospital are dying, not from wounds or disease or old age, but from lack of purpose, which is not listed in any version of the DSM that I could find. Still, this guy’s a doctor and I’m not, so there you go.
Gwillam finds a solution after his friend, the governor of Texas, asks him for an unrelated favor: refit Forte’s old ship, the Texas, in time for July 4, 2000.
Everything works out and everybody’s happy.
Oh wait, I forgot about the Russians! How silly of me!
Okay, so the Commies have a plan so devious that only our hero can see right through it. A plan so fiendish that only our hero can stop it. A plan so extraordinarily Commie that only our right-wing, by-his-own-bootstraps, anti-media-except-for-the-parts-of-it-he-himself-owns, anti-government-except-for-the-people-who-are-his-friends-and-the-other-people-who-owe-him-favors hero can do anything at all about it.
That devious, fiendish, Commie plan is, simply put, cooperation.
It goes like this: the Russians call up and say “Look, we’re both spending a lot of money making weapons and stuff. So what do you say we stop? Why don’t we work together to save the world? We’ll stop making weapons and instead make things like cars and stuff. In return, you stop making weapons and grow food. It’ll be best for everybody. We’ll even name it after you. It’s called the Washington Protocols. You’re welcome.”
Gwillam Forte thinks this is too good to be true. He figures that the Russians figure we’ll turn all of our attention to agriculture and then ambush us once our mechanized infrastructure is too far gone to do anything when they invade.
The problem is that the rest of the country doesn’t agree with him, all because the lib’ral media thinks it’s a great idea.
He tells the president. The president agrees with him, but has his hands tied. If he goes against the protocols, the American sheeple will have him out of office before you can say Ronald Reagan.
So now it’s all up to Gwillam and his ragtag veterans—
Actually, despite what the cover of this book says, the other ragtag veterans are hardly in this book at all. Sure, they do all the gruntwork. They fix the ship. They even put particle beam weapons and nuclear reactors on it. But when it all comes down to the final chapter, the only person available is Gwillam Forte. But I’ve skipped ahead a bit.
And I must apologize. It turns out that not all of the American sheeple believe the honeyed words of the USSR (fun fact, both S’s stand for sumbitches). Because some Americans aren’t sheeple at all. Some of them are TEXANS.
See, as part of the Washington Protocols, a small fleet of Russian warships will tour the seaboards of America. It’s a friendly thing.
Texas is too smart to fall for that.
One of the strong points of this book, and I know, it really looks like there shouldn’t be any, is that Gwillam is constantly having to change his plans. At first he just wants to fix up the Texas for the millennium celebrations. Then he has all these plans about getting the Russians to fire on it in such a way that they’re the aggressors, thus turning public opinion against them. Only later does it come down to the fact that he’s actually going to have to use this thing as a weapon. And when he does, it’s phenomenal.
Before all that happens, though, Texas secedes from the United States. It boils down to this: if the gutless, craven, useless, cowardly, Federal government wants to kowtow to these Union of Soviet Sumbitch Russians, then the great state of Texas will respectfully remove themselves from the control of said Federal government, effective as soon as a vote is cast.
The vote is amazing.
There’s a satellite above Texas. It’s in geosynchronous orbit. At the time of the vote, the power is cut across all of Texas. At such-and-such a time anybody who votes for secession is to step outside and light a light of some kind. Flashlight, candle, cigarette, whatever. That’s their vote. Ten minutes later, those against such a drastic measure are to do the same. The computer on the satellite (?) will tabulate the votes in seconds.
It’s an overwhelming yes vote, obviously, and gives us the title of the book.
You’d think the Feds wouldn’t be too keen on this, but actually the president is totally, but secretly, in support of it, because this means that the Russians might get aggressive and turn public opinion away from the obvious trap that is the Washington Protocols. This is what happens. The Russians send a fleet of helicopters into Texas and just lay waste to a swath of it. They say if there’s any attempt to stop them from pulling into to the harbor at Houston, it’ll get worse.
That’s where Gwillam comes in. First off, there’s a series of tunnels under the harbor that he put there for the guys working on the Texas so they could do their jobs without ruining the surprise. He fills them with explosives.
At the last minute, Gwillam visits the ship to stop a saboteur who is also a Commie spy. The spy is stopped but Gwillam is onboard the ship when the Russians start to pull in. The bombs go off and there’s a massive tidal wave that is also on fire.
This is the great part.
Gwillam takes control of the ship and makes it ride the fiery tidal wave like a surfer catching the big one.
I just want to let that image sink in for a moment. A WWII battleship riding a flaming tidal wave toward a futuristic Commie fleet.
The ships that don’t get sunk by the wave itself succumb to the Texas’s particle beam weapons. Eventually, the only ship that’s left is the super-battleship Karl Marx.
Gwillam diverts all power to the particle beam weapons. He’s got four nuclear reactors on this ship now. Somebody tells him that this is too much power. If he ever stops firing this weapon, there’ll be an overload and the ship will explode.
This is supposed to be a problem, but instead it saves the day. He stops firing the electron cannon or whatever, and then the ship goes up, taking the Marx with it.
The Battle of the Black Channel, second day, had lasted sixteen minutes, and ended with the extinction of all combatants.
THAT’S HOW YOU END A BOOK, PEOPLE.
The narrative jumps forward a few years to Gwillam’s old buddy, the governor of Texas, giving a rousing speech about how one man saved the free world. He talks about Leonidas and all that stuff you’d probably expect. It ends with him reflecting on how he’d once tried to angle his political career to become the President of the United States, but now he’s gotten something even better than that. He’s the President of Texas.
I love it so much!
This book was so wonderfully bonkers. I’m so glad I read it. It had some flaws, yes, but in terms of action, story, pacing, and all that kind of thing, it was so great. It was a dumb story, yes, but man oh man was it well-told. I have to give it a lot of credit for that.