In his Typewriter Killer, John F. Carr describes this as Piper’s only humorous satire. I agree with the humorous part. As to satire, well . . . I think that (Piper at least) didn’t see much wrong with the political order on New Texas.
I don’t put much store in awards, but let’s just say that I think it’s entirely consistent this won the Prometheus Hall of Fame Award in 1999 for Best Classic Libertarian SF Novel.
Review: “Lone Star Planet”, H. Beam Piper and John J. McGuire, 1957.
This novella’s editorial reception was, shall we say, muted. It was first published in the March 1957 issue of Fantastic Universe Science Fiction which John F. Carr calls a “salvage market” only paying a penny a word. It’s not really known when it was written, but Piper’s diary indicates it was written at least as early 1955.
Its hero and narrator is Stephen Silk, a member of the “Hooligan Diplomats”. Unfortunately, he’s also known as Machiavelli, Jr. That was the name he put to his article “Probable Future Courses of Solar League Diplomacy” for Galactic Statesmen’s Journal.
His bosses aren’t that worried that his analysis of a frankly imperialistic agenda will give the Solar League’s Consular Service a bad name. Most of the issues of the magazine are sold to its diplomats and research says the public doesn’t really mind imperialism that much.
But they are worried about the forces of the z’Srauff, a dog-like species of aliens, amassing forces on the Solar League’s frontier. The particular historical analogy evoked here is they want to avoid a Pearl Harbor on its forces using New Texas. They want Silk to go to that unallied planet and convince its recalcitrant politicians to join the League. New Texas is desirable not only for its strategic position but for commercial reasons. New Texas raises “supercows”, huge critters whose flesh tastes even better than beef.
Given that the last League ambassador to New Texas, Cumshaw, was murdered, Silk rather suspects his bosses wouldn’t mind him getting killed there either. The death of two ambassadors would provide a very nice pretext for a League invasion of the world. Certainly Natalenko, Security Coordinator for the League, seems like the type of man to come up with such a scheme. (I idly wonder if this is McGuire’s contribution – perhaps based on someone he met in his OSS days.)
And Hoddy Ringo, Silk’s secretary assigned to him for New Texas, certainly doesn’t seem like the typing and writing type though he seems like he would be handy with a gun. Perhaps he’s just Silk’s bodyguard – until he gets to New Texas. Ringo says some disparaging things about the gun rig Silk puts on. On New Texas, a man should know how to use a gun.
Before leaving, Silk reads a brief from a previous ambassador to New Texas, Andrew Jackson Hickock (the names for New Texans are filled with allusions to Old West historical figures), who resigned and stayed on the planet to become a citizen and opponent of the Solar League. Cumshaw was murdered on Hickock’s ranch.
On the ship to New Texas, Silk meets a beautiful woman but, since he’s been drinking huge amounts of “superbourbon” (everything on New Texas is “super”, we’re told), he doesn’t recall her name.
Arriving at the New Austin spaceport, Silk avoids a kidnapping with the help of the New Texas Rangers. Silk goes to a barbecue and sees the actual Alamo — moved from Earth and lovingly reassembled. He learns, watching a court trial regarding the killing of an elected official, that it’s not only legal but lauded to kill a tyrannical official. Here the official introduced a bill for income tax. Such cases are tried in the Court of Political Justice. (One defendant is named Wilbur Whateley so either Piper or McGuire was a Lovecraft fan.)
When he meets Hickock, we learn the other historical analogy the story draws from: feudalism. The economics and practice of ranching is integral to New Texas’ political order:
You were out all afternoon with Gail [the woman he met on the ship coming over and Hickock’s daughter]; you saw how we have to handle the supercow herds. Well, it is upon the fact that every rancher must have at his disposal a powerful force of aircraft and armor, easily convertible to military uses, that our political freedom rests. You see, our government is, in effect, an oligarchy of the big landowners and ranchers, who, in combination, have enough military power to overturn any Planetary government overnight. And, on the local level, it is a paternalistic feudalism.
The ranchers are very sensitive to any consolidation of power which might result from a large, central army or more taxes. And the check on exploitation applies to mere ranch hands too:
Hickock goes on:
Son, if I started acting like a master around this ranch in the morning, they’d find my body in an irrigation ditch before sunset.
Sure, if you have a real army, you can keep the men under your thumb— use one regiment or one division to put down mutiny in another. But when you have only five hundred men, all of whom know everybody else and all of them armed, you just act real considerate of them if you want to keep on living.
Hickock tells Silk that New Texans wouldn’t object to joining the Solar League if they were guaranteed there would be no interference “with local political practices”.
There is a great deal of intrigue surrounding the murderers of Cumshaw. They were the Bonney brothers who attacked the Hickock ranch. When pursued, they holed up in a jail where they fought the Hickock hands. The fight was stopped by the New Texas Rangers.
It’s revealed that Cumshaw was killed on z’Srauff orders. However, Silk can’t let them be convicted of that. If they are tried in a Political Court, it would imply Cumshaw was a politician and could be legally assassinated in some circumstances under New Texas law.
It’s interesting how many Piper works end in trials or quasi-legal proceedings: “Dearest”, “Day of the Moron” and, most famously, Little Fuzzy. [Update: “The Mercenaries” also fits into this category.] This novel ends with a trial too. Don’t worry, though, there will be plenty of violence before and after it.
It’s an entertaining novel and not what I expected from something called A Planet for Texans. It is humorous, but it’s not a western translated into science fiction, and the authors’ points about the advantages and disadvantages of New Texas’s political order are well thought out.
Piper never set foot in Texas, and I don’t know where McGuire lived before World War Two. But this bit rather captures the myth of the Lone Star State:
Capella IV had been settled during the first wave of extrasolar colonization, after the Fourth World— or First Interplanetary— War. Some time around 2100. The settlers had come from a place in North America called Texas, one of the old United States. They had a lengthy history— independent republic, admission to the United States, secession from the United States, reconquest by the United States, and general intransigence under the United States, the United Nations and the Solar League. When the laws of non-Einsteinian physics were discovered and the hyperspace-drive was developed, practically the entire population of Texas had taken to space to find a new home and independence from everybody.
By now, with yet another reference to Machiavelli, I think we can assume “Machiavelli, Jr” was Piper’s choice for Silk’s pseudonym.
In 1962, Piper gave an interview about a year before his death and published in the fanzine Double Bill in 1969.
10.During your formative writings, what one author influenced you the most? What other factors such as background, education, etc. were important influences?
H. Beam Piper: ‘My formative writings go back a long time, and one tends to forget. I am sure, however, that their name is legion. In the early days, as soon as I’d discover a new favorite, I’d decide that I was going to write like him. I was going to write like James Branch Cabell, which would have taken a lot of doing. Before that, I was going to write like Rafael Sabatini, and like Talbot Mundy, and like Rider Haggard, and even, God help us all, like Edgar Rice Burroughs. I never wanted to write like H.G. Wells; he spent entirely too much of his time on a soapbox. Eventually I decided to write like H. Beam Piper, only a little better. I am still trying.
As my stories all have a political and social slant instead of a physical-science slant, I think the one author who influenced me most was Nicco Machiavelli, with H.L. Mencken placing and Karl von Clausewitz showing.
Carr cites a particular essay by Mencken as inspiring this story: “The Malevolent Jobholder”. I don’t know what he bases that on. But, having read Mencken’s essay, the idea of justified violence by citizens against office holders definitely shows up here and is promoted. I will leave the reader to decide the merits and desirability of Mencken’s proposal.