A Spectre Is Haunting Texas by Fritz Leiber

A Spectre Is Haunting Texas by Fritz Leiber
A Spectre Is Haunting Texas by Fritz Leiber (Italian edition)

The novel “A Spectre Is Haunting Texas” – in some editions “spectre” is spelled “specter” – by Fritz Leiber was published for the first time in 1968. It was originally published in three parts in the magazine “Galaxy Science Fiction” and the following year it was published as a book.

Scully Christopher Crockett La Cruz is an actor who comes from Circumluna, an artificial space habitat in which many people found refuge when on Earth World War III broke out to form over time an autonomous civilization. Scully is more than eight feet tall but he’s incredibly thin because he spent his entire life in zero gravity.

Scully descends to Earth to claim a mining concession acquired by an ancestor of his wearing a motorized exoskeleton to be able to move in Earth’s terrible gravity. He thinks he has arrived in Canada but after World War III that’s part of the territories ruled by Texas. Wealthy Texans are as tall as him due to hormonal treatments while the poor and especially Mexicans are little. Scully will get involved in the Mexican Revolution but every day he spends on Earth his body gets weaker because the Earth’s gravity is the greatest danger for him.

In “A Spectre Is Haunting Texas” Fritz Leiber shows an over the top caricature of the future in a witty satire that goes against science fiction schemes. It’s set in a future America, which after a nuclear war has become part of Texas. The caricature of upper class Texans, who have become giants thanks to hormonal treatments, is a satire of a certain American conservative class.

For future Texans you reach power not by being elected but by killing the person in charge. Mexicans are good for them only as slaves, sometimes controlled by cybernetic implants so that they obey their orders with docility.

Because the relationship between the more progressive Circumluna’s society and Texas is very limited, the protagonist arrives in a place of which he doesn’t know the customs and obviously he gets into trouble. Because of his skeletal appearance emphasized by the fact that he’s wearing an exoskeleton, Scully is called by the Mexicans “La Muerte Alta”, “El Esqueleto” or “El Espectro”, a figure linked to their beliefs. It’s therefore inevitable for him to end up getting involved in the Mexican Revolution when he shows sympathy for their condition and ends up becoming a symbol for them.

If future Texans are a caricature of the present ones, the protagonist is in some ways a caricature of Fritz Leiber himself. The writer was in fact a tall man born into a family of actors and for a time he had acted as well, especially in theater. Scully is very tall and is also an actor born into a family of actors. The novel is narrated in first person from his point of view so inevitably he’s the best developed character.

Beyond the caricature, in “A Spectre Is Haunting Texas” you can see the influence of the theater world on Fritz Leiber when Scully thinks about his life as an actor but also when he travels through Texas to ask the Mexicans to join the revolution. For him, his shows are like theatrical performances in which he plays his part using his acting skills to impress on people.

In the course of his adventures, Scully must also try to conquer the two women he falls in love with: a giant Texan and a little Mexican. For him it wouldn’t be a problem to take them both with him to Circumluna but they demand that he chooses one only. This situation is part of the tragicomedy that is “A Spectre Is Haunting Texas” where Scully meets other caricature-characters such as Russian soldiers and a German scientist.

“A Spectre Is Haunting Texas” is a novel that I recommend to those who already know Fritz Leiber because they can appreciate his style. Those who don’t know this author should read some of his other novels first to get familiar with his unique way of putting together elements of various kinds.

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