As you can imagine from the title, this isn’t a great work of literature. I remember a friend reading this book in high school around 1983 and thinking, even when I was a non-discriminate reader, that here was one book that just didn’t look appetizing. So why did I pick this book up, and why did I read it–especially now?
For a time I engendered a habit of inscribing into the back of the front cover of every new book purchase my name and the date that the book was purchased, whether it was bought new or used, or received as a gift. After I finished a book, I would then inscribe the date of first doing so. (I still do this to some extent; although I don’t keep a log of when I buy a book, this newsletter, and the notebook were I originally write these ramblings, serve for the latter.) The used copy of The Texas-Israeli War: 1999 that I own was bought on March 15, 1988. At that time, I was living in Austin, where I was meeting, and making friends with, authors like Bruce Sterling, Lew Shiner, and, most importantly in regard to this book, Howard Waldrop.
I think anyone who’s ever had the chance to sit and talk with Howard can understand the impression that he can have on an impressionable young reader like my past self. Here’s a guy that seems to have the best job that an inveterate reader can have. He spends most of the time just reading voraciously–everything from comics to French film magazines. And when the mix of information seems to hit him just right, out comes another story, that he then proceeds to sell to OMNI orAsimov’s. Of course, I know Howard better now. I know that all that reading has a purpose. I know those stories don’t just pop out, but are the result of sometimes years-long painstaking craftsmanship. I also know that he doesn’t finish those stories nearly quickly enough, and that Howard subsided for years on legumes and for years was without what some of us would consider basic necessities, like a telephone.
But, at the time, Howard was to be envied, as I still envy his skill in imagining stories and his writing ability. As I said, I was young and impressionable, and for the most part, all I wanted to do was enjoy life, which, for me, equaled having all that free time to spend reading. Since I happened to be in college at the time, I thought it was possible to get away with it. Did I say I was young, impressionable and stupid? I should have. I discovered Howard, though, and the others. And I had made a decision that I, too, would become a writer. My first step towards that goal was to read what the writers whom I knew had written. Therefore, my purchase of The Texas-Israeli War: 1999.
Everyone has to start somewhere. That’s the first rule of writing. And the best thing to do is acknowledge the rule and try not to regret the fumbling beginnings too much. The important thing is what you are doing now. The second rule of writing is “Don’t give up the day job.” It’s the day job that allows you to have ethics, that allows you to write for your own muse rather than Paramount’s or Byron Preiss’. There comes a time when you forego the day job and try to make it on your wits and it backfires. As you stumble along, trying to reach out forward rather than backwards to the day job, you grab onto the quick buck. Was that the scenario for The Texas-Israeli War: 1999? Probably not, because, for its flaws, The Texas-Israeli War: 1999 is not calculated enough to make that quick buck. But neither is it inspired enough to contain the full muse that Howard followed at the time (and I refuse to blame the co-author for any perceived flaws; Waldrop must share what praise or blame there is equally).
The Texas-Israeli War: 1999 is an adventure novel. These days it would probably be published by Baen rather than Del Rey, because of its focus on military equipment and maneuvering. While the story stays within the Baen military style, it contains that inspired spark that I associate with Waldrop. The descriptions of military things reads true because Howard probably read about it in Jane’s Fighting something-or-other. The story fails, however, in its portrayal of certain “political” aspects. The intrigue surrounding the SS-like Sons of the Alamo; the President Pro-Tem, and his motivations, ring tinny.
[Finished 4 June 1993]