There is something comforting about reading literature by people from your own region; at least, as a Texan, I find that to be true. Maybe those from Mississippi feel this way when they read the works of Faulkner, maybe they don't, but I love to read books by Texans… especially Texas science fiction and fantasy. When you think of the states that are the homes of "legendary" writers of the genre, Texas might not be the place that comes to your mind, which is your loss, but it has a long and proud history of steady contributions of great work by authors that are smart, knowledgeable, unique and just plain fun to read. Rory Harper is a worthy member of that fraternity and his new book, Petrogypsies is a worthy addition to that body of literature that Texas can proudly claim as her own.
There is realness about Texas science fiction and fantasy. Maybe it's dark and heavy, like Tom Reamy's brilliant and haunting novel, Blind Voices, or maybe it is light-hearted and fun like the Lovecraft parodies of Bill Wallace and Joe Pumilia's fictional M. M. Momrath. Whatever it might be, it is original. Petrogypsies made me think of Blind Voices, with its slice-of-life mundane setting and its "everyday people" characters; not epic characters who are saving the Universe and fighting massive battles, but rather normal people who have a regular kind of job and work from day-to-day. Pterogypsies is light-hearted and humorous (not counting a vicious and surprising "murder in our midst"). It also made me think of David Drake's technique of crafting novels by stringing together self contained short-stories and novelettes in some of his Hammer's Slammers novels.
Texas science fiction writers are subversive, irreverent, and mischievous. They are also unsophisticated, in that they are not writing for academic minds or for the people who have Van Goghs dripping down their walls. The writing by members and alumni of the "Turkey City Writers' Workshop" is by people that are fun to hang around with, laugh with, drink with and watch bad movies with to people who would enjoy being part of the laughter and merriment that they can hear coming from somewhere deep within their books and stories. Another thing that makes the works of Howard Waldrop, Steve Gould, Lisa Tuttle, Bruce Sterling, Martha Wells, and the rest so fascinating is that they are just plain original. I remember reading a backstage history of Saturday Night Live and reading how, while all of the writers wanted screen-time for their sketches and could be very jealous of most of the other writers, none of them were ever jealous of Dan Ackroyd's stuff because it was so different and original that none of the other writers could say that he got to an idea before they did because his ideas came from someplace inside Ackroyd which no one else could even be prepared for. Texas writers do that. Whether it's Waldrop's "ugly chickens", Gould's "Jumper", having the first "Naked Neo-Pro" photo layout of Steve Utley in Reamy's Nickelodeon Magazine, or Jake Saunder and Waldrop's novel "The Texas – Israeli War" the readers are introduced to different worlds from our own, but ones that are usually just slightly off of the real one… close enough that you see our real world bumping into the stories with regularity.
Petrogypsies is like that. The people who don't know Texas and our free-range Turkey's will still find a lot to enjoy and laugh about, right down to the cover by another of our Texas treasures, multiple Hugo award winner Brad Foster. The people, who DO know, will quickly and proudly put it on their special bookcase… that one that is anchored with Lone Star Universe. The setting of the world of the Petrogypsies is one in which, in the American deserts of the 1840s, remarkable and possibly alien creatures were discovered. They are probably bio-tech; in fact, I wonder how one of them would stand up against Alien. These creatures are specifically designed as oilfield equipment… drillers, casers, cementers, etc. and, as they were discovered before the oil boom in America. Thus, oilfield life developed as a life one of specially trained and skilled migrant workers, oil field gypsies specializing in the work of their particular creature. I can't imagine any other writer putting it down and saying to himself "Damn, *I* was working on an idea like that."
As for the book itself, it keeps up the reputation which Dark Star is building for itself about the physical quality of the books that they publish. I feel lucky to have learned when I did about this Publishing House which is new enough that readers can get on board and have a Publishing House for which that can have a complete collection of everything that they publish… I have my next three books from them already. Now, I simply have to decide where I want to go for my next journey.