I don't usually enjoy time-warp novels, where a protagonist from one era is somehow transported back (or forward) in time to another age, and has to figure out how to make it there, what he/she has to do, and so on. There are a few very good books in that genre, and many also-rans.
One of the better efforts, IMHO, is a six-novel series, "The Lone Star Reloaded", by Drew McGunn. He posits a series of fascinating "what-if" scenarios.
- What if a modern US soldier, familiar with US and Texas history, were to be transported back in time into the body of Colonel William Barrett Travis, the Texian commanding officer at the Battle of the Alamo in 1836?
- What if he used his knowledge of history, including things that the real Col. Travis did not know at the time, to change the result of the battle?
- What if he subsequently used his influence to keep Texas independent of the USA, a friendly nation, but separate from it?
- What if he led Texas' armed forces to subdue the Plains Indian tribes far earlier than happened historically, opening the way to the Pacific across the southern route?
The first book in the series is titled "Forget the Alamo!".
Here's the first chapter, describing how our protagonist is transported back in time to the 1830's.
The sandstorm’s last gust of wind shook the HMMWV in which Staff Sergeant Will Travers rode shotgun. He chuckled as he considered how much the military loved acronyms. Calling it a High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle took too long. Like millions of soldiers before him, to Will it was just a Humvee. Dust filtered into the vehicle, coating him and his driver, Sergeant Edgar Smith. He brushed away a light coating from his jacket sleeves, exposing a divisional T-patch insignia on his left shoulder. Will tried looking out the passenger side window and saw that it was caked in dust. He rolled it down, then back up, creating streaks that allowed him to see the arid countryside as the tactical vehicle rolled along the sand covered road.
The current mission, like most others, was convoy duty; escorting supplies from Baghdad to one of the many bases around central Iraq. As he looked out the dirty window, Will counted down the days until he would return to Texas and go back to two days a month and two weeks during the summer. The Texas Army National Guard’s 36th Infantry Division was nearing the end of a nine-month rotation in Iraq and when he thought about it, he was thoroughly sick of the dry, oppressive heat and ever-present sand. He missed his parents and friends and longed to be back in his hometown, Galveston.
“Hey, Will, did you get your voter’s registration filled out? You know, the deadline to register to vote is next week for November, right?” Sergeant Edgar Smith said, speaking over the roar of the Humvee’s engine.
Will peeled his eyes away from the monotonous desertscape sliding by the window, and said, “Yeah. My folks sent me the mail-in ballot along with a bunch of McCain bumper stickers. You figure out who you’re gonna vote for, Smitty?”
Keeping both hands on the steering wheel, he shrugged his shoulders and replied, “Either way, my vote’s not gonna count. Texas ain’t gonna vote for a black man, am I right or what?”
Will corrected him, “That’s half-black. You know, like the duck from the insurance ad.”
Smith laughed and said, “Best not let First Sergeant Washington hear you say that. To hear him talk, Obama’s the second coming of Jesus.”
Will shook his head, “All those politicians are the same. The only reason that I’d consider voting for McCain is that when he’s lying, at least he’s telling me what I want to hear. Most of the time, I’m just thinking ‘A pox on both their houses’.”
Smith shook his head, laughing, “You gotta pick one or the other, unless you’re just gonna sit on your ass and not vote.”
“I know,” Will said, “But sometimes, where the choices are so bad, I just wish that we’d secede and take our toys and go home.”
“That’s seriously messed up, man,” Smith said. “Not me, man. I like being part of the biggest, baddest country in the world.”
Will shook his head, “Dude, that would be China. They’re the biggest.”
Smith took one of his hands off the wheel and gave Will the one finger salute, saying, “You know what I mean. Nobody messes with America, man, nobody.”
“I know, Edgar. All I’m saying is that things are seriously messed up. I’m not sure that I have any faith in the system anymore. It’s broken and we both know it. But, you know I’m picking up what you’re putting down, man. I know for some people things are pretty good, but tell me, do you think it’s as good now as it was twenty years ago?”
Smith shrugged his shoulders, “No, I guess not, but it’s a far cry better than it was sixty or eighty years ago, at least for a Pochingo like me.”
Will reflected on that before replying, “Yeah, things were pretty messed up. Sometimes the good old days for some people were the bad old days for others. Still, though, what it would be to see Texas decide to stay independent, and never join the US. We wouldn’t have any of this crap in Washington to deal with.”
Smith burst out laughing, and finally said, “We’d have kicked your gringo asses out of Texas, that’s what would have happened. Mexico uber alles!”
Will scowled at his driver before saying, “Last time I checked, your ass is half-gringo, too.”
Smith glanced over at Will and coyly replied, “Smartass. What do you want me to say? Remember the Alamo? I don’t think so.”
Will responded to his driver with his own one finger salute.
As the convoy continued down the sand covered road, the sandstorm returned with a vengeance. After flipping the switch and turning the windshield wipers on, Smith said, “God, I wish this deployment was over. You got a job waiting for you when you return?”
Will wistfully replied, “Not yet, man. I thought I had it all figured out. After 9/11 I dropped out of Galveston College and joined up. Did my four years active then decided to finish my next four by joining you nasty girls, while I finished my degree at U of H. I had completed my student teaching and thought I had lined up a gig teaching Texas history in Baytown, when Uncle Sam decided to Charlie Foxtrot all over my plans. Now I get to start the application process all over. What about you?”
“I think so; my Dad said that the housing market’s really slowing down. He’s worried that home construction’s drying up, but if he’s still contracting when I get home, I’ll go back to work for him.”
The sandstorm increased in intensity and they returned to watching the road, as the convoy ate away the miles to the forward operating base. The brake lights on the truck in front of them came on and they slowed down. Will stared out the passenger window at the road’s edge, where the sand stirred and billowed, making it difficult to see. As the truck in front of them slammed on the brakes, Will strained to see out the window, as Smitty reacted by bringing the Humvee to a sudden stop. The sand eddying around dropped visibility to just a few feet. Toward the front of the convoy he heard a loud pop followed a moment later by the staccato sound of a heavy machine gun going off.
Smith swore and gripped the steering wheel. He jerked the wheel hard to the right, attempting to steer around the truck. As the right front wheel edged off the road, Will’s world turned upside down. An improvised explosive device detonated as the wheel rolled over the triggering mechanism. Will came to a moment later, hanging upside down in his harness. His rifle hung down toward the roof, dangling from its sling. He could feel the ground shaking with explosions but all he could hear was a steady ringing in his ears. He twisted around in his harness and saw Sergeant Smith suspended in his harness. The grunt’s patrol cap lay on the Humvee’s ceiling. It appeared to Will that his companion’s head had slammed against the driver’s side window, as blood dripped onto the roof of the vehicle.
Will fumbled with the latch on his harness as he tried to release it, but his hands would not respond to the commands his brain sent. He thought it strange, but as his hand fell away from the clasp on the harness, his thoughts became jumbled. As he tried to keep his eyes focused on Smitty, in some part of his brain he knew something was horribly wrong, as the image of his friend, suspended upside down in his harness, retreated into the distance, pulling away until only the black was left.
Dust filled the air as soldiers secured the area around the convoy. Several vehicles were on fire, black smoke billowing into the blue sky. A couple of men from the stalled truck in front of the overturned Humvee ran back, looking through the cracked windshield and saw Staff Sergeant Travers and Sergeant Smith hanging upside down from their harnesses. A small puddle of blood pooled on the vehicle’s roof, under Smith. They tried opening the passenger door but the frame was bent, and no matter how much effort they put into prying it open, it refused to budge. They ducked when a loud staccato sound from a machine gun roared over the sound of crackling flames.
Worried about the men trapped inside the overturned Humvee, one of the soldiers ran around to the driver’s side door and tried the handle. The door swung out, letting the man see Sergeant Smith hanging by his harness, blood dripping from a deep gash in his scalp. In the distance, ahead of the convoy a crescendo of gunfire caused the soldier to crawl into the cab, holding Smith up while he unfastened the harness. As the unresponsive driver fell into the soldier’s arms, he dragged him from the vehicle and lay him on the side of the road.
He breathed a sigh of relief when the sound of the gunfight ahead of the convey seemed to move away from the vehicles. Breathing a little easier, he crawled back into the cab and released Staff Sergeant Travers from his harness. He pulled him from the Humvee and dragged him next to Smith. A medic, with a drab green patch with an embroidered black cross fixed to his left sleeve, knelt beside Travers. Aside from a few scrapes, the medic couldn’t readily find anything wrong. He felt for a pulse and found it. He leaned in and saw the unconscious man was breathing normally. He moved over to Sergeant Smith, whose scalp was lacerated, where it had slammed against the window.
As the sound of the firefight dissipated, the medic, with help from nearby soldiers, transferred the injured into the back of a M923 cargo truck. The disabled vehicles were pushed to the side of the road and the convoy continued to the Forward Operating Base. In addition to Travers and Smith, another member of their company was wounded, and the three were transported by medivac to the Air Force Theater Hospital Balad, north of Baghdad. It was the largest US military hospital in the country.
Staff Sergeant Travers’ minor injuries were quickly bandaged, but he remained unresponsive. The medical staff performed an MRI and found swelling on the brain, which explained why Travers remained in a coma. Stabilized, Travers and his fellow Texas Army National Guardsmen were transferred to Germany where they were treated at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. Sergeant Edgar Smith’s injury quickly healed and physically he soon rebounded and was transferred stateside within a couple of weeks of the attack on the convoy. Before the end of the year, he was medically discharged due to chronic migraines as a result from the head injury.
The doctors at Landstuhl couldn’t bring Staff Sergeant Travers out of his coma, even after the swelling on the brain went down. As the largest US military hospital in Europe, there was no shortage of experts who cycled through Travers’ room, reviewed the extensive testing and ordered more. There were plenty of doctors who explained in detail what they expected to happen. Those, either humbler or who better understood their own limits, shrugged and admitted they didn’t know why Travers lingered in his coma.
After a few months, he was transferred to Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas, where new doctors ordered more tests and waited for the young staff sergeant to awaken. Ellis and Sharon Travers, the young soldier’s parents made the three-hour drive between Galveston and San Antonio often, hoping and praying that he would one day wake up.
* * *
He heard someone moving around and indiscernible voices babbling in the distance. Like a rubber band snapping, he was pulled toward the sounds around him. He jerked his eyes open, expecting to see the bright lights of a hospital room and doctors and nurses rushing about. Instead he shivered as he felt a frigid wind blow across his face. He saw the sky overhead, orange and red hues bursting from behind a smattering of clouds, as he watched it lighten. The first coherent thoughts to run through his brain were “Where’s Smitty? Where are the doctors? Am I outside a field hospital?”
Cold seeped into his body, and he irreverently thought “Heaven’s a hell of a lot colder than I expected.” Then he saw the sun cresting above a nearby grove of live oak trees. Next, he noticed his breath in the wintery air. Shivering, he found he was lying on the cold, hard ground, wrapped in an itchy, navy blue woolen blanket. The pain he had anticipated as he made his first, tenuous movements was absent. He pulled back the blanket, which smelled faintly of smoke, and stood and noticed that he was wearing a light blue pair of woolen pants and thick gray wool socks. His shirt was white muslin fabric, not unlike the backing on the curtains he remembered hanging in the window of his parents’ home. A fire burned nearby, where several men were trying to warm up. Each of them, it seemed to Will, dressed similarly to himself. The ringing in his ears was gone and he heard horses close by. He turned around until he saw a string of several dozen horses along a rope picket, their breathing filling the air around them with frosty vapor.
Will’s mind rebelled against the staggering images before his eyes. “Where the hell am I?” Will’s mind screamed. He fell to the blanket, as his head thundered with pain, feeling like his brain was being ripped open. Blood pounded in his ears and his temples throbbed, as he barely managed to hold on to consciousness. Like a vast waterfall, suddenly memories not his own cascaded into his mind, flooding it with recollections clashing with those of his own. Like a man drowning in water far over his head, he grasped at the first thought to coalesce in his mind, as though grabbing a life preserver. He saw a young, dark haired, beautiful woman. A name came unbidden, Rosanna, his wife. “Stop!” His mind cried out, “I’m not married!” He seized firmly at what he knew to be true. No, he wasn’t married, didn’t even have a girlfriend currently. Another memory floated to the surface of his mind. A painful divorce from Rosanna. But the thought wasn’t completely full of pain. He remembered a son, Charlie, a vision of a red haired little boy, no more than three or four, came to mind. He said, “What the hell? I don’t have a son?” Will clamped his mouth with his hands when he realized he spoke aloud, shutting it as he tried desperately to reconcile the flood of bizarre memories with what he knew to be his own life. Was it fact competing with fiction or was something larger happening to him?
He lay back on the woolen blanket from his sitting position, both hands clutching his head, his mind continued to rebel in pain as the divergent memories competed for space in his overwhelmed mind. One of the men standing nearby, noticed and came over to him, calling out, “Colonel, are you alright?”
“Colonel? Oh, hell no! I’m no colonel. Officers suck and I want no part of that, thank you very much!” But thankfully, the only words that escaped his lips were, “Yeah, Private Smithers. I’ll be fine, just a bit of a headache.” With an audible sigh, Will thought, “Okay. I’ve never heard that voice in my life, but my mouth seems to be working, but those were certainly not my thoughts. Can this really be happening to me?”
What ‘this’ was he didn’t have a clue, but he took a deep breath to settle his nerves and paused a moment to search through the new memories swirling around inside his head. Something his brain identified as a recent memory showed a two-room house. The rooms were divided by a dogtrot. “How the hell do I know what a dogtrot is?” He thought. The first room held a fireplace with cooking utensils hung nearby, and a table and a bed. The utensils appeared to be seldom used, as dust coated each piece of pewter. Across the dirt packed dogtrot, the second room held a few law books on a crude bookshelf affixed to the wall and another rough-hewn table in the middle of the room. “That’s something,” Will thought, “But who the hell’s thoughts are running rampant through my head?”
As though responding to a query, his mind brought into focus another memory. Will saw himself, not as the five foot eleven, twenty-seven-year-old part-time National Guard soldier from Galveston, with dirty blond hair, and aspirations of teaching Texas history. Instead, the image was that of a six foot one red-haired, blue-eyed man, standing across a rough table from another man dressed in a long, brown topcoat, a colorfully checkered vest, and a white starched shirt, with brown woolen pants. It reminded him of a painting he saw when he was a child, touring the state capital on a school field trip. The other man spoke, “Colonel Travis, I reject out of hand your request that I relieve you of command. We both thought that you’d find more men to fill out a regiment of cavalry, but we were wrong. So many men are already assembled, that there just aren’t that many waiting around to enlist, and God alone knows when more volunteers from back east will arrive. Nevertheless, you will take your men to join up with Colonel Neill, and if expedient, help him transfer the cannon from Bexar back here to Washington-on-the-Brazos. Consult with Neill and if it’s possible, destroy the Mission San Antonio de Valero while you’re at it.”
As the memory played in his head, Will felt the soldier’s sense of shame as he replied, “Yes, sir. Governor Smith. It’s just that I’ve only managed to collect twenty-nine men. I thought for certain I would collect a couple of hundred to join the regular cavalry.” The older man waved the complement away, and the soldier continued, “I hope that between these and Colonel Neill’s we’ll have enough to get the job done.”
As that memory coalesced with the myriad of others swirling around in Will’s very crowded head, an icy wind twirled across his skin, and chills ran down his spine. The words he had spoken to Sergeant Smith replayed in his mind, “what I wouldn’t give to see Texas decide to go its own way and never join the US.” Was he in a coma and dreaming a vivid dream? Was the universe playing tricks on him, and this simply a cosmic joke? Or had God, in an act of perfect schadenfreude, decided to strand him in the worst of possible times? Even if this body wasn’t his own, he knew to whom it belonged, and understood all too well what it meant to inhabit the body of William Barret Travis. He grasped at Travis’ most recent memories and knew it was the 1st of February 1836. With a cascading sense of finality, everything in his mind fell into place at that point. In 2008 the Mission San Antonio de Valero had another name that is known throughout the world. The Alamo.
Will closed his eyes, resisting the temptation to curl into a fetal position on the blanket, wondering at whether it was fate or God that would throw his mind back in history. He hoped with every fiber in his body all this was nothing more than a dream. “Yes,” he thought, “That’s it. My body is in a coma from the explosion.” And if that were so, he would eventually wake up. He pinched himself, and nothing happened. He pinched a lot harder. “Damn!” he muttered, “That hurt.” Nothing changed. He was still sitting on an itchy, woolen blanket on a freezing February morning in 1836. Even though his mind accepted he was dreaming, he couldn’t help but work out the details of what would happen if this were real. He quickly calculated, February 1 to March 6. Thirty-four days. No, it’s a leap year. Thirty-five days until the Alamo falls. He stood again, shakily, as his legs seemed determined to drop him back down. He couldn’t decide if this was all a dream but until he woke up, he would go through the motions as if this was real. He was uncertain about so many things he knew he would need to figure out. But on one issue he was determined. Forget the Alamo! He wouldn’t be waiting there on March 6, 1836.
I won't give any spoilers, but I will say that I enjoyed all six books in the series. Some themes required more suspension of disbelief than others, but generally Drew McGunn holds them together well, and creates a credible narrative of what might have been. I didn't like the way he ended the series, but that's a matter of personal taste, I guess, and doesn't affect my enjoyment of the rest of the books. Recommended reading.