There are a lot of wild Texas scenarios in Robert Evans’s cyberpunk sci-fi novel After the Revolution (AK Press, 2022). It’s 2070 and the United States has splintered. So has Texas, where the Republic of Texas and secular militias are facing down religious separatists. Military veterans with superpowers conferred by technology suck down massive amounts of LSD to feel normal, a roving Burning Man–esque society sets up outside Waco, and Dallas is a postnuclear wreck. But there was only one moment that really ruptured my suspension of disbelief while reading this whole gonzo book: a scene in which a character from “the autonomous city of Austin” remembers pushing his way onto that city’s subway. Obviously, one can accept that Austin would become a separatist people’s republic within a fractured Texas. But the idea of the “Austin Metro” operating there, even fifty years from now?
“I don’t view it as functioning well,” Evans says via phone from Oregon, where he’s lived since 2019. “It’s based on [the Iraqi city] Erbil—which, you would not, if you had spent time in Erbil, say is a city that functions well. But it does function better than the rest of Iraq.”
After the Revolution is part of the rich vein of speculative fiction that considers Texas as its own republic. Texas’s realities make it a compelling setting: a deadly climate, big money, sinister villains, and true believers. Periodic threats of secession create a ready-made premise for how a plot might shake out in the event of national collapse. In the dystopian present, it isn’t the advanced technologies of extraterrestrials or uncontrollable artificial intelligence that threatens human existence—it’s the consequences of unfettered capitalism and the governmental use of technology. Those manifest in fiction as they do in reality—with massive, destructive weather influenced by climate change, the threats posed by too much oil or too little water, and the accompanying inability or disinclination of the state government to do anything to help its citizens. (The ways that a place like Houston showcases both the riches and consequences of extraction industries are so blunt that a fiction editor would run out of red pen.) For writers interested in imagining how a diverse population might organize itself after being oppressed and ignored by those in power, our state is an ideal setting.
Evans sets his story in the Metroplex, where he grew up. He was a member of the ROTC at Plano East Senior High School before graduating in 2006 and embarking on a reporting career that took him to Iraq and other conflict zones, and in 2020 he reported from Portland’s long, intense summer of protests. After the Revolution is Evans’s first novel. It centers on the intertwined stories of Manny, a fixer from Austin who’s trying to earn his ticket out of Texas by shepherding foreign journalists through the state; Sasha, a teen from the Beltway who’s been radicalized online and runs to Texas to join up with the Heavenly Kingdom, North Texan evangelical separatists who are fighting the Republic of Texas; and Roland, a cyborg veteran pulled back into one more fight on behalf of the denizens of Rolling F—. That’s the name of a mobile anarchist collective, resembling a well-armed Burning Man on wheels, where many members are heavily modified or “chromed” with enhancements that give them strength, endurance, speed, and an ability to gobble up enormous amounts of drugs. Some collective comrades are captured by the Heavenly Kingdom and kept prisoner at the same facility where Sasha and other young women are being trained as future wives for the troops. A great deal of violence ensues.
Evans was inspired to write this book after a long night on a megadose of MDMA in which, staring at the highways from Dallas’s Lakewood neighborhood, he imagined the Metroplex in a postapocalyptic state. The North Texas suburbs he grew up in, which have given rise to some of the state’s most reactionary movements, seemed like a plausible base for militarized religious zealots. On the other hand, his experience of the diversity of those same suburbs and Texas’s “rural anarchy” make for a more nuanced picture of who’s on what side. And anyone paying attention to the state’s present will see every variety of potential climactic, political, and technological future.
For the past fifty years, writers have imagined a variety of ways Texas could take a dystopian turn. In the 1970s, the energy crisis propelled stories about how it would fare as an independent petrostate. The Texas-Israeli War: 1999 (1974) takes place in a post–World War III North America in which a splinter group of religious extremists in an independent Republic of Texas, the Sons of the Alamo, kidnap the U.S. president. A mercenary band of Israeli soldiers comes to the rescue. Though it was coauthored by Texan science fiction legend Howard Waldrop (the other author is Jake “Buddy” Saunders, the founder of Lone Star Comics), it’s rough going. The Power Exchange (1979), by Alan R. Erwin, a journalist turned chair of the Texas Public Utilities Commission, sets a Texas secession vote after the federal imposes regulations on the state’s petroleum resources. Those come down after the state refuses to send help during a deadly winter storm in the Northeast, on the heels of a period in which actual Texans sported bumper stickers reading “Drive 70 and Freeze a Yankee.” It’s readable.
The books got better with the advent of cyberpunk, which has deep Texas roots. (Genre pioneer Bruce Sterling once described one local writers’ group to this magazine as “a cradle of cyberpunk.”) In Sterling’s 1994 novel Heavy Weather, storm chasers track the enormous tornados that tear across West Texas, where locals shoot up government vehicles. Newer works of climate fiction mirror Sterling’s early passion about global warming. Take Marisol Cortez’s Luz at Midnight (2020), grounded in San Antonio’s legacy of social justice movements and propelled by supernatural weather phenomena. Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Water Knife (2015), set in Arizona, pivots on the desperation of Texan refugees driven from their drought-ravaged state. The interplay of capital, climate, and resistance as practiced by intrepid Texans drives all of these stories.
And then last year, sci-fi heavyweight Neal Stephenson, inventor of the Metaverse, published Termination Shock. Stephenson’s books often feature eccentric, rich libertarian characters, and what better place to oblige him? T.R. Schmidt, a billionaire who parlayed family oil money into a chain of extravagant rest stops known for their spotless bathrooms, decides to shoot sulfur into the atmosphere in hopes of slowing sea-level rise before his Houston real estate portfolio is literally underwater. Other Texas-specific elements integral to the plot include a plague of feral hogs and a state government with no inclination to interfere with a man building the world’s largest gun on his property. It’s a future not terribly different from the present, but it does present the enticing possibility of “earthsuits,” essentially wearable personal air conditioning.
Evans steers clear of billionaires with hero complexes, allowing the advanced weaponry and enhanced biology of his characters to be wielded by regular people. It’s inspiration from the best part of Texas: Texans. “I was in Texas for the  blizzard, in Dallas, and overnight all these people who had been part of different street medic collectives or anti-fascist collectives organized to do what the state was failing miserably to do and provide a huge amount of aid in a short time,” he said. “Seeing all of that come together, I can’t not be fundamentally optimistic. That said, I think there’s some dark days ahead. That’s true for everywhere, right?”