Monday, April 19, 2010
HOW THE WEST WAS WEIRD
Edited by Russ Anderson Jr.
There have been those critics who have been lamenting the supposed death of the “short story” in American literature. I would argue their alarm is a bit premature, as lately short pulp fiction (i.e. popular fiction of all genres) has not only been surviving quite well, but with books like this one, actual been getting strong. Gathered here are nine fun, extremely well written tales of the Wild West, all with a touch of the macabre. Some are better than others, but the fun of any anthology is that very potential inherent in multiple writers and their varied offering.
“Camazotz” by Josh Reynolds suffers a fatal flaw in that it’s too short and one wonders why it was even included. It’s a nifty idea of a cowboy trying to get out of Mexico with an Aztec mummy. Unfortunately no sooner does it get going then it’s over. Makes me wish the editor would have pestered Reynolds to expand it to a more satisfying length.
“Wyrm Over Diablo” by Joel Jenkins features a colorful pair of heroes that were so much fun to see in action, I’m hoping he had plans to use them again in the future. This was a non-stop action piece pitting a Native American gunfighter against a Cthulhu type monster that was thrilling stuff.
“Don Cuevo’s Curative” by Thomas Deja is my favorite. Deja’s tale of a spooky, thoughtful exorcist who is hired by a town to save a young possessed farm boy was skillfully laid out with intriguing, sympathetic characters. Deja’s style is laconic in that it doesn’t rush the story, pacing it carefully to a very rewarding finale. He’s a writer worth watching.
“The Town With No Name,” by Mike McGee is a comedic entry that never takes itself seriously. An emotional scarred outlaw is recruited to be the sacrificial lamb to the Devil on behalf of a dusty town of lost souls. How he accepts his role in their grand scheme and confronts Lucifer is reminiscent of the finer O’Henry tales.
“Sins Of The Past,” by Barry Reese features a 2oth Century masked avenger traveling back into time to put to rest a trouble spirit that is the cause behind a genuine “ghost town.”
“You Need To Know What’s Coming,” by Ian Mileham is easily the most frightening story in the collection, with a really creepy ending.
“Of All The Plague A Lover Bears,” by Derrick Ferguson not only has the most original title, it also presents the pulpiest tale in which a mystic gunslinger is hired to clean out a town full of flesh-eating zombies. This is the kind of gem I read anthologies for.
The book has two remaining stories, but quite honestly, neither belongs here. One features asteroid miners in space and the other about a small town handy man who meets the Devil on Halloween eve. They are both well written and enjoyable, but I take umbrage that when you set a theme for an anthology, stick to it. Just because the space cowboy wears a Stetson does not make it a “western”. Likewise the other tale, whose setting has no distinctiveness, could easily have taken place in the woods of Maine. Which is why I cry foul. Neither of these is a real “western.”
That said, HOW THE WEST WAS WEIRD, is a grand collection that is extremely entertaining and worth your support. In fact, I’m hoping it does well enough to warrant another volume. These are too much fun to end with just one outing.