Sunday, April 18, 2010

HOW THE WEST WAS WEIRD


HOW THE WEST WAS WEIRD
Edited by Russ Anderson Jr.
Pulpwork Press
152 pages

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.

9 comments:

Joel Jenkins said...

Thanks for the kind review of Wyrm Over Diablo. It does look like Lone Crow will be appearing again (with Wyatt Earp, no less) in an upcoming issue of Dark Worlds.

Ron Fortier said...

Now that's excellent news indeed. Thanks, Joel. I will look forward to it.

DLFerguson said...

Thanks for the gracious review, Ron. You've always been a generous and enthusiastic supporter of Pulpwork Press and don't think for a minute that it isn't appreciated.

You'll be pleased to know that I'm planning on another Sebastian Red tale in anticipation of HOW THE WEST WAS WEIRD Vol. II!

James said...

Western is usually not my thing as it seemed my father only had two settings on the TV when I was growing up, Sports channel and Western channel, but the collection interests me and I look forward to reading it. It doesn't hurt most of the writers are friends.

Ron Fortier said...

Derrick, that there is going to be a sequel to this volume is terrific news. And I love that you are bringing back such a truly great pulp character. Yahoo.
James, thanks for stopping by.
I too was weaned on TV westerns as a kid. Wish somebody would have the smarts to bring them back.

John Bear Ross said...

Sounds like a great read. I'll have to pick it up.

Best,
JBR

Ron Fortier said...

John, you've my guarantee, you won't be disappointed. This is a very cool book.

DLFerguson said...

Westerns were a big part of my life growing up, Ron. My dad and I would always watch THE WILD WILD WEST and HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL together and one of my favorite childhood memories is my dad taking me to see my first 'grown-up' movie: THE WILD BUNCH.

Ron Fortier said...

Derrick, I actually saw WILD BUNCH with my dad as well. Pop loved all kinds of movies, but I have to believe westerns were by his favorites. I remember seeing John Wayne in THE SEARCHERS with him.
It remains one of my all time favorite films.