Six-Guns Straight From Hell

For some reason, I’m in a weird western mood, so I thought I’d bring out this retro review from August 12, 2013.

Unfortunately, you’re probably going to pay a lot of money for this book in physical form, and the kindle edition, which I have, is no longer available due to rights issues.

Still, I’ll pass along the recommendation, and you should look up co-editor David B. Riley’s Amazon page if you enjoy weird westerns. I’m pretty fussy about what I regard as a good weird western. My criteria is they should be set in the historical American West and not fall back on standard supernatural creatures or time travel or aliens for their effect. Unsurprisingly, I don’t find many stories that fit that bill. However, Riley published Science Fiction Trails, and its stories often did. I’ve also enjoyed some of his own weird westerns.

Unfortunately, it didn’t get a lot of submissions that fit what Riley was looking for, so it’s no longer published.

And, of course, you can always seek out the work of the listed writers.

Review: Six-Guns Straight to Hell: Tales of Horror and Dark Fantasy from the Weird Weird West, eds. David B. Riley and Laura Givens, 2010.Six-Guns Straight From Hell

Oh, sure there are the usual vampires, werewolves, and ghosts as you would expect. But there are also a few Lovecraftian pieces, a bit of alternate history, and a bit of science fiction. And, of course, you do get plenty of gunslingers. It’s one of those anthologies with few real outstanding stories, some memorable ones, and no bad ones.

For me the best of the lot was Sam Kepfield’s “Ghost Dancers“. It takes perhaps the weirdest historical event in the Old West, the Ghost Dance, as its starting point, in particular the one place the movement broke into violence – Wounded Knee. It’s been a while since I’ve read James Mooney’s The Ghost-Dance Religion and the Sioux Outbreak of 1890, but the history seemed dead on, the ending memorable.

I’ve enjoyed Lee Clark Zumpe’s Cthulhu Mythos stories so was pleased to see him in the table of contents. The Lovecraftian elements of his “The Man from Turkey Creek Canyon” are rather slight and, to be truthful, I found the end a bit unsatisfying, like the story could have been fleshed out more or belonged to a series. However, I liked its amnesiac gunslinger of “callous conscience” sent to protect a wagon train from ambush.

Matthew Baugh, another writer who sometimes works in the Cthulhu Mythos, gives us Dave Mather, descendent of witch-hunting Cotton Mather. Hanging Judge Roy Parker sends him to track down a man Parker has already hung once. This time, as the title says, Parker wants him “Decently and Quietly Dead“.

My second favorite story was “Spook” from John Howard. Its double entendre title also refers to the buffalo soldiers who encounter a vicious town.

As you might guess, “Bleeding the Bank Dry” from David Boop is a vampire tale, a rather noirish one with a band of dim-witted brothers teaming up with a vampire to rob a bank and save the family farm from foreclosure. Or so it seems. Vampires also show up in editor Riley’s “Grumpy Gaines, Texas Ranger“. Like a fair number of the tales in the book, it combines horror with the laconic or hyperbolic rhetoric commonly associated with the western.

The Murders Over in Weirdunkel” from James Patrick Cobb has such a style, and the murderer is, I would venture to say, totally unique in horror. “The Enterprising Necromancer” by Henrik Ramsager works out the details of what being the town resurrectionist is like. “Clay Allison and the Haunted Head” from Bill D. Allen and Sherri Dean is about just such a head – one that just won’t shut up in demanding the death of his wife.

Chin Song Ping and the Fifty-Three Thieves” from Laura Givens is not the only story to mash together history and a couple of mythologies. The story takes off after Chin Song Ping figures out the identity of the man who wants to sacrifice him and two beautiful women to give magic invulnerability to the Cowboys Wyatt Earp will face at the OK Corral. Joel Jenkins’ “Long Night in Little China” has an Indian bounty hunter protecting a beautiful Chinese woman from a magical critter in sleazy Gold Rush San Francisco. He’s an enjoyable enough character that I’d like to see a sequel.

There are ghosts a plenty. Lynn McConchie’s “On the Road to Bodie” has a put upon Mexican servant girl trying to figure out how to avoid destitution and still not have to marry a brutal ranch foreman. “Smile” from Kit Volker seems the first in a series continued elsewhere and involves a woman in post-Civil War San Francisco who starts making portraits of ghost to keep her struggling photography business alive. To be honest, I don’t know enough of the history of the Texas War for Independence to know if and when real history blends into alternate history in Carol Hightshoe’s “The Last Defenders“, a tale of ghosts and the Battle of the Alamo.

Trouble Huntin’” by Bill Craig is an honest to goodness werewolf hunt conducted by a lawman looking for the creature that killed a Kansas family.

There are a refreshing number of odd concepts in the book. David Lee Summers’ science fictional “A Specter in the Light” draws effectively from the real – and short – history of the New Mexico School of Mines and some of the skilled electrical engineers working in the nearby mines. Renee James’ “As Ye Sow” deals with the consequences to a band of Union partisans who harshly treat some freed slaves. Don Hombostel’s “Night Bird” is a sweet romance with a shape shifting widow woman. “Justice“, from Nicole Given Kurtz, starts out with a prostitute seeking refuge from a band of men out to kill her and then proceeds to violate your expectations and sympathies from that stereotypical set up. Jennifer Campbell-Hicks’ “Snake Oil” kind of reminded me of a zombie version of Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes: a small boy must save his town from horror.

 

More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.

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