I’m continuing the weird western series.
Raw Feed (1991): Razored Saddles, eds. Joe R. Lansdale and Pat LoBrutto, 1989.
“Thirteen Days of Glory”, Scott A. Cupp — This tale of what the defenders of the Alamo were really like — homosexuals trying to set up an independent homeland in Texas — wasn’t shocking ( and I’m not sure it was supposed to be), but it was kind of funny — particularly the image of the Alamo defenders dressed in women’s clothing, made-up faces, and jewelry taunting their Catholic opponents. There’s a bit of historical inaccuracy in the admittedly figurative reference to the Inquisition. It was suppressed in 1834, two years before the Alamo.
“Gold”, Lewis Shine — Protagonist Malone wants Lafitte’s pirate treasure to compensate for his poor youth, to provide independence from his wife’s fortune, and to realize his political goals. Malone realizes that gold has a life of its own apart from its owner. He finds himself adopting beliefs alien to him simply to further his ultimately futile political goals. Shiner is reiterating common beliefs in art: that money can’t buy happiness, that the compromises a good, ambitious man must make to gain power corrupt him, that power and money seek to perpetuate themselves and have a will of their own. They are often true but not necessarily so. But to have things turn our well for Malone would not be as dramatic. The story is, in a sense, a coming of age tale as Malone learns the lessons of life that Lafitte already knew.
“Sedalia”, David J. Schow — This was an ok story of dinosaur ghosts (and then real dinosaurs) returning to the world in our time. The major attraction of this story was the scenes of dinosaur mayhem and Schow’s clever style and western dialect. The dinosaur roundup wasn’t that interesting.
“Trapline”, Ardath Mayha — As the story’s blurb says, this is a tale in the E.C. Comics tradition. You know, as soon as Herzog baits his traps with human flesh, his victims are going to exact revenge. They do in a very predictable way. Nothing special here.
“Dinker’s Pond”, Richard Laymon — This story captures the Western vernacular and the style of the tall tale quite well. George Sawyer’s tales are originally grisly. I suppose the horror of this story lies in the question of Lucy’s death. Was she gnawed by the severed head of Clem Dinker or killed by George Sawyer?
“Stampede”, Melissa Mia Hall — There is no fantastical element in this story. As the blurb says, it’s a literary story (with all the elements of that genre: emphasis on character study, a confluence of symbols — the stampede, the dead phone, the strip joint — that add up to a thematic statement) about a woman’s descent into madness. She’s not a very likeable character — always dreaming of a better future but never working towards it, a thief, and a white trash women who sleeps with a man to support herself while her husband is in prison. Like her daughter, her dreams seem lifted from tv (a subtheme here — the influence of pop culture on the psyche), and she can’t control her obnoxious son. I was hoping worse would happen to her than madness.
“Razored Saddles”, Robert Petitt — This story — a sf western — was all right. It’s main virtue (beside the twist of the giant mutant rattlesnake being very docile but this fact being covered up for the profit of the rodeo) was the sense of manly comradery as Patterson (so it seems) gives his life so Pike can escape quarantine (the sf rationale of this story cleverly justified its western flavor) and go to Wyoming. It’s that theme of a man fleeing injustice to begin his life anew.
“Empty Places”, Gary L. Raisor — This story’s centerpiece, evolved buffalo returning to Earth and bidding it farewell in a final dance, was interesting, but I didn’t find it very moving. I liked the thematic twin of the two tramps traveling together and one going home to die. That was the best part of the story and kind of touching.
“Tony Red Dog”, Neal Barrett, Jr. — This is another story in this anthology with no fantastical element, but it does have Barrett’s wit. There’s nothing new in the plot of this Mafia story other than Tony Red Dog’s presence, but its pacing and style (told in present tense) made it a fun read.
“The Passing of the Western”, Howard Waldrop — My main complaint with most Howard Waldrop stories is the lack of emotion, the “so-what?” feeling at the end of reading a story that often has a clever, ingenious idea. With this story, I think Waldrop has found the ideal narrative form to downplay his weaknesses and play to his strengths. Adapting the pseudo-documentary style, Waldrop gives us a delightful, ingenious alternate history and an new movie genre. Waldrop not only gives us planet wide weather control and terraforming beginning in the American West shortly after the Civil War, but also the movie genre of that history with curious similarities (rugged individualism, the fight against the cabal — here the Windmill Trust — by the little guy) and differences (an adoration of science and little appeal to violence) to the Western of our world. Waldrop even takes a swipe at Forrest J. Ackerman.
“Eldon’s Penitente”, Lenore Carroll — This tale of guilt and the mystic value of penance and self-flagellation didn’t do anything for me.
“The Job”, Joe R. Lansdale — This story, by one of the anthology’s editors, cheats I think. I think the story’s blurb talks about the negative aspects of the western mentality (violence, adoration of heroes), but the story itself really doesn’t earn such a thematic importance. It’s almost a vignette about an organized crime bit of violence. I don’t think the racial overtones of that violence– anti-Asian — of this story add much significance.
“I’m Always Here”, Richard Christian Matheson — I suppose this sf story of the ultimate devotion, adoration, love, and aid of a music fan for her idol (a country western singer) being manifested by her being joined — Siamese-twin like — to his body should have moved me more, but it didn’t.
“’Yore Skin’s Jes’s Soft’n Purty … ‘ He Said. (page 243)”, Chet Williamson — This is a sick story. And a memorable one too with its last line: “There is nothing that dies so hard as romance.” Eustace P. Saunders’ constant self-delusions on the nature of life in the West and those in it stands as a powerful symbol of the power not only of romance and popular culture but of all obsessions. Interestingly enough, this is the second story in one anthology that deals with homosexual freedom in the context of the Western myth.
“Trail of the Chromium Bandits”, Al Sarrantanio — This was a clean, simple sf version of the western plot of a marshal hunting a band of vicious desperados. This marshal has a badly damaged, but faithful, canine companion who is revealed to be a robot. The desperados are aliens and, in an unnovel, but still nice ending, the marshal is also revealed to be an alien marshal who has come a long to hunt the Chromium Bandits.
“Black Boots”, Robert R. McCammon — This is the first Robert McCammon story I’ve read, and I liked it a lot. At first you think Davy Slaughter is traveling through a fantastic, hellish landscape pursued by the strange, sinister Black Boots, a man Slaughter has killed several times in shootouts. Then things get strange when Slaughter comes to the town. He sees sights no one else sees and Black Boots wearing the skin of others. Gradually the reader realizes there is no Black Boots and this is no strange, surreal landscape. Slaughter is just crazy, gunning down people who are no threat. A simple idea but very memorably done.
“The Tenth Toe“, F. Paul Wilson — This story reminds me of one of the reasons I don’t read much horror: the same themes are repeated over and over with usually uninteresting variations. This story is one of those shaman/fortune teller/witch doctor crossed and then exacting revenge stories. Here we find out the real reason Doc Holliday got tuberculosis: he cheated an Indian woman with magical powers. The story’s only good points are Holliday being cursed with honesty — that was funny — and Holliday’s replacing gold fillings with inferior ones. (I wonder if he really did that.)