Review: Heat of the Midday Sun: Stories From the Weird Weird West, ed. David B. Riley, 2015.
Not all the stories in this distilled version of the first ten years of Science Fiction Trails are great. (And two stories were never published there.) Many aren’t even among my favorite stories from the issues I’ve read.
But they all manage to be at least acceptably entertaining. You’ll rarely find anything too serious or grim in that magazine.
I’m not going to review every story. Many I’ve read before and reviewed here. I’ll list them at the end.
But let’s take a look at the new stuff.
C. J. Killmer and Sam Kepfield, two stalwarts of the magazine, produce the best efforts.
Killmer’s “Forewarned Is” splices well-done, detailed gunplay and a science fiction concept together. It’s hero, Lefty Bolingbroke, a Southern aristocrat, is into Madam Chang and her gang for a lot of money. But, being the honorable sort (he did, after all, visit all those high-priced girls and smoke that premium opium), he doesn’t try to shoot his way out of trouble. Instead, he offers to pay his debt by taking care of “Big Jim” McCready, an outlaw who stole from Chang and is also wanted by the law. Oh, and Big Jim has four arms.
Kepfield’s “They Zapped With Their Boots On”, a sequel to his “Plague 8 from Inner Space”, has President George Armstrong Custer (diverted from his appointment at Greasy Grass by a plague of mutant grasshoppers in that earlier story) battling Confederate soldiers in 1877. They’ve crossed timelines from a place where the South won the Civil War. As usual, I appreciated Kepfield’s historical details.
Out of place aliens in the West show up in two other stories.
Inspector Wepala of the Galactic Federation finds Sheriff Tyler and Judge Green rather nonchalant when he shows up seeking the arrest and extradition of another alien wanted for murdering an entire hive of intelligent aliens in “Lawman” by Dan Fitzimons. Why that’s so can be taken a couple of ways in the last line’s joke.
Editor Riley’s “The Preacher” (reprinted from Spacewesterns.com) is another slightly humorous tale about a visiting preacher appalled at how casual a Wyoming town is about their alien piano player. And he consorts with fallen women!
We’re not exactly sure what sort of fish-out-of-water the heroine of Lyn McConchie’s “A Day Out Shopping” is. But, after she tortures and kills a bunch of Mexican extortionists in Juarez, Mexico when they try to make her pay twice for a copy of Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon, we know she’s not what she claims to be. But McConchie does provide a somewhat surprising answer to that question at the end.
The other story original to the anthology is J. A. Campbell’s “Serpent’s Rest”. Its atmospheric depiction of an American West which inexplicably has witch hunters and the suffering of its narrator (who really is a witch) didn’t really do much for me in its buildup or surprise ending.
Raymond Broadbeard’s “Total Count: A Story of Enumeration and Numbers” isn’t even really a weird western. Set in San Francisco sometime after the great earthquake, it narrator, a journalist, hears about the wonders of radios, trans-American airship travel, and a puzzling bit from the U. S. Census bureau about a surge in German immigrants in California and Pennsylvania – and a rather sharp drop off in the number of Jews. It’s a joke story, of a dark sort, but it’s short enough not to wear out its welcome.
As to the other stories, you’ll find links to reviews below:
“The Five Disciples”, Joel Jenkins
“Art Lessons”, Kit Volker
“Bleeding the Bank Dry”, David Boop
“Chin Song Ping and the 53 Thieves”, Laura Givens