In 2015, Science Fiction Trails publisher David B. Riley experimented again with the annual magazine he put out. The weird western tales of the defunct Science Fiction Trails and the steampunk of Steampunk Trails were combined into Story Emporium.
Review: Story Emporium #1: Purveyors of Steampunk & Weird Western Adventure, ed. J. A. Campbell, 2015.
A lot of the usual contributors to Science Fiction Trails’ publications are here and a lot of those writers continue their long running series in the magazine.
But let’s start with the writers new to me.
Dan Thwaite’s “The Duel” is bit Sergio Leonish in its ever-slowing pace and repetition of details as the climax nears. But it’s not very effective. A gunfighter come to town. His high noon opponent is a clock in a tower. He shoots it but dies. I suppose this is some kind of metaphor about how time and death catch up to us all.
K. G. Anderson’s “Escape from the Lincoln County Courthouse” is a secret history and a good one at that. Jewish magic and the Kabbala are spliced into the conventional history of Billy the Kid. It’s narrator, a woman named Shulamit, flees her home to escape an arranged marriage to a man she never met. With her, in the trunk on the stagecoach, is a golem made by her grandfather. Others want the golem, and Billy the Kid intervenes to save Shulamit when an attempt is made to steal it.
“Guns of Prey” from Chris Nardone is an action packed, shoot’em-up-western story where bad Marshall Everson is a werewolf who killed our hero Talbert LaRue’s uncle years ago – and made LaRue a “wolf-like man”. A 40 year revenge story ensues, and its’s enjoyable.
Scott A. Cupp’s “Monikens of the Montgolfiers” is, as you can guess from the title, a steampunk story with ironclads and aerial navies of balloons. But there’s the added weird western-alternate history flavor of the story taking place after the South won the Civil War. The Confederate States of America, with Robert E. Lee as its president, allies with the Republic of Texas to secure Southern ports against depredations by the French Montgolfier airfleet. To this, Cupp adds glider flying gibbons and the Monikens, an intelligent “ape-like” race that lives on a hidden island off Europe. And that’s just the set up. There’s raids and rescues too and enjoyable derring-do.
The same cannot be said of Rebecca McFarland Kyle’s “Make It Work”. Its plot seems plotted out on propaganda ends: a lesbian couple during the Oklahoma land rush, one of them passing as a man, their marriage, and adopting a child. Plot the steam of politics doesn’t make it enjoyable steampunk despite “clockwork spiders” and airship pirates.
There’s a steam-powered horse in “’Til Death Do Us Part” from Cary G. Osborne. Heroine Elsie, vampire slayer, picked up the horse from an inventor in St. Louis. Her origin story involves an attack on vampire Merrill back in England, and Elsie’s tracked him to the Southwest where he seems to be involved in a local land dispute and political corruption that’s also engulfed a father and son attacked by Merrill. Elsie’s character and an uncertain ending imply more adventures from Elise which would be fine by me.
Plenty of regular Science Fiction Trails’ authors show up to.
Joel Jenkins give us another Lone Crow story, “Dead Before Sunrise”, with Lone Crow teamed up with Shotgun Ferguson, his quarry for a bounty in “The Five Disciples”. They’re guarding a payroll shipment and get ambushed. On the run in the forest of Satan’s Hollow, they encounter some peculiar underground dwellers in what seems to be a faerie encounter. I liked this one well enough that I bought and read Jenkins’ two books of Lone Crow stories, and I’ll be doing brief reviews of them at a later date.
Sam Knight’s “From Out of the Storm” has tornadoes and thunderbirds and giant worms and is set in Wyoming Territory near the Black Hills, how could I not like this one? The narrator is ten-year old Paul. He lost his previous family during another stormy night. And he’s afraid history is about to repeat itself.
It’s another steam-powered horse in Lyn McConchie’s “Polly and Johnny”. Polly and Johnny are prospector John’s two normal horses, but he takes the steam-powered horses on a prospecting trip. Things don’t go well with their replacements.
Henry Ram gives us another Potbury the Necromancer story with “Gunfight at Six Thousand Feet” except Potbury doesn’t even show up in this one. That gunfight is between bounty hunter Greymoor and his quarry McFoley — on top of a dirigible. Series regulars, the villainous Seven and the rapacious and two-faced brothel madam Mrs. Broadhurst, show up.
Karl, the dinosaur sheriff, ghosted by Riley, talks about how he got to be a sheriff and his futile attempts to bag a Sasquatch.
And there’s a flash fiction writing challenge with five stories completing the scenario of one character, on foot in the Arizona of 1880, encountering five Indians on horseback. Said character has just one bullet.
Riley’s “Misfire” has the character be a woman and armed with just a Derringer and baffling those Indians. Dan R. Herrick’s “Scourge of the Southwest” has the character carrying some zombie plague and about to off himself. Cary G. Osborne’s “The Folding Table” introduces a clockwork man into the mix. Steve Ruskin’s “Specimen” has the character hunting a giant bird sacred to the Indians, and the character in Gerald E. Sheagren’s “Loco” plays Russian roulette.
With the exception of the Kyle and Thwaite stories, this was a strong product from Science Fiction Trails and seemed to be a successful experiment.
However, there was only one more issue of the magazine, which I’ll review at a future date, and Science Fiction Trails the magazine was resurrected.