“History of the Young Man with Spectacles”

This week’s work of weird fiction being discussed over at LibraryThing is an episode from Arthur Machen’s The Three Imposters. I suspect it’s more interesting if you’ve read the rest of the novel. I have only read other excerpts presented as short stories. I may rectify that soon.

Review: “History of the Young Man with Spectacles”, Arthur Machen, 1895.

Cover by Matthew Jaffe

Narrated by Joseph Walter, a would-be scholar, seduced by a decadent secret society. 

Right at the opening paragraph, the narrator tells us he’s holed up in his crummy apartment in London’s bad Clerkenwell district and awaiting his destruction when he goes outside. His story is a warning.

He spends a great deal of time at the beginning telling us he “chose the glorious career of scholar”. But he’s not going to practice the scholarship of “these days”, merely annotating and editing books superfluously. His project is to spend his life learning everything. He waxes rhapsodic about the dome over the British Museum’s reading room where, supported by a small income, he spends his days. 

There are lots of people in the reading room every day, and one makes their acquaintance through little things like “a casual offer of assistance, a hint as to the search in the catalogue”, and one such man he meets is Dr. Lipsius. It’s a German name, and Lipsius tells Walters that, with his “wonderful resolve” to pursue an “infinite career” in scholarship, he should have been a German. Justus Lipsius was the name of a Renaissance philosopher who sought to fuse stoicism with Christianity. Machen’s choosing the same name may be a bit of irony since Lipsius is certainly not a stoic or Christian.

Continue reading ““History of the Young Man with Spectacles””

“Green Tea”

This week’s bit of weird fiction being discussed over at LibraryThing.

Review: “Green Tea”, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, 1869.

This 1869 story is considered one of the first occult detective stories.

The narrator in this story, told as letters to his friend and former patient Professor Van Loo of Leyden, is the German doctor Martin Hesselius. He introduces or narrates (the anthology’s introduction is not entirely clear) the stories in Le Fanu’s collection In a Glass Darkly. However, this is the only story in the collection featuring Hesselius.

The story centers around the Rev. Jennings, a middle-aged man with a strange problem. He can’t officiate at his church in Kenlis. Partway through the services, he stops and can’t continue except with “solitary, inaudible prayer” and starts to shake and grow pale. One might expect some sort of slacking off from Jennings’ appointed duties. His dear friend Lady Mary Heyduke thinks it “nerves and fancy”. 

We then hear Hesselius’ impression of Jennings on their initial meeting. He initially observes Jennings without talking to him, and his impressions are favorable. He does note how Jennings frequently looks at the carpet with a sidelong glance. 

Continue reading ““Green Tea””

The Ravine

Usually, I know exactly what I’m going to read after I finish a book. However, back last New Year’s Eve, I thought I needed a break.

A weird western was just the thing.

Review: The Ravine, William Meikle, 2013.

Cover by M. Wayne Miller

While this isn’t my favorite kind of weird western, I think the most inventive ones are science fiction stories that don’t use time travel or aliens, I still found this story gripping and fast moving. 

Meikle starts the action right away with a cavalry squad swept to another dimension where they are recruited in a fight to keep Satan imprisoned. Only one survives, Stevens, who is imbued with the weaponry and power of an angel and returns to our world. 

The second viewpoint character is Joe Clancy. He’s a rancher with his wife Jessie, son Tommy, and hired hand and family friend Paddy Doyle. His ranch is on the brink of being foreclosed on; there is a drought, and he needs the cattle in good shape to make his mortgage payment. Meikle really makes you feel the plight of the Clancys all through this story.

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“Mrs Midnight”

This was last week’s short story being discussed over at LibraryThing’s Deep Ones group.

Review: “Mrs Midnight”, Reggie Oliver, 2011.

Cover by Reggie Oliver

As seems to often be the case in the few Oliver stories I’ve read, this story is about showbiz.

Our narrator is the host of the tv show I Can Make You A Star, and the story is propelled by a woman, Jill Warburton, whom our narrator, Danny, fancies. He does not find her exceptionally beautiful, but he likes her personality. 

To be close to her, he agrees to help her on a restoration of the Old Essex Music Hall, a dump of a building in London that has a bad reputation and, says Danny, has only survived because “some nutter slapped a preservation order on it.” 

A lot of the story is Danny’s asides on various characters and his own life rising from humble beginnings. It opens with Danny going, for the first time, to the Old Essex with Crispin de Hartong and Jill. Danny does not like Crispin because he’s clearly putting the moves on Jill even though he admits Crispin is much closer to Jill’s age. Crispin is an architectural expert and hosts a minor house hunting show called Premises, Premises . . . .

The Old Essex is on Alie Street in the Whitechapel district. It was partly destroyed in a fire after the last Ripper murder in the area and has been a hangout for junkies and bikers for years. It’s a much larger building than Danny expects. 

Continue reading ““Mrs Midnight””

The Weird Western Adventures of Haakon Jones

(This first appeared in Innsmouth Free Press  on July 4, 2013.)

Review; The Weird Western Adventures of Haakon Jones, Aaron B. Larson, 1999.

]n 1874, 17-year-old Haakon Jones leaves Minnesota, his mother dead, his older brother set to inherit the farm. Trading in his prized violin for a Colt Army revolver, which is going to see a whole lot of use in the next 32 years, he wanders the American West and beyond, ending up in San Francisco just in time to be involved with its 1906 earthquake. You could think of him as sort of a Western version of haakonjones-w622-h350Robert E. Howard’s Solomon Kane. Indeed, the book is dedicated to Howard, except the ideals his Unitarian pastor back home admonishes him to remain true to are less fervently Christian than Kane’s Puritanism.

That’s all very nice, I hear you say, but why are you covering a 14-year-old book – and a Weird Western, at that? Innsmouth Free Press’s own J. Keith Haney, in his Retronomicon column, already does that quite ably. Why? Because this book deserves to be more widely known.

There are new additions to the Weird Western subgenre all the time in games, fiction, comics, and movies. I’ve been interested in it for decades, starting with old Twilight Zone comic books and the Clint Eastwood movies High Plains Drifter and Pale Rider. The trouble is that, while I haven’t looked at every single example of the subgenre, I have sampled quite a few and most have been disappointing. For me, that disappointment comes in three areas: annoying and unrealistic depictions of the West, conceptually lazy plots that simply throw werewolves or vampires or aliens into a western setting, and a failure to evoke a sense of place. The latter is important because, after all, place, a particular geographical setting and historical time, defines the “western” half of the “Weird Western.”

Now, there are werewolves and space aliens and vampires in this book, but there’s also a whole lot of other weirdness, a true smorgasbord of it. There is a golem, giant critters, weaponized vampire bats, lake monsters, Sasquatch, witches, trolls, a Mayan mummy, zombies, flying saucers, ghosts, Wendigo, Nazis, a mad scientist, and, yes, some Lovecraftian monsters, too. (Besides Howard, Lovecraft is another of the pulp authors the book is dedicated too.) There are more conventional menaces, as well: a pedophile, a gang of gunmen, and, in what I suspect is an homage to Howard’s boxing stories, a heavyweight champion of Mexico.

Larson can cram all this into less than three hundred pages because this fix-up novel is told through 35 chronologically arranged stories, most having first been published in Classic Pulp Fiction Stories in the 1990s. If you’re bored with one sort of monster, it’s not long until the next one will show up. Jones’ narration is often wry, sometimes poetic. It’s the speech of a drifter with a yen to learn life’s secrets. He frequently stops at libraries when he comes across them. It’s not the tall-tale, laconic, over-the-top drawl of Joe Lansdale’s Jonah Hex, which I never liked.

Larson also conveys a sense of the real American West and its people, though not every story is set there. Lakota mythology shows up with Hin-Han, the owl spirit that becomes a regular warning of the eerie about to show up in Jones’ life. His friend, and occasional partner in adventure, is Small Jumper, a Lakota he meets while both serve as scouts in Colonel Custer’s Seventh Cavalry.

One story involves a Dakota Territory community of what my parents would have called “Black Russians,” German immigrants from the Black Sea area. Cameo appearances of historical and fictional characters of the time abound: Buffalo Bill Cody; characters from the TV westerns, The Wild, Wild West and Have Gun, Will Travel; and the man associated with the most significant work of fantasy to come out of South Dakota, Frank L. Baum of Oz fame. In the zone between history and fiction, Larson also works in the legend of El Dorado, the disappearance of the Anasazi, and Vikings in America.

Larson also does a fine job of evoking place. Now, I have to admit my perceptions may be colored by my own unique perspective. I’ve either lived or been to the places mentioned in his Minnesota and Dakota Territory stories. (Indeed, the first place I ever saw this book mentioned was South Dakota Magazine.) On the other, hand S. P. Somtow wrote a long novel, Moon Dance, set at the same time and in many of the same areas, and didn’t bring the place to life. And, while I’ve never been to Seattle, I thought the story “In Seattle the Rain Comes for You!” did a nice job describing the city. That story, incidentally, seems both a nod to and argument with Lovecraft’s somewhat notorious “The Horror at Red Hook.” Both involve dastardly cults conducting underground rites in sleazy port cities, but Jones is helped in his fight against evil by a black preacher.

And, yes, there are quite-specific Lovecraftian elements here. Captain Lawton, Jones’ superior in the Army, is a reoccurring character with an interest in blasphemous books. They include Larson’s addition to that library, Olag Tryggvesson’s Dagbok av en Vanvittig Djevel av-en Utenfor Natt, which seems to translate as “Diary of a Mad Devil of Outside Night.” There’s also the little detour to an uncharted island in the Pacific in “Surf City, Here I Come” and the monster lurking in New Mexico in “The Door in the Desert.”

Now, this is not a perfect book and some of the flaws were more obvious on my second reading. Obviously, you’re not going to get a whole lot of character development in such short stories. Sometimes past subjects of Jones’ romantic attraction are too conveniently mentioned in only one story. Larson maintains his continuity pretty well, but one villain, seemingly killed in one story, pops up later in others. Perhaps, as the foreword says, we need to “forgive an old man’s memory.”

The reaction to a character’s death in the actually rather poignant and powerful “Can You Hear a Ghost Dance …,” based on the conflict between Small Jumper, who rejects the promises of the Ghost Dance, and his son, who joins the movement, weakens the story’s emotional effect. I was somewhat disappointed to see the supernatural menace of two of the stories set in and around the Black Hills of South Dakota, my old stomping grounds, to be somewhat vague in their manifestations and resolutions, though most of the stories set in that locale pleased me. And, of particular sorrow to a Lovecraft fan, I have to state that the problems brought up by some of the characters’ names in “Action on Arkham’s Boot Hill” almost completely ruined the story for me.

Still, though, Jones remains the high point of my travels in Weird Western territory, and I suspect many of you Innsmouth folk will cotton to something in it.

 

 

Apparitions

Review: Apparitions: Ghosts of Old Edo, Miyuke Miyabe, trans. Daniel Huddleston, 2013.

(This first appeared in Innsmouth Free Press on October 30, 2013.)

Ghosts are monsters of human connection, links to the dead and their past, their grudges and obsessions, crimes and appetites, and sometimes their affection. Belief in apparitions_250-w622-h350ghosts and interest in stories of ghosts is so universal and strong that, of course, they are often thought to be creatures of fact and not just fancy.

In the Anglophone tradition, as shown in R.C. Finucane’s Appearances of the Dead, real ghosts evolved from gibbering about tombs in the Classical era into the … uhh … shady shades (demons? delusions? spirits of the dead?) of early Christianity. Then came the allegedly tortured souls that were grist for theological debates about Purgatory during the Reformation. Next came the worldly spirits of the English Restoration. They dwelled on debts and honor and revenge and their heirs. Finally, we got the rather thick ghosts of the Victorian era who were there to morally instruct us, with their vague statements, that an afterlife existed.

Personally, I like my ghosts enigmatic and unreasonable. That’s why I’m fond of the Japanese ghost story as seen in the movies Ringu, Ju-On, Shikoku, Dark Water, and Kwaidan. So, I was interested to read actual Japanese ghost stories.

Does Miyabe deliver enigmatic and unreasonable ghosts? Sometimes. And, sometimes, the forces at work in these nine stories aren’t even what we would definitely call ghosts but more mysterious forces.

Are these horrifying tales of madness and psychic contamination in the manner of the J-horror movies above? Sometimes. But there is always a familiar, captivating humanity, a gentleness to these tales no matter the sometimes horrific fates of their heroes and heroines. They often seem, even when a third person narrates, to have the warmth of personal reminiscences or twice-told tales. They wander through the common details of life at a leisurely pace.

Are they, for better or worse, thoroughly Japanese? Yes and no. In his introduction to the collection, “horror critic” Masao Higashi notes Miyabe has staked a literary claim to a “borderland between mystery, horror-fantasy, and historical fiction.” She also has a wide-ranging knowledge of Western horror, and he notes specific European, British and American stories Miyabe’s stories play off, sometimes with only a line or two. These are not stories one would expect of historical fiction set in Japan. There are no samurai characters – barely, in fact, even a mention of samurai. These stories are inhabited by orphans and poor servants and employment agents and salesmen, the working and middle class of Edo AKA Shogunate-Era Tokyo. There is only a smattering of criminals, though one story does feature a sub-genre of Japanese mystery stories, the Edo thief-taker.

In many ways, the struggle to make one’s way, to provide for yourself and family, to honor work and social commitments, even to make the best of an arranged marriage, are universal-enough struggles to unbind the stories from any time and place. To be sure, there are details of mourning and Buddhism and Shinto purification rites, which may seem a bit puzzling to the uninitiated. However, while Haikasoru does not add explanatory footnotes for such things unlike the other main publisher of translated Japanese weird fiction, Kurodahan Press, they really are not missed. Higashi’s introduction, seemingly written for the original Japanese publication, is more mysterious in its allusions to a Westerner than any of the actual stories.

And what of the actual stories? As befitting a writer of mysteries, much is concealed in each tale until the end. One must tread their path the first time to behold the elegance of their revelations. And one can walk the path again just to appreciate the path. Their beauty is not so much in the skeletons of plot and concept as in their supple movement.

So, I will be briefly enigmatic in their descriptions.

In “A Drowsing Dream of Shinju,” a young boy finds his way as an apprentice at a cloth wholesaler, its reputation tarnished by its association with fashionable double-suicides of lovers. “Cage of Shadows” is one side of a dialogue explaining, in varying ways, the death of a family and the destruction of its business. In “The Futon Storeroom,” a young girl takes over her dead sister’s job and waits for a dreaded punishment. A young man thinks back on his troubled relationship with his insane siste,r who has just died in “The Plum Rains Fall.”

Sometimes, friendship is found in the oddest of places, as shown by “The ‘Oni’ of the Adachi House.” A mysteriously mute orphan boy cries out when he sees “A Woman’s Head.” A naïve young woman seeks advice in “The Oni in the Autumn Rain.” Why a servant girl has suddenly gone crazy and attempted murder is the mystery in “Ash Kagura,” a thief-taker tale. Insightful, sad, and gruesome, “The Mussel Mound” is a sort of farewell to old Edo.

These stories are the spectral equivalent of an Ozu film: intimate stories of the dead and demonic connecting with the living.

Listen to the gossip and the ghosts, the fiends and the families. You won’t be sorry.

Discovery

This one came to as a gift from Henry Ram, regular reader of this blog, who has a story in the collection and whose weird westerns I’ve reviewed.

Since it had a story by Daniel J. West who had a piece in Tales of the Al-Azif, I decided to read it now.

Review: Discovery: A Challenge! Series Anthology of Heroic Tales, ed. Jason M. Waltz, 2017.

Challenge
Cover by V. Shane

Sword and sorcery or, as it’s called now, heroic fantasy, is not a genre I read a lot of. I don’t have anything against it. It’s just that I’d rather read other things. I do have fond memories of reading some of Lin Carter’s Flashing Swords anthologies in the 1970s when I was a kid. They led me to Michael Moorcock’s many novels. But, apart from those, I haven’t read a lot of it.

These stories have all the things I want out of sword and sorcery stories: heroic figures, beautiful women, giant spiders and snakes, mysterious ruins, meticulously described violence, and devious sorcerers. The writers all put me in their worlds to smell the dust, sweat in the jungles, freeze in winters, and gasp at wondrous magic.

The heroes and heroines sometimes fight to save whole peoples and sometimes just a single person. Sometimes they survive. Sometimes they don’t

Sometimes the worlds of the stories are in our past, sometimes our future, sometimes in a some when where the names have a familiar ring.

The challenge of the title was that every single author had to, somewhere in a heroic story, incorporate the cover image by V. Shane. Writing to a cover illustration is a fine pulp tradition.

A couple of stories may have stayed in my memory for only a couple of days, but I had a good time reading every single one.

I was pleasantly surprised to see a weird western here. “Someplace Cool and Dark” by Frederic Durbin has a couple of treasure hunters in the American West. They battle strange critters in caves to retrieve gold left behind by a mysterious and vaguely Lovecraftian race called the Old Ones. But the real enemy is a criminal gang seeking that same treasure and who ambushes the pair in town. It’s a tale of blazing guns, laconic men, and deep if understated friendship and loyalty. Durbin also contributes the sole non-fiction piece in the book, “The Writing of ‘Someplace Cool and Dark’”. It doesn’t add much and is half the length of the story.

And there’s a third Durbin piece, “A Fire in Shandria”. The old queen of an Amazonian society has been overthrown by her sister Azanah. Something like a police state has been created, and our heroine Ragaan runs afoul of it when her secret meetings with an imprisoned dragon she has a telepathic link with are discovered. Azanah fears it is the fulfillment of an old prophecy predicting her downfall and tries to kill Ragaan who then has to go on the run from her still loyal old comrades and free the deposed queen.

For me, both of Dubin’s tales were highlights of the book.

Keith J. Taylor’s “Witch with Bronze Teeth” doesn’t take place in the jungle setting you might expect from the cover illustration. Given my interest in the Crusading orders, including their spinoff in the Teutonic Knights, I was hoping they wouldn’t be the villains here. But they are, and medieval Lithuanians are fighting for their lives against them. Taylor focuses on the Knights as viewpoint characters though all will come to bad – and memorable –ends.

In heroic fantasy, you’ve got your warriors and your wizards, And, of course, you have thieves. Liridonia is one of the latter in Richard Berrigan’s “Fire Eye Gem”. At first she just wants the titular rock to bring her lover, who accompanies her as a panther, back to human form. Time is running out, he tells her. He’s growing more like an animal every day. But an African tribe is dying, and they need to the gem to survive. They’ve sent a legendary warrior to get the gem before Liridonia does.

I would argue that John Kilian’s “Inner Nature” doesn’t exactly fulfill the heroic remit. The narrator is a dying man from sort of a Roman-like Empire that has penetrated into kind of a sub-Saharan Africa. He’s the sole survivor, mortally wounded, of that expedition. I suppose his relations with a woman in a fabled jungle city represent a sacrifice of a sort, but most of the story’s vigor comes from hearing about what happens before he lays dying.

The Ash-Wood of Celestial Flame” by Gabe Dybing was one of the book’s stories that left my mind quickly. Heroine Wuf-Pei is sent on a quest to find the celestial light that can save her fellow women back home as they are threatened by something coming out of the village’s quarry. I suspect the story’s jumping about in time and having two lovers as living symbols of cosmic forces may account for it not sticking with me longer.

The challenge that created the book came with prizes, and Frederik Tor’s “World Inside the Walls” got third place. A man fleeing from thugs in a city enters a deserted compound where the remains of the previous inhabitants, slaughtered years ago, are still about. But he does meet one lone survivor, a girl. It’s a simple and poignant love story with lots of fighting.

I liked the background for Daniel R. Robichaud’s “In the Ruins of the Panther People” in what seems to be a future where advanced science (though still nothing we can do and with a steampunkish air about it) is indistinguishable from sorcery and many of the names sound like corruptions of those from the European Middle Ages. The story has a set up similar to “Inner Nature” – the hero is the sole survivor of an expedition to a jungle city – but goes on to include raiders from the sky and an army that becomes smoke when killed only to reform. One of my favorites in the book.

Daniel J. West’s “The Serpent’s Root” is a somewhat humorous tale with some unexpected plot twists. Its heroine is a thief that needs the tooth of a cockatrice to remove a curse on her sister. The help she gets along the way is surprising as is her helper’s fate.

Nicolas Ozment picked up well-deserved second place with “Cat’s in the Cradle” which is something like heroic fantasy crossed with film noir. Telarra, a Warrior of the Higher Law who lives in poverty and travels the land dispensing justice and protecting peasants (sometimes from their own foolishness), is hired by a dodgy sorcerer to find a gem needed to ransom his son. Said son just happens to be an old lover of Telarra, so she takes the job despite her well-founded misgivings.

You wouldn’t expect to see Vikings in the plush jungle implied by the cover image, but that’s what you get in Henry Ram’s well-done, first place winner, “Attabeira”. A group of Vikings search the Caribbean for a Northmen expedition that vanished 20 years ago. It even finds the expedition’s remains and some survivors. They include one who now thinks she’s a god and is at the center of a power struggle. The story ends on a nicely gloomy note of sacrifice and future doom and, like “Inner Nature”, the idea that heroism can be an essence apart from action.

 

 

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

“Personal Devil”

Looking through Joel Jenkins’ author page on Amazon, I came across a Lone Crow story that isn’t in either The Coming of Crow or The Condemnation of Crow.

Review: “Personal Devil”, Joel Jenkins, 2014.

Occult Detectives
Cover by Rob Davis and Jesus Rodriguez

Demon Hunter, Priesthood Bearer, Slayer of Dark Souls … Flapping Crow, Last of Your Tribe, and Doomed Man 

are the latest titles Indian bounty hunter and monster slayer Lone Crow gets in this story. The supernatural menace sneering that here is a kurdaitcha (though, in my bit of research, not having the powers of the similarly named being out of Australian Aborigine mythology).

Crow is summoned to California by Mormon gunfighter Porter Rockwell (who, just like in our history, is frequently accused of trying to kill Missouri Governor Boggs). Rockwell has been dispatched by Brigham Young to collect some tithes from the saints in California. They were paid to a Sam Brannan. Sam didn’t turn them over to the Temple in Salt Lake City.

The trouble is Brannan isn’t co-operating and seems possessed by some evil being. Rockwell thinks Crow, with his extensive dealings with forces beyond mere human evil, can help.

This story is long enough to give Jenkins some breathing space and deviates from the usual Lone Crow formula. The pair will go to San Francisco and confront the kurdaitcha and its freezing powers and a secret society, formed by Brannan within the San Francisco Vigilance Committee, gunning for Rockwell.

It’s another engaging installment in this weird western series with plenty of gunplay and supernatural menace. For Lone Crow fans, the story takes place after “The Vanishing City” and “The Five Disciples”, and this story has a three black and white illustrations as well.

 

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

Science Fiction Trails #13

It’s time for another weird western review.

Review: Science Fiction Trails #13, ed. David B. Riley, 2018.

Science Fiction Trails 13
Cover by Laura Givens

To be honest, this issue was a disappointment. It was shorter than usual and a higher percentage of stories were ho-hum though there were a couple of bright points from two of the magazine’s old reliables.

I’m afraid the two newcomers don’t distinguish themselves.

Cynthia Ward’s “Six Guns of the Sierra Nevada” is actually a reprint of a story that first appeared 20 years ago in Pulp Eternity Magazine #1. It belongs to a time travel theme running throughout this issue. Carl Rhein seems to have been sent back in time by a shadowy cabal from the future in order to poison future American race relations by wiping out the Robin Hood Gang composed of all blacks. You have to be really good to get me to care about yet another story centering on what I’m told is the cause of all evil – racism, and this story isn’t, and its ending is a trifle murky.

There’s some racism in Paul J. Carney’s “The Warden of Chaco Canyon”, but it’s main problem is just that it’s kind of bland. It takes place in an alternate American West where prospectors have been hunting meteors with “star iron” – sought because of its use in protective amulets and bullets that will penetrate anything. However, the strikes have petered out after five years and prospector Hewitt wants to know why. He falls in with an Indian shaman who has his own ideas about what to do with “star iron”, and there are the ghosts of the town wiped out in the first meteor strike. Continue reading “Science Fiction Trails #13”

Legends of the Dragon Cowboys

Yes, it’s time for another weird western, two of them in fact, as I work my way through the backlog of reviews.

Riley and Givens are familiar names to this blog since they appear in several of the publications put out by Riley’s Science Fiction Trails. This book, however, is published by David Lee Summers’ Hadrosaur Productions, and his own fiction has shown up in Science Fiction Trails publications.

Review: Legends of the Dragon Cowboys, 2017.

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Cover by Laura Givens

As you can tell by the cover, this book hearkens back to the days of Ace Doubles.

It doesn’t exactly give you two novels. Both of them have an episodic feel to them though David B. Riley’s The Venerable Travels of Ling Fung seems to be all new while Laura Givens Chin Song Ping and the Long, Long Night is mostly reprints assembled around a frame.

Both books have Chinese immigrants, men on the make, in the American Old West.

I’ve long thought that weird westerns could do more with the Chinese. Even though I prefer the science fiction variety of the weird western, I’d like to see it use more Chinese mythology and history even it that means a fantasy weird western.

Ling Fung is kind of a Shaolin monk (obvious shades of the old tv show Kung Fu) and kind of a Jesuit though he didn’t complete training with either before a death sentence by the Chinese Emperor forced him to flee to America. There Riley puts him in the same fictional universe as his Miles O’Malley books, and Ling possibly solves the problem of Ah Puch, Mayan God of Death, for good.

He also learns the practicalities of bounty hunting (it’s not the gross, it’s the net), runs across a cannibal and a yeti, investigates the mystery as to whom is buying all the .40 caliber Purdy ammunition, and gets enough guns and knives from people trying to kill him to stock his own store with them. Continue reading “Legends of the Dragon Cowboys”