Gunslingers & Ghost Stories

I’ve read a lot of weird westerns lately. Most of them were, like this one, from Science Fiction Trails which seems to specialize in them.

Review: Gunslingers & Ghost Stories, ed. David B. Riley, 2012.Gunslingers and Ghosts

You get exactly what you would expect from the title: stories combining gunfighters and ghosts.

The majority of these 11 stories go past acceptable and into being memorable or well-done examples of typical ghost story motifs.

A couple of the standout stories were from series.

Joel Jenkins “Old Mother Hennessy” features his Indian bounty hunter Lone Crow. Here his partner is Six-Gun Susannah, a very quick draw with a gun if not a very good shot. In tracking down the vicious Hennessy boys to their mountain lair, they come across the graves of their victims. At the end of the trail is the beautiful and witch Mother Hennessy, the worst of the lot. As is usually the case in the Lone Crow series, Jenkins effectively mixes credible gunplay, magic, and characterization. Here Susannah pines away, in her unrequited love, for her partner.

Laura Givens “Chin Song Ping and the Hungry Ghosts” is a follow up to her “Chin Song Ping and the Fifty-Three Thieves”. Ping is a charming character given to romantic impulses and possessing equal parts of naivete, ignorance, and cunning. Here he gets involved hauling dynamite, and he and his partner camp for the night in the infamous Donner Pass. What better place to find hungry ghosts? And a band of Mexican bandits complicates things. Continue reading “Gunslingers & Ghost Stories”

Science Fiction Trails 11

I read a fair amount of weird westerns in 2017, and most were from Science Fiction Trails or its editor and publisher David B. Riley.

With every annual issue, Riley’s Science Fiction Trails magazine (at least starting with issue seven when I started reading them) packed an impressive variety into its literary saddlebags. Surprisingly, a lot of its stories didn’t go with the old store-bought plots of time travel and aliens.

Eventually, though, Riley couldn’t find enough contributors and the magazine went on hiatus.

Low Res Scan: Science Fiction Trails 11, ed. David B. Riley, 2014.SF Trails 11

Editor Riley has his usual gang of tried-and-true contributors here and some new hands too.

The work is sound, not really awful and seldom outstanding. But they’re all good enough to push you along the trail even though the destination is sometimes is a bit dry at that end.

Star performance went to Jackson Kuhl’s “Red River”. That’s red as in anarchists and red as in Martians. Kuhl has the Martian invasion, complete with tripods and red weed, of H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds turning the trans-Mississippi American West into a war zone. The red weed seeks out moisture everywhere and that includes human bodies when it mutates to a lethal infection. The U.S. Army in airtight, modified Martian tripods wage war on the infestation. But that army needs money, supplies, and men, and the locals start to become real resentful about supplying them. It’s a dark, mosaic piece of different scenes and points of view that carom from killer plague to killer anarchists.

Paradigm Lost” from R. A. Conine seems incomplete. If the subtitle, “Episode 1 of the Chronicles of Red Blade”, is a clue, that’s because it’s probably the first in a series of one about Sans Arc Sioux warrior Red Blade who finds himself whisked away from victory at the Battle of the Little Big Horn to a world where Indians and whites live at peace – because horrible critters from another dimension, the Dead, have wiped out most people in America and the survivors live in squalid bands. Blade meets the cause of this, and the story ends with him in yet another war in our timeline. Red Blade has, improbably, a degree in mathematics from Oxford though that’s of no relevance to anything in the story. Continue reading “Science Fiction Trails 11”

The Devil Draws Two

A couple of months ago it was time for the summer trip west and back to South Dakota.

That meant it was time to read the usual nonfiction Old West history book and a weird western. (I already did the usual geology reading.)

I’ll get to the history book another time.

I’ve been reading David B. Riley’s work on and off since encountering his publication Science Fiction Trails in 2013.

I am rather picky about what I consider a successful weird western. Ideally, it should be science fictional and not take the easy route of using magic and avoid the easy crutches of time travel and aliens.

Under Riley’s editorship, a surprising number of stories managed to do that.

Perhaps that standard was why Riley had trouble getting submissions and eventually ended publication of the magazine.

Science Fiction Trails is back, though, and I might do a review of its too most recent editions, both available in print and kindle form.

It was in another defunct Riley magazine, the first issue of Steampunk Trails, that I first met his character Miles O’Malley in “The Big Green Orb”. That story takes place after the ones in this omnibus.

Review: The Devil Draws Two: The Weird Western Adventures of Miles O’Malley, David B. Riley, 2012.Devil Draws Two

Miles O’Malley would be the first to tell you he’s not very bright and kind of naïve and that his horse Paul is smarter than he is.

He’s not a very good barber either.

Yet, as he wanders about the West circa 1880, he manages to tangle with vampires, time travelers, Susquatches, a robot, Martians, ghosts, demons and best them through some mix of charm, a lot of luck, and some fine shootin’ courtesy of a special revolver.

Which brings up Miles’ mighty peculiar circle of friends and acquaintances. There’s Nick Mephistopheles who gave him that gun. Miles doesn’t just pay a call to Hell to meet Nick. Miles also goes to Heaven.

There’s Molly Madison, intrepid female reporter and fellow boarder at the same San Francisco rooming house as Miles. Wing Ding, Chinese laundry owner and smuggler, tags along for a few adventures. Continue reading “The Devil Draws Two”

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. Continue reading “Six-Guns Straight From Hell”