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”

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The Condemnation of Crow

Review: The Condemnation of Crow, ed. Joel Jenkins, 2017.

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Cover by Damon Orrell

From the days right after Civil War to 1925 and from New Orleans to England, Jenkins continues the saga of Lone Crow.

In eight stories and a couple of pieces of flash fiction, Jenkins adds to Crow’s legend. Wyatt Earp shows up again, this time joined by noted Old West attorney Temple Houston and gunslinger Luke Short.

Jenkins’ author’s note frankly admits he doesn’t feel obliged to follow the actual timeline of his historical characters. Morgan and Warren Earp meet different ends here than in history, and a story in The Coming of Crow implies Crow first met Wyatt years later than here.

Sherlock Holmes and Watson show up here, the former insisting on a rational reason for one of the supernatural menaces Crow is always encountering.

To the group of Crow’s former enemies and bounties turned allies is added Isidro Acevedo. It’s from him Crow gets his signature Colt Peacemaker though we still don’t get the details about that night when it was blessed by a Prophet and the dead rose from the earth. Continue reading “The Condemnation of Crow”

The Coming of Crow

Review: The Coming of Crow,  ed. Joel Jenkins, 2014.The Coming of Crow

Armed with a Colt Peacemaker blessed by a prophet on a night in the desert when the dead rose from the earth, the lone survivor of his tribe after they are wiped out by other Indians, raised by white Mormons, an ex-Army Scout turned bounty hunter, Lone Crow roams the west.

But it’s not just bad men he’ll encounter. His gun and tomahawk and bow will deal death to Cthulhoidish entities, shapeshifters, sorcerers, and Chinese demons from Alaska to Costa Rica, California to Colorado, Oklahoma to Arkham and New York City.

Jenkins’ Lone Crow is the literary descendant of Robert E. Howard’s Solomon Kane and Aaron B. Larson’s Haakon Jones and the finest weird western series I’ve encountered next to Larson’s. Truth be told, he may be better than Larson, and I’m just biased towards Larson because of his extensive use of my native South Dakota for many of his stories.

I’m not going to summarize the 14 stories here. That would give a false sense of tedium since many of the stories use a plot where Crow is after some bounty, encounters and defeats some supernatural menace, and then still has to deal with the normal dangers of capturing or killing bad men. However, if your interested in specifics, you’ll find a bit more on individual Crow stories elsewhere on the blog. Continue reading “The Coming of Crow”

Science Fiction Trails #12

Lately, I’ve been thinking about narrowing the scope of this blog and, as I put it, reading more like a normal person. In other words, reviewing less of what I read.

I’ll probably continue to do the weird western stuff though. It gets a moderate amount of interest, and it’s an area not a lot of other people cover

Review: Science Fiction Trails #12, ed. David B. Riley, 2017.Science Fiction Trails #12

In 2017, David B. Riley gathered the posse for another ride in Science Fiction Trails.

That magazine’s successors, Steampunk Trails and Story Emporium, didn’t generate a lot of interest, and Riley wanted to still provide an outlet for writers of weird westerns.

Counter to that was Riley’s perennial problem in even getting enough submissions for the magazine.

So, it’s no surprise that all the members of the posse are old reliables from previous issues.

Not only this is a shorter issue than regular, but it’s even got a couple of reprints.

First up is “Belfrey’s in Your Bats!” from Aaron B. Larson. There is nothing wrong with the story. It gives a hat tip to probably one of the most popular weird westerns of all time, the tv show The Wild Wild West (the other being, perhaps, the Clint Eastwood film High Plains Drifter). But it’s not the best of the stories collected in that powerful parcel of weird western fiction: The Weird Western Adventures of Haakon Jones which I’ve reviewed at length elsewhere. Continue reading “Science Fiction Trails #12”

Story Emporium #2

Another of David B. Riley’s publishing experiments came to an end with the second and last issue of Story Emporium.

Review: Story Emporium #2: Purveyors of Steampunk and Weird Western Adventures, ed. J. A. Campbell, 2016.

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Cover by M. Wayne Miller

A fairly strong issue with the only story not exciting me being Jo Oram’s “The Herald”. Not only did I not remember it after reading it last November. It rather bored me on skimming it through it to make notes. It seems to involve airships, a mysterious figure chasing some kids who stole a stone from him, and psychic possession.

David Boop’s “The Edge of the Grave” is sort of a follow up to his “The Temptation of Darcy Morgan”. It also is set in Drowned Horse in Arizona Territory and also involves the gambling god Noqi. But this one has Mongolian Death Worms so, even though I wasn’t keen on its resolution, I still liked it better than its predecessor. On the whole, though, I’m not keen on mixing gods with my weird westerns.

Remember what I said about steam-powered horses when reviewing Story Emporium #1? Well, there’s another steam-powered horse story here and its again from Lyn McConchie. That’s fine. She’s a reliable contributor to Science Fiction Trails’ publication, and her story here is no exception. “For Love of Maxie” is a tender and successful story about what happens when an inventor neighbor gives eight-year old Annie a mechanical replacement for her beloved horse Maxine, killed in an accident. Over the years, her father, the narrator of the story, ponders just how lifelike Maxie seems. Continue reading “Story Emporium #2”

Story Emporium #1

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.

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Cover by M. Wayne Miller

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. Continue reading “Story Emporium #1”

Steampunk Trails 2

Review: Steampunk Trails 2, ed. J. A. Campbell, 2014.

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Cover by M. Wayne Miller

 

Like its predecessor, it has an article, “Tumbleweeds: Western Icon or Martian Invaders” from editor Campbell. It looks at the hardy tumbleweed aka Russian thistle, an invasive species into the American West.

Beth Daniels, an author I’ve never read, offers an interview on writing steampunk, advice that can also be found in her Geared Up: Writing Steampunk.

This being a Science Fiction Trails publication, there’s a dog story. Here that’s Campbell’s “RCAF (Royal Canine Air Force)“, inspired by the cover illustration. It’s a slight story with dogs and cats dogfighting in the air, and the dogs blasting a factory. Airships, machine guns, and plasma cannon included.

More steampunkery is supplied by the heist/rescue story “Shell Games: A Hummingbird and Inazuma Con” from Peter J. Wacks. It, as the title implies, involves a couple of conmen and seems to be part of an intended series. Inazuma is a “brilliant swordsman” (though he’s not called a samurai). Hummingbird is a gunfighter. The story takes place in Canton, China, but, of course, a steampunk alternative. Here the technological divergence is the invention of the “airjunk” in 1890. There are the usual iconic sorts of things like “clockwork carriages”. Hummingbird herself is a cyborg with a “clockwork right arm”, specifically a smaller variant of the one used in the West. It uses acupuncture needles connected by steel threads to serve as musculature. Hummingbird is accomplished at tai chi. Our two con artists are sent on a mission to retrieve the kidnapped daughter of the police commissioner. There are some historical figures here. The villain is Grigori Rasputin. Winston Churchill shows up too as a lieutenant in the police force since this section of China is occupied by Britain. Hummingbird and Inazuma’s con is complicated and precisely timed. The bits with Churchill were nice. Rasputin is set up to be a running series villain, but I wished he was on stage more.

Another story that reads like part of a series is Jessica Brawner’s “Bad Altitude”. The story has a great opening with our naked heroine falling from an airship over Paris. The ending doesn’t entirely explain the villain’s motives for wanting her airship. Still, the stuff in between is entertaining enough. This is set in a 21st century world where Douglas Adams is a “great philosopher of the last century”.

And, speaking of clockwork, there’s O. M. Grey’s The Clockwork Heart”, a nicely done story which metaphorically puts that imagery to use in something of a feminist tale. It’s told by one woman and relating the story of another “woman”, Eleanor. Eleanor is a clockwork woman, but she used to be a regular woman as evidenced by the scars around her wrists (a suicide attempt) and neck and chest. The latter seem to be surgical scars from her one-time lover, Dr. Clague. Another woman, Penelope, is Clague and Eleanor’s daughter though the two were never married. Eleanor has been revived after her suicide attempt to hang about the house as a governess for Penelope. Emotionless during her second round at life, she wants to feel again, and Clague helps her have emotion again. Just in time to experience them when another man enters her life.

Lyn McConchie does no harm to her reputation as a reliable contributor to Science Fiction Trails publications. Here it’s with “The Steam Powered Camera”. The fantastic element here is slight. Was it really necessary to have a steam powered (in effect, a movie camera) with a wide-angle lens instead of just standard Victorian-era photographic equipment? Probably not, but it’s a fairly clever horror story in which a photographer doing psychic investigations comes across an impetuous youth, also with a camera, who mocks his equipment.

Lesbian lovers seem to be (or, at least, were back in the heyday of steampunk and judging by Amazon browsing) something of a steampunk cliché. Jeffrey Cook’s and Katherine Perkins’ “Opening Night” features two. Cliché is doubled by making one a warrior babe. The story intercuts between Emily’s stage performance as a clockwork doll (her own body has damaged limbs encased in mechanisms and she’s missing an eye) and Luca foiling an assassination attempt in the opera house.

The rest of the stories are kind of amalgams of steampunk and weird western.

Henry Ram gives us another installment in the life of Potbury the Necromancer in “The Courtship of Miss Henrietta”. The rich and dying Mr. Seven has his airship Azincourt parked above Name Pending, Wyoming. He’s hallucinating from products of “advanced science” put in his body and brain, and he needs Potbury to do his resurrection thing on him. Potbury says that’s not possible. Seven’s already been resurrected once. Another time is going to be technically difficult. Seven, not taking no for an answer, starts to threaten Miss Henrietta, the former local prostitute Potbury is in love with. Another engaging entry in the series with appearances by regular characters like the rapacious and two-faced madam Mrs. Broadhurst and worthless town marshal Wainscot.

I liked Liam Hogan’s “Horse”, a first person tale about a 15-year old boy and his mechanical, steam-powered, intelligent horse inherited from a beloved professor killed in a faro game. What the boy finds in a town — a gunsmith interested in the horse, local bullies, and a prostitute — makes an interesting story, but it’s not a coming of age tale.

The (Almost) Entirely Untrue Legend of John Henry”, from David Boop, starts in 1855 with John Henry being sold for a 20 year period to the Chesapeake and Ohio (C & O) Railroad. The story then shifts to the end of the ballad – John Henry pounding away at the end of a mountain tunnel. However, the mountain collapses on him since they tunneled through to an unmapped mine. John Henry and several men are trapped. We then get a different version of the famous John Henry vs. the steam drill story with a lot of exotic machinery. A nice bit of steampunkery and secret history.

Eric Aren’s “A Cure for Boundary Pirates” is set in a vaguely defined Old West of airships (with helium no less) and electric rifles where trade seems to be prohibited between the natives of the west coast and the people of the plains. A portion of the Great Plains has been turned into “the Colony” for those suffering from tuberculosis. The Colony forbids alcohol and tobacco. Simon, a pharmacist, smuggles “airflower” (seemingly marijuana given its analgesic properties) to the Colony. He’s been blackmailed by a couple of airship pirates who live in the Boundary (aka Rocky) Mountains into helping their smuggling. But the relationship is getting troublesome, so Simon takes steps.

Of course, this being a Science Fiction Trails book, David B. Riley channels karl, the dinosaur sheriff to introduce a collection of flash fiction about fog making machines.  Karl, in “Some Protection“, talks about meeting one H. G. back in the Cretaceous. H. G. thought his time machine’s fog generator would protect from the vicious local fauna.

Eric Aren’s entry “Victory!” is a rather confused entry about a war between Russia and Germany.

P. R. Morris’ “English Waters” is a grisly alternate version of the Boer War with the Boers trying to prevent Gordon from reaching Khartoum.

Pressure” from Guy Anthony De Marco is just jokey and underdeveloped.

Sam Knight is a weird western writer I usually like, but his “A Pirate Fog” shows, at least here, flash fiction is not his thing with a slight piece of naval combat in the Gulf of Mexico.

 

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