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”

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”