Category Archives: weird western

Hearing Whispers Out of the Dust

IMG_3384Whispers Out of the Dust
David J. West
ebook $3.99, paperback $14.99

Take the Mormon settlement of the West, mix in some M. R. James and H. Russell Wakefield, throw in a healthy serving of H. P. Lovecraft and a dash of Robert E. Howard, stir in Native American lore, bake in the desert heat and wash down with a lake formed by a damn, and what you’re likely to come up with something that resembles Whispers Out of the Dust.

David J. West has begun to build a body of work in the subgenre known as the weird western, and his most recent book is a solid addition to the field.  It’s also one of his most ambitious projects to date.  (And I absolutely love that cover.)

St. Thomas, Nevada was settled by Mormon pioneers, but the area had been home to the Anasazi and other tribes long before.  The Mormons, many of them anyway, moved away when they discovered they were in Nevada rather than Utah and Nevada wanted to collect several years of back taxes.  Still, the town survived until the Hoover Dam was built, and the waters of Lake Mead covered it up.

That much is historical fact.  What David does is add a dose of fantasy which he blends so smoothly that you find yourself believing things you know can’t really be so.   (At least you don’t think so.)  The footnotes (endnotes, really) certainly add to the feeling of verisimilitude. David includes a number of photos he’s taken, which give you an idea of what the area looks like. Continue reading

New Weird West Anthology Announced

Weird Wild WestI received an email over the weekend about a new Kickstarter for a Weird West anthology called Tales of the Weird Wild West.    I think the theme is pretty self-explanatory.  Some of you who are regular followers of this blog enjoy weird westerns.  (I’m looking at you, David J. West.)

The anthology will be edited by Misty Massey, Emily Lavin, and Margaret McGraw.  The initial lineup will contain stories by stories by R S Belcher, Tonia Brown, Diana Pharaoh Francis, John Hartness, Jonathan Maberry, Gail Martin, Misty Massey, and James Tuck.  There are also four spots for open submissions, so if any of you are inclined to write in this vein (I’m looking at you again, David), you might want to give them a shot.

The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard: “The Horror From the Mound”

Howard HorrorThe Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard
Robert E. Howard
Del Rey
trade paper $18.00
ebook 12.99 Kindle Nook

This is another of Howard’s weird westerns, and although published a year and a half before “Old Garfield’s Heart” (May 1932 vs. December 1933), it’s a more mature tale.  This one concerns a former cowboy, now farmer, named Steve Brill who notices that an old Mexican laborer named Juan Lopez avoids a mound on Brill’s property.  Lopez cuts across a corner of Brill’s pasture when going between his work and his shack.

Brill detains Lopez one evening and inquires as to the reason for this behavior.  Brill thinks it’s because Lopez is superstitious and the mound is an old Indian burial mound.  Lopez assures him there’s more to the situation than that, but that he isn’t free to tell.  The story has been passed down in his family from one of his ancestors who came through with the conquistadors.  Lopez has taken a sacred oath not to tell anyone but his first born son.  Since he has no children, the secret of the mound will die with him.

Brill convinces Lopez to write out what the secret is since his oath only prohibits him from telling the secret.  Lopez agrees and hurries off to his shack before the sun sets.  Brill decides not to wait but to excavate the mound by lantern.  He suspects there’s a hidden cache of gold in the mound, and he wants to get his hands on it.

Brill finds evidence of the mound being an Indian burial mound, but there it appears to have been disturbed at some point in the past.  He unearths a stone lid over a burial chamber.  Hearing rustling and fearing a den of rattle snakes, he heads off to his cabin to get a lantern.   (He’s been working by moonlight, too impatient before now to get his lantern.)

He comes back and discovers the lid is now in the burial chamber.  A figure is visible going over the hill to Lopez’s shack.  Naturally Brill suspects Lopez has beat him to the gold.  He heads towards Lopez’s shack to get what he views as his property when he hears a ghastly scream.  He finds Lopez dead, papers scattered around him.  The final sheet Lopez was working on is still clutched in his hand.  The only sign on Lopez’s body are puncture marks on his neck.

Brill returns to his cabin to find his horses have been scattered.  Wanting to avenge Lopez but not wishing to tangle with one or more killers in the dark, he barricades himself in his cabin and reads what Lopez wrote.

During the days of the conquistadors, a small expedition rescued a lone survivor from a ship.  The survivor claimed the crew and the rest of the passengers died of plague.  He accompanies the expedition to what would become Texas.  Then the men start dying, bodies left by the side of the trail drained of blood.  Eventually, they find the vampire sleeping in the brush.  He’s the survivor.  Afraid of waking the creature, they bury it in an old Indian burial mound.  Lopez was a descendant of one of the survivors of the expedition.

Brill finishes reading to discover the vampire watching him from the window.  The creature breaks down the door.  While Brill fights for his life, the lantern falls from the table and shatters.  Brill manages to impale the vampire on a broken table leg and flees the burning cabin, letting the fire finish killing the creature.

reh1

Robert E. Howard

“The Horror From the Mound” was criticized when it appeared in Weird Tales because it contained “no less than four flagrant breaches of accepted vampire tradition”.  It was the first of the regional horror stories Howard would write, and it’s one of the best, even if it didn’t respect “vampire tradition”.  Howard blazed his own trail even there.  Howard adds a level of verisimilitude by mention historical figures such as Coronado and real locations such as Palo Pinto, which is both a town near Howard’s birthplace as well as the county in which he was born.

One thing I do want to point out, and that’s Howard’s use of race.  Howard is often considered a racist in some circles because he doesn’t hold 21st Century views.  But consider how Lopez is portrayed.  While Brill does express some racist sentiments, especially when he thinks Lopez has robbed him of a treasure, his attitude towards the Mexican is largely one of respect for the man, if not for some of his beliefs.  He certainly intends on avenging the man when he discovers Lopez’s body.  These were not typical white attitudes towards Hispanics in the time and place Howard was writing nor were they typical attitudes for the setting of the story.  The respect and desire to avenge don’t fit easily into the racist label that’s often applied to the author.

“The Horror From the Mound” is one of Robert E. Howard’s best regional horror tales.  It’s easy to see why.

The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard: “Old Garfield’s Heart”

Howard HorrorThe Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard
Robert E. Howard
Del Rey
trade paper $18.00
ebook 12.99 Kindle Nook

Although he’s best known today as a sword and sorcery author, Howard excelled at a number of genres. One of those was horror. In fact, I would argue that part of what made his S&S so good was its infusion of horror.

Since Halloween is coming up, I thought I would look at some of his horror stories this year. (Last year I looked at some of the Halloween shorts from Cemetery Dance.) All of Howard’s horror tales, including those that feature some of his series characters such as Solomon Kane and Bran Mak Morn, are included in the Del Rey volume shown at the top of the post. I’m going to discuss them on an individual basis rather than try to review the whole book. Howard wrote quite a bit of horror, and I want to examine some of the details. While I doubt I’ll have a post every day until Halloween (I don’t have that kind of time), I intend to look at as many as possible. And just so you know, there will be spoilers.

The first horror story we’ll look at is “Old Garfield’s Heart”. In a way, it’s a weird western, even though most of the story actually takes place in what would have been considered contemporary times when it was written.

The story is told by an unnamed narrator, a young man who is waiting for Doc Blaine to take him out to Old Jim Garfield’s house.  Garfield was thrown from a horse and isn’t expected to live.  While waiting, the narrator’s grandfather tells how he knew Garfield back in the 1870s, when he and Garfield participated in an attack on some raiding Commanches.  Garfield was seriously wounded, but an old Lipan Apache shaman appears, takes Garfield into a mesquite thicket and spends the night performing some ritual.  The men could hear owls hooting all night.  The next morning Garfield is alive and well.  He hasn’t aged a day since.

Out at Garfield’s cabin, he confirms the story is true.  He says he was given the heart of an Indian god and as long as the heart is in his chest, it will always beat.  The only way he can die is by a head injury.  Garfield makes Doc Blaine promise that if anything happens to him, he’ll remove the heart from his chest.

Much to everyone’s surprise, Garfield recovers.  The action shifts to the narrator standing up to one of the town bullies, nearly killing him with a knife.  The bully has the name of Jack KIrby.  This is a typical Howardian name.  The story was written before the real Jack Kirby began working in comics.

While awaiting trial, the narrator is picked up by Doc Blaine and taken out to Garfield’s place.  Kirby is looking to kill the narrator, and Blaine wants to protect him.  The narrator isn’t too happy.  While they’re talking about the old shaman, who knew Coronado, the men hear a horse ride up.  The narrator opens the door and is nearly killed by a rifle shot.  The only thing that saves him is Doc Blaine pushing him out of the way.  The narrator grabs Garfield’s shotgun from the wall and peppers the horse’s hindquarters as the rider tries to make his getaway.  The spooked horse takes off through an orchard and a tree branch knocks the rider off.  It’s Jack Kirby, his neck broken.

Garfield is also dead.  The bullet meant for the narrator took off the top of his head.  As Garfield’s body cools, the heart keeps beating.  The narrator assists Doc Blaine in removing Garfield’s heart.  They hear an owl while they work.  The narrator is holding Garfield’s heart when the door opens and the Lipan shaman walks in, hand outstretched.  He takes the heart and leaves without a word.  When the men rush to the door, the yard is empty.  The only living thing they see is an owl silhouetted against the Moon.

Isaac Howard

Dr. Isaac M. Howard

This story is one of the shorter horror tales Howard wrote, but in it he played to his strengths.  He peppers the tale with references to Texas history and geography, two subjects with which he was quite familiar.  The bully Jack Kirby is a type of character we see often in Howard’s fiction, and I’m sure he knew a number of people over the course of his life who could have served as models.  Oilfield workers, ranch hands, and other men who followed the boom towns of the 10s and 20s of the previous century tended to be rough, swaggering fellows.  Howard loved to talk to the older people in the community, listening to their tales of the pioneer days.  The narrator’s grandfather fits their mold perfectly.

But the thing that catch my attention on this rereading was the character of Doc Blaine.  I don’t know how much time Robert spent riding with his father when Doc Howard made his rounds.  I’m sure he went along once or twice.  He certainly had to be familiar with his father’s routine.  The senior Howard’s habits of visiting his patients for social purposes as well as medical purposes are well documented.  We’re not given a physical description of Doc Blaine, but I can’t help think Robert based the character on his father.

“Old Garfield’s Heart” isn’t a particularly scary horror story, at least not to me, but Howard’s use of detail bring the setting and period alive, giving it an atmosphere that adds to its creepiness.  Check it out.  I’ll have another look at one of Robert’s horror stories tomorrow or the next day.

The Gunfight at the OK Corral Like You’ve Never Seen it Before

The Buntline Special
Mike Resnick
Pyr
Trade paper, $17.00
Kindle  Nook $11.99 (note: ebook prices may vary)

One of the legendary gunfights of the Old West took place in Tombstone, Arizona, between the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday on one side and the McLaurys and Clantons on the other.  Of course there were a number of things leading up to the gunfight and many consequences following.

Mike Resnick has taken a look at the gunfight through a steampunk fantasy lens.  It’s a fascinating blend of fact, almost fact, and should have been fact shown from the point of view of Doc Holliday.

Before I go on, I have to say that for a while as I was reading I kept seeing and hearing Val Kilmer as Holliday.  You may recall he played Holliday in the 1993 film Tombstone.  Kilmer brought such a – [ We interrupt this review to bring you the following public service announcement:

Pyr publicist Lisa Michalski contacted me late last year asking if I would like a review copy of Mike Resnick’s latest Weird Western novel, The Doctor and the Rough Rider.   I replied that while, yes, I would very much like a review copy, I hadn’t read the first two books in the series.  Ms. Michalski very graciously sent me all three, for which I would like to thank her.

Since then a number of Pyr books have shown up without my asking, many of them second or third volumes in series I haven’t started yet.  I’ve been acquiring the volumes I’ve needed, and I intend to read and review them all.

I  would like to apologize to Ms. Michalski as well as editor Lou Anders for taking so long to read and review the titles they’ve sent me.  I’ve had an extremely heavy load this semester, and my reading time has been curtailed like it hasn’t been in years.  Guys, thank you for the books.  I intend to read and review all the ones you’ve sent (plus the preceding volumes I haven’t read, since I hate starting series in the middle).  I greatly appreciate your sending the review copies and only hope I haven’t appeared ungrateful or opportunistic by not having reviewed them yet.

Anyway, once finals are over in a couple of weeks, I intend to take some time off and get caught up on reading, blogging, and personal writing.  About every second or third review here will be a Pyr title until I’ve caught up, so don’t be surprised at the sudden proliferation of Pyr titles.  The straight science fiction titles will be reviewed over at Futures Past and Present.

We now return your regularly scheduled blog post, already in progress.]  – Holliday to say “I’m your huckleberry” like he did in the film.

Val Kilmer, as Your Huckleberry, Doc Holliday

But you don’t want to hear about a 20 year old movie, you want to know about The Buntline Special.  The premise of this series is that in an alternate timeline, the westward expansion of the United States has been stopped at the Mississippi River by the magic of Native American medicine men, Geronimo being chief among them.  This hasn’t stopped individuals from moving westward, settling in many place that they settled in our timeline such as Texas, Colorado, and Tombstone.  (I’m curious if Texas is still an independent nation in this universe.  Resnick mentions Texas but doesn’t give much detail.)

In Tombstone, a pair of inventors, Thomas Edison and Ned Buntline, have been working and producing such things as electric lights, a horseless carriage, and mechanical whores that never tire.  It’s the horseless carriage that is causing the most problems.  The decreased demand for horses has made some of the local horse thieves antsy, particularly the Clantons.  But what has really made Edison a target of assassination is that he has been contacted by the US government to find a way to defeat the spell preventing the US from expanding westward.  That’s got the medicine man Hook Nose all in a tizzy.  He cuts a deal with the Clantons to eliminate Edison to their mutual benefit.

The first attempt on Edison’s life cost Edison his arm, which he and Buntline replace with a mechanical arm.  Upping the stakes, Hook Nose resurrects the recently killed gunslinger, Johnny Ringo (who is very much alive in the Tombstone of our timeline).  In an effort keep Edison breathing, Virgil, Wyatt, and Morgan Earp send for Doc Holliday and Bat Masterson.

And thus the stage is set for one of the wildest showdowns in the Old West in any timeline.

There are two things Resnick excels at, and those are dialogue and attention to detail through painstaking research.  (Well, actually, he excels at more than two, but those are the two things I want to focus on.)  First, the dialogue.  If you’ve read Resnick, you know how he makes conversation seem natural.  The result is a story that flows, sounding as though real people are having real conversations.

The second is the detail.  Resnick either knows his history, does his research, or as I suspect, both.  He includes an extensive bibliography along with an appendix telling what really happened to the major players in our timeline.  One of the most fun things about The Buntline Special was seeing what things Resnick kept the same and what things he changed in the telling of his tale.  The result was staying up long after I should have been in bed one night researching some of the major players online.  (That’s not a complaint, BTW.)  I’d read quite a bit about Tombstone and the Earps, but that was over a decade ago, and memory, like radioactive substances, has a half-life.  And in my case, not a very long half-life.

This was a highly enjoyable book.  We’re seeing a resurgence in the weird western.  Here’s one by a master. 

There are two more books in this series so far, and the next one has Billy the Kid in it.  I’m looking forward to what Resnick does with him.

Titles in Mike Resnick’s Weird Western series are currently featured books at the Adventures Fantastic Bookstore.  The Buntline Special is on sale for $12.36 plus shipping.

In the Dead of Winter

The Dead of Winter
Lee Collins
Angry Robot Books
UK Print ISBN: 9780857662712
Format: Medium Paperback R.R.P.: £8.99
US/CAN Print ISBN: 9780857662729
Format: Large Paperback R.R.P.: US$14.99 CAN$16.99
Ebook ISBN: 9780857662736
Format: Epub & Mobi R.R.P.: £5.49 / US$6.99
UK Print & Ebook
Amazon.co.uk | Book Depository Waterstones
US Print & Ebook
Amazon.com | BarnesandNoble.com IndieBound.org
DRM-Free Epub Ebook
Robot Trading Company

“Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.”
John Wayne

The above quote from John Wayne, which I lifted from The Dead of Winter, is a perfect fit for this book.  This is one of the best novels I’ve read all year, and I’ve been fortunate to have read more good ones than bad ones.  This novel is an excellent example of authorial misdirection that really works.

This book takes place in a slightly altered version of the Wild West, where supernatural creatures exist.  They’re not widespread, meaning you don’t trip over them every time you turn around like in some fantasies, but they are out there.  Cora Oglesby and her husband Ben are bounty hunters, and very selective bounty huners at that.  They specialize in supernatural creatures such as werewolves, hellhounds, vampires, and those sorts of things.

They’ve come to the town of Leadville, Colorado, at the request of the marshall.  Something vicious has killed two people, and he fears there will be more deaths.  He’s right about there being more deaths, and not all of them will come from the creature that’s made its first kill.

I’m hesitant to give too many details, because there’s a twist towards the end, and it’s a biggie.  Many of the things you take for granted aren’t as they appear.  The thing that annoys me is that all the signs were there, and I picked up on most of them.  I just didn’t connect the dots.  Collins did an effective job of distracting me, just like a stage magician when he doesn’t want your attention on certain things.  (I’m annoyed at myself, BTW, not at Lee Collins.  Him I’m impressed with.)

The characters talk like you would imagine characters in a Western would talk.  I’m sure Collins had to turn off his grammer checker.  For the most part, this helped pull me into the story.  A few times it was slightly annoying, but for the most part, I didn’t find it overdone.

What I did find annoying was how the viewpoint would sometimes shift between characters in the same scene.  I don’t mind multiple viewpoints in a novel, but I prefer the same viewpoint character in a chapter.  But that’s just me.  Your mileage may vary.

These are minor quibbles.  Overall, I found this a compelling story that didn’t go in the directions I expected it would.  Collins’ prose pulled me in and helped me to inhabit the story.  This is a fantastic blend of western and horror, a fine addition to the subgenre of weird western.  If your tastes run to weird westerns, monster hunting, or some combination of the two, then you’ll want to pick this one up.

There’s a sequel, She Returns From War, that’s due out on January 29 in the States and Canada and a few days later in the UK.  I’m looking forward to it.

One bit of editorializing, if I may.  Angry Robot normally only accepts agented manuscripts, but once a year for the last couple of years, they’ve had a brief window in which they allow submission of unagented manuscripts.  The Dead of Winter is one of those books.  I’ve heard enough stories about how hard it is to get representation these days to know that many fine books never get past an agent, never mind an editor.  Makes you wonder what we’ve missed because of the gatekeepers.