Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Other people's weirds

As promised, here are the links for grabbing electronic copies of How the West Was Weird v.3:



If you happen to enjoy stories of cowboys or monsters, or even better mash-ups of those two, then it's hard to beat the entertainment value you would presumably derive from the e-book. And for less than five bucks! (he shilled baldfacedly)

I have yet to read through the entirety of the newly released anthology myself; despite having access to the early galleys, I figured there was a chance some of my fellow authors might make significant corrections to their stories, so I opted to wait for the final published versions for my initial reading experience. Still, I wanted to do something more than just promote the book with marketplace hyperlinks on the occasion of its release, so I decided to reach back to the previous volume in the series. Oddly enough, I never wrote anything close to a proper review of v.2 back when it came out, probably because of the sheer scope of the book, twenty stories encompassing a surprising amount of diversity within the microgenre niche of weird western. A more manageable endeavor would be to focus on one tale (or two or three) out of the whole bunch. Clearly my favorite story in volume 2 is my own, but if I had to pick a first-among-my-peers, the honor would go to ...

"They Call Him Pat" by Ian Taylor.

And it was tough narrowing that down. I flipped through the book again to refresh my memories of all my fellow contributors' stories, and a fairly strong top three solidified in my mind. "Mr. Brass and the Devil's Teeth" by Josh Reynolds is a very good yarn, my main quibble with it being that it feels a trifle overstuffed. Mr. Brass is a steampunk robot who happens to be employed as a Pinkerton. That in and of itself seems like a solid hook for a weird west story (a genre which, by its very nature, lends itself to being conceptually overstuffed since it involves both period pieces set over a century in the past and chock full of cowboy tropes plus whatever added speculative element(s) qualifies as the weird part) but then the Devil's Teeth in question turn out to be magic bullets which cause the men they strike to turn into werewolves, and then on top of that Reynolds throws in Frank and Jesse James and their gang, too. In further defense of Reynolds's approach, he has written something like 10 different "Mr. Brass" stories over the years for various publications, so I can at least understand feeling the need to raise the stakes with every outing, and if that means piling on the monsters as well as the historical legends, so be it.

Another standout in volume 2 is "Storms of Blood and Snow" by Derrick Ferguson. It's a blend of western and fantasy chronicling an adventure of Sebastian Red, gunslinger swordsman and fighter of supernatural evils. Sebastian Red is another recurring character, within the How the West Was Weird series, at least, and he bears more than a little resemblance to Roland Deschain from Stephen King's Dark Tower cycle (a similarity which Ferguson swears is coincidental, as he's never read the Dark Tower, and for what it's worth, I believe him) so of course it's right up my alley. And despite being a short story, Ferguson manages to give the whole tale a feeling of epic depth, like it's a glimpse into an incredibly detailed organic world. It probably is, at that.

But Taylor's story is my favorite of them all, partly because it's really a very simple story about Pat, a lone alien (in the classic hairless, big-head, big-black-eyes, technologically-advanced-civilization mold) who tries to make a go of it as a homesteader out west. And there's very little if any time spent dwelling on how Pat got to Earth or what the scientific principles underpinning his amazing devices may be. The narration of the story has a kind of bemused tone throughout, as if the disembodied voice telling the story is trying to convey that yes, Pat doesn't look like or act like anybody else in the valley, but that's beside the point so please stop gawking at his gray skin and pay attention to what happened next. And what ends up happening is very much in the mold of a dark fairy tale, or a classic episode of The Twilight Zone, and I am absolutely a sucker for those kind of stories. So Taylor rises to the top of the heap for me.

Who will have the distinction of writing my favorite story in volume 3? It could be Derrick Ferguson, or it could be Ian Taylor, both of whom have once again contributed to the anthology this time around. Or it could be someone else! I will probably start reading the new book this evening, and once I've finished and had time to properly judge, I will post the results. Stay tuned!

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