Literary

The Weird West

I’ve been reading Dead Man’s Hand, an anthology of Weird West short stories put together by John Joseph Adams. Adams has previously collated a book of fantasy short stories Epic: Legends of Fantasy.

Dead Man’s Hand includes work from Mike Resnick, Beth Revis, Alastair Reynolds, Hugh Howey, Kelley Armstrong, Jeffery Ford, Fred Van Lente, Christie Yant and others. Published last year by Titan Books, this genre is new to me.

I’m familiar with Weird Fiction, but this Western niche has escaped my attention until now. During the introduction Adams explains that the phrase “dead man’s hand” refers to the poker hand held by the gunfighter Wild Bill Hickok when, in 1876, he was shot and killed by the coward Jack McCall.

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It was the third story, David Farland’s Hellfire on the High Frontier, that prompted this blog post. Farland manages to pack a ‘skinwalker’, a stranger who “turned into an oily shadow and wafted away”, a box of beating black hearts, a plague merchant, a steam-punk airship with a balloon of golden silk, and so much more into just eighteen pages.

Despite this huge heap of fantasy, he manages to create a despairingly honest story with (in my opinion) no hero and no hope. Farland (also known as David Wolverton) hails from Utah and is the New York Times Best Selling author of The Runelords and YA fantasy thriller Nightingale.

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Need more Weird Westerns? I’m intrigued by this recommendation from Fred Van Lente (whose short story Neversleeps appears in Dead Man’s Hand): “my absolute favorite is this rarity from 1989, Secret of San Saba, in which early conquistadors from early Texas discover an unearthly Lovecraftian horror beneath the sagebrush that poops gold. (Yes, really.) It’s been out of print forever, like most of Jackson’s work, so if you see it in some dusty bookstore shelf–grab it!”

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To quote Adams: “So that’s the game, pard. Pull up a chair, ante up, and I’ll deal you in. The game’s “Weird West,” no limit, and everything‘s wild.”

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