edited by John Joseph Adams
a Titan Books title SF-Fantasy-Horror / May 13, 2014
464 pages trade paperback
978-0765326454 / $16.95 titanbooks.com
This is a first-rate anthology from beginning to end, with very few “filler” stories, an impressive line-up of talented writers , a well-defined preface, and useful contributor profiles.
In the introduction, editor John Joseph Adams does a good job of defining the weird western genre and gives much credit to the classic 1986 novel Dead In The West by Joe R. Lansdale, a book that Adams offers as the best example of weird western writing. Appropriately enough, the anthology opens with “The Red-Headed Dead” by Joe R. Lansdale, an eerie tale of a cemetery battle between the Reverend Jebediah Mercer (the main protagonist in Dead In the West) and a vicious vampire. It’s a chilling yarn that serves as a good introduction to the character of Mercer, a Western version of Robert E. Howard’s supernatural pilgrim crusader Solomon Kane.
The anthology closes with “Dead Man’s Hand” by Christie Yant, also very appropriate since the anthology is dedicated to the poker hand held by gunfighter Wild Bill Hickok when he was shot and killed – – – the “dead man’s hand”. Yant’s story offers several different versions of how Hickok’s death transpired depending on the cards that were dealt (other than the reputed aces and eights). It’s a short and fun tale, but not at the same level as most of the writing in the book.
In between these two stories are 21 more works by Ben H. Winters, David Farland, Mike Resnick, Seanan McGuire, Charles Yu, Alan Dean Foster, Beth Revis, Alastair Reynolds, Hugh Howey, Rajan Khanna, Orson Scott Card, Elizabeth Bear, Tad Williams, Jonathan Maberry, Kelly Armstrong, Tobias S. Bucknell, Jeffrey Ford, Ken Liu, Laura Anne Gilman, Walter Jon Williams, and Fred Van Lente.
- Of great amusement is “The Old Slow Man And his Gold Gun from Space” by Ben H. Winters, a tale of two California gold prospectors down on their luck who meet a mysterious stranger with an unusual type of divining rod.
It’s very difficult to single out one individual story as the best or favorite of the bunch. The quality is high. The stories are very engaging and entertaining. Among the standouts are:
- “Stingers And Strangers” by Seanan McGuire about a pair of paranormal investigators trying to rid a town of some pesky insects. It’s told with style and substance, and may remind some of the crime-fighter pair from the BBC’s The Avengers television show of the 1960’s.
- There’s a very well written first person narrative in “Bookkeeper, Narrator, Gunslinger” by Charles Yu, revealing how extra-sensory abilities can make anyone a winning gunfighter.
- Alan Dean Foster includes a new tale of his character Mad Amos Malone in a dangerous bordello in “Holy Jingle” that mixes some laughs along with the terror and threat.
- The first tale of Alvin Maker in more than a decade disappoints in “Alvin And The Apple Tree”. Orson Scott Card’s frontier hero meets up with Johnny Appleseed for a philosophical parable that is too long, too wordy, and too preachy.
- A better alternate history story is “Strong Medicine” by Tad Williams. This is strong on character, in a story of a settlement that gets displaced in time every 30 years.
- “La Madre Del Oro” by Jeffrey Ford is a nerve-wracking tale of a posse tracking a cannibalistic killer through a desert storm.
- “What I Assume You Shall Assume” by Ken Liu includes some magic realism, where the printed word has special powers – – especially when swallowed down and combined with knowledge of Chinese calligraphy and cryptography.
- The most steam punk and outlandish story in the collection is “Neversleeps” by Fred Van Lente. It’s a mash-up of alternative history, magic, and clockwork/steam punk creations. This story is packed full with so much invention that you’ll need a second reading to take it all in. In places it may remind you of classic Connery-era James Bond and James West of the classic Wild Wild West television series (also 1960’s).
Dead Man’s Hand is a winning hand for any fan of the weird western, as well as those who would like to get acquainted with the genre.