Birthday Reviews: Jonathan Maberry’s “Red Dreams”

Birthday Reviews: Jonathan Maberry’s “Red Dreams”

Dead Man's Hand
Dead Man’s Hand

Jonathan Maberry was born on May 18, 1958.

Maberry won the 2007 Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel for Ghost Road Blues, which was also nominated for Best Novel. The next year he won the Bram Stoker Award for Best Nonfiction with David F. Kramer for their book The Cryptopedia: A Dictionary of the Weird, Strange & Downright Bizarre. In 2012, he won the Bram Stoker for Best Young Adult Novel for Dust & Decay, and again the following year for Flesh & Bone. In 2015, he shared a Bram Stoker Award for Best Graphic Novel with Tyler Crook for Bad Blood.

“Red Dreams” original appeared in Dead Man’s Hand: An Anthology of the Weird West, edited by John Joseph Adams in 2014. In 2017, Maberry included it in his collection Wind Through the Fence and Other Stories.

Set in the American West of 1876, the story follows Jonah McCall, who has been leading a band of mercenaries against a Cheyenne tribe led by Walking Bear, in hopes of earning the bounty placed on the head of each member of the tribe. When the “Red Dreams” opens, McCall has wiped out the Cheyenne and won the bounty, but at the cost of all of his own men. He and his horse, Bob, are the only survivors on the empty Wyoming desert where they watch a meteorite fall through the atmosphere.

Alone on the desert, McCall begins to reflect on his history with the Cheyenne, dating back to an enormous raid that massacred women, children, and the elderly, to the recent destruction of Walking Bear’s war party. Although McCall only sees himself doing his job and what is right for the local white settlers, his thoughts show him as an antihero. Maberry doesn’t indicate that Walking Bear was any less damaged than McCall, but Walking Bear’s thoughts and deeds aren’t being presented in the story, at least not by a reliable narrator. What is clear is that McCall has no personal animosity towards Walking Bear, but rather does hold him in a grudging respect.

Eventually the story takes a turn to become a ghost story, which further focuses the attention on McCall’s accountability for the deaths of not only native Americans but also the European settlers, those who helped him achieve his goals as well as those who stood in his way and those who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The story is not, however, an indictment of the genocide of the native American, but rather a look at one individual’s responsibility for a part of it and how he could consider himself a good person until what he has done is thrown in his face.

Reviewed in its original publication in the collection Dead Man’s Hand, edited by John Joseph Adams, Titan Books, 2014.

Steven H Silver-largeSteven H Silver is a sixteen-time Hugo Award nominee and was the publisher of the Hugo-nominated fanzine Argentus as well as the editor and publisher of ISFiC Press for 8 years. He has also edited books for DAW and NESFA Press. He began publishing short fiction in 2008 and his most recently published story is “Doing Business at Hodputt’s Emporium” in Galaxy’s Edge. Steven has chaired the first Midwest Construction, Windycon three times, and the SFWA Nebula Conference 5 times, as well as serving as the Event Coordinator for SFWA. He was programming chair for Chicon 2000 and Vice Chair of Chicon 7. He has been the news editor for SF Site since 2002.

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[…] (8) HAPPY BIRTHDAY. Steven H Silver celebrates Jonathan Maberry’s natal day in his Black Gate column: “Birthday Reviews: Jonathan Maberry’s ‘Red Dreams’”. […]

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