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Category: Weird Western

The Martian Chronicles Meet True Grit: The Strange by Nathan Ballingrud

The Martian Chronicles Meet True Grit: The Strange by Nathan Ballingrud

The Strange (Saga Press, March 21, 2023). Cover uncredited

I wish I could take credit for the headline of The Martian Chronicles Meet True Grit for Nathan Ballingrud’s terrific novel, but according to the author, Karen Jay Fowler came up with it. I hope she won’t mine me stealing it because it is as spot on as any description I could come up with.

The more prosaic version is that The Strange is a Western riff on Ray Bradbury’s vision of Mars, but without the canals. A Mars in an alternate 1930s timeline when interplanetary space travel first began during the Civil War, an oblique reference (among a slew of oblique references to classic SF tropes and personages) to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter, an ex-Confederate Barsoom warlord. Just as Bradbury had no interest in explaining how humans could actually exist on Mars sans space suits in a sort of off-world version of 1950s Illinois, or Burroughs how you can get astrally projected from an Arizona cave to Mars, Ballingrud just wants you to suspend disbelief and enjoy the ride.

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Ten Things I Think I Think: October 2023

Ten Things I Think I Think: October 2023

A (Black) Gat in the Hand takes a week off for a somewhat Robert E. Howard-centric installment of Ten Things I Think I Think. Books, television, movies, and even a computer RPG are in the mix today.

1) Jules De Grandin is a new favorite

Being a Robert E. Howard guy, I am familiar with Weird Tales – home to much of his best work, including Conan, Kull, historical fiction, and Solomon Kane, among much more. But not being into horror, I don’t really read anyone else from ‘The Unique Magazine.’

But I recently bought the audiobook for The Horror on the Links. It is Volume One of The Complete Tales of Jules De Grandin. A few stories have been a bit much for me in the macabre category, but Seabury Quinn’s doctor-former Surete policeman is an Occult Detective version of Hercule Poirot. I am absolutely loving the mix. I’m nearing the end of this collection, and I’ll be listening to Volume Two next.

De Grandin is a French transplant to fictional Harrisonville, New Jersey. His Watson is Dr. Trowbridge, and they investigate both cases that have natural, as well as supernatural, solutions. Each audiobook is about 25 hours long, which is a lot of entertainment. Paul Woodson does a great de Grandin. There are over 90  stories – including one serialized novel. As a Poirot fan, I’m totally in on these. I’ve been kicking around the idea of a de Grandin/Nero Wolfe crossover.


2) “The Horror from the Mound” is Quite a Story

Sticking with horror, I was hoping to have an essay ready today for Robert E. Howard’s “The Horror from the Mound.” It’s a (then) contemporary Weird Western which also appeared in Weird Tales. I’d read it before, and with one foot in ‘today’ and one firmly in the mid 1600s, may be my favorite REH horror story. Still working on the essay.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: William Patrick Murray on Cross-Genre Confusion, and Supernatural Westerns

A (Black) Gat in the Hand: William Patrick Murray on Cross-Genre Confusion, and Supernatural Westerns

“You’re the second guy I’ve met within hours who seems to think a gat in the hand means a world by the tail.” – Phillip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep

(Gat — Prohibition Era term for a gun. Shortened version of Gatling Gun)

Last week was part two of  fellow Robert E Howard Foundation Award-winner John Bullard’s look at Robert E. Howard’s humorous Westerns. Earlier this summer, Pulp maven (and fellow Sherlock Holmes afficionado) William Murray revealed right here in this column, that Dashiell Hammett did not actually write “The Diamond Wager/” Will, who has written about Doc Savage, and The Spider, for A (Black) Gat in the Hand, is back at it again. 

Will – who has written THE look at Western pulps – Wordslingers: An Epitaph for the Western – takes us into the world of Weird Westerns. It’s no surprise that Pulp editors were leery of ‘crossing the streams’ for these types of stories. Read on!

Cross Genre Confusion

In the beginning, the pulp magazine was an undifferentiated product.

Starting with the first of its type, The Argosy, it was essentially a colorful cornucopia of fiction, much of it belonging to no particular category. Stories of city, farm, and tenement life were common. Yarns set in the half-tamed West were not always gunsmoke sagas, but simply narratives set in the contemporary West. Historical tales were also common. As were simple homespun comedies. Many were quasi-adventure stories of men at their work. Thus we often discover coal mining episodes, off-field yarns, and Mountie exploits.

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Adventure in a Nightmare-fueled Landscape: Deadlands: the Weird West

Adventure in a Nightmare-fueled Landscape: Deadlands: the Weird West

Deadlands: the Weird West (Pinnacle Entertainment Group, April 2021)

Kickstarter completely transformed board gaming a decade ago, and over the last few years it has thoroughly reinvigorated role playing as well. It’s the de facto launch platform for the hobby gaming industry these days, and it doesn’t look like that’s going to change any time soon. I’ve been playing RPGs since 1979, and in all those years I’ve seen countless new and innovative game systems fail because they couldn’t grow beyond a small but dedicated fan base. Kickstarter has brought those systems a whole new lease on life — and an explosion of new content.

Deadlands is fine example. Created by Shane Lacy Hensley and published by Pinnacle Entertainment Group in 1996, the horror/steampunk game was a huge artistic and creative success, easily one of the most talked-about RPGs of the 90s. Talk wasn’t enough to keep it alive though, and for long stretches of the last 25 years the game has sadly been unavailable.

In 2017 Pinnacle stuck a toe in the waters with a reprint of the 1999 edition, Deadlands 20th Anniversary Edition, funded by a crowdfunding campaign. Emboldened by that success, last year they tried something much more ambitious: Deadlands: the Weird West, a massive box set containing a complete system relaunch using the Savage Worlds core rules. Deadlands‘ small but loyal fanbase enthusiastically rallied to support the new Kickstarter campaign, and it blew through its $10,000 goal, with 4,973 backers pledging a whopping $568,636.

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Future Treasures: Gunfight on Europa Station edited by David Boop

Future Treasures: Gunfight on Europa Station edited by David Boop

Gunfight on Europa Station (Baen Books, January 25, 2022). Cover Art by Dominic Harman

I’ve been enjoying David Boop’s weird western anthologies for Baen (Straight Outta Tombstone, Straight Outta Deadwood, and Straight Outta Dodge City). His newest takes the series in a different direction — deep space! — but keeps the six shooters and saddle spurs. That’s different. But what the hell — I’m on board.

Gunfight on Europa Station arrives on January 25, and comes packed with new fiction by an impressive list of contributors: Alan Dean Foster, Jane Lindskold, Wil McCarthy, Gini Koch, Martin Shoemaker, Cat Rambo with J.R. Martin, Alastair Mayer, Alex Shvartsman, Patrick Swenson, Elizabeth Moon, and Michael L. Haspil. These books are a lot of fun, and I’m looking forward to the newest with anticipation.

I’m especially excited to see Alex Shvartsman’s contribution. I was at his reading at Worldcon last month (from his upcoming novel The Middling Affliction), and it was easily the most entertaining of the dozen or so I attended, a raucous and funny tale of an exorcist/con man who winds up over his head in a tangled supernatural mystery. It’s always a pleasure to discover a new writer, and it’s doubly so when you have the chance to hear a skilled entertainer perform their own work.

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New Treasures: Corporate Gunslinger by Doug Engstrom

New Treasures: Corporate Gunslinger by Doug Engstrom

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Corporate Gunslinger by Doug Engstrom (Harper Voyager, June 2020). Cover design by Yeon Kim

Doug Engstrom definitely has one of the more original debuts of the month with Corporate Gunslinger, a new-future adventure tale in which…. well, maybe it’s best if we jump right to the Publishers Weekly review.

Engstrom’s promising debut offers a stark, dystopian vision of a near-future American Midwest in which debt slavery is commonplace and livestreamed gunfights are a popular form of entertainment. Former actor Kira Clark accepts a sponsorship from TKC Insurance Company to duel civilians on live TV to avoid defaulting on her student loans and resigning herself to a life of debt slavery. Kira adopts a cold, composed persona in her gunfights, but outside the arena she’s kind-hearted and loyal, if gradually becoming more unstable. At her side are her best friend, Chloe Rossi, and her mentor, Diana Reynolds, who support Kira through all of her highs and lows… [a] grim, intelligent examination of the American debt crisis… fans of insightful dystopias will find plenty to enjoy.

Read the whole thing here. You know, I’m not even sure what category this is. Weird Western? Future Western? Western Dystopia? File it next to Westworld; that should be close enough.

Corporate Gunslinger was published by Harper Voyager on June 16, 2020. It is 320 pages, priced at $15.99 in hardcover and $10.99 in digital formats. The cover was designed by Yeon Kim. Read the first three chapters here, and listen to an audio excerpt here. See all our recent New Treasures here.

Future Treasures: Straight Outta Dodge City, edited by David Boop

Future Treasures: Straight Outta Dodge City, edited by David Boop

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Cover art by Dominic Harman

On February 4th, David Boop’s Straight Outta weird western anthology series becomes a trilogy with the arrival of Straight Outta Dodge City, the third (but hopefully not final) volume. It follows Straight Outta Tombstone and Straight Outta Deadwood, and it looks like a strong addition to the series. Here’s a peek at the Publishers Weekly review.

This dark, diverting anthology of 14 original tales, the third in a series edited by Boop (after Straight Outta Deadwood), continues to explore “the weird Wild West.” By tossing weird fiction concepts into western settings, these tales give rise to unusual what-ifs. What if the unquiet ghost of Doc Holiday haunted his six shooter, as in “The Dead Can’t Die Twice” by Sam Stone? What would happen if, as in “The Adventures of Rabbi Shlomo Jones and the Half-Baked Kid” by Eytan Kollin, Jewish magic created a golem to confront a mob of anti-Semitic bad guys?… the ever-enjoyable Joe R. Lansdale is on hand with “The Hoodoo Man and the Midnight Train,” an energetic tale of a mystical gunfighter, and Harry Turtledove presents the delightful “Junior & Me,” set in an alternate world in which evolution favored reptiles rather than mammals, and the ornery galoot narrating the yarn is actually a highly evolved dinosaur.

Here’s the publisher’s description.

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Future Treasures: A Longer Fall by Charlaine Harris

Future Treasures: A Longer Fall by Charlaine Harris

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An Easy Death (October 2018) and A Longer Fall (January 2020), both from Saga Press. Covers by Colin Anderson

There aren’t enough Weird Westerns in the world, which is why I treasure them when I find ’em. Charlaine Harris (the Sookie Stackhouse novels) kicked off a promising series last year with An Easy Death, the first Gunnie Rose novel, which follows gunslinger Lizbeth Rose in the fractured countries and territories that were once the U.S. A Longer Fall, which arrives in hardcover in two weeks, sends Lizbeth to the southeast territory of Dixie on a dangerous mission. Here’s an excerpt from the enthusiastic review at Kirkus for An Easy Death.

In the opening novel of Harris’ new series, set in a dangerous and largely lawless alternate United States, a young gunslinger for hire hits the trail to track down a descendant of Rasputin.

Life isn’t easy and death is around every corner in Harris’ thrilling new adventure, in which the U.S. is a shadow of its former self. Franklin Roosevelt was assassinated before he could be sworn in, and the country was subsequently fractured: Mexico has reclaimed Texas, Canada has usurped a large swath of the northern states, and the Holy Russian Empire has taken over California… Nineteen-year-old Lizbeth Rose is a skilled gunslinger for hire, but a disastrous run-in with bandits has left her the sole survivor of her crew. After making it home, she’s approached by Paulina Coopersmith and Ilya “Eli” Savarov, two grigoris (aka wizards), who want her to help them find wizard Oleg Karkarov, who they think is a descendant of Rasputin and whose blood may be able to help their beloved czar. There’s a hitch: She tells them he’s dead but doesn’t mention that she’s the one who killed him… A refreshing and cinematic, weird Western starring a sharp-as-nails, can-do heroine. Harris’ many fans will surely follow Gunnie Rose anywhere.

A Longer Fall will be published by Saga Press on January 14, 2020. It is 304 pages, priced at $26.99 in hardcover and $12.99 in digital formats. The cover is by Colin Anderson. Read Chapter One (and details on the cover) at Paste Magazine.

A Tale of Two Covers: Gunslinger Girl by Lyndsay Ely

A Tale of Two Covers: Gunslinger Girl by Lyndsay Ely

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Covers by Mark Owen/Trevillion Images (left) and uncredited

While I was at Windycon here in Chicago last week, I stopped by Larry Smith’s booth in the Dealer’s Room and ended up buying a small pile of books from Sally Kobee. Gunslinger Girl by Lyndsay Ely was an impulse buy, but a good one, I think. It’s part of the James Patterson Presents line, and was an Amazon and B&N Best Book of the Month, and an Indie Next pick. It’s also the tale of a female sharpshooter in a dystopian near-future West, and I like the sound of that. Here’s the description.

Seventeen-year-old Serendipity “Pity” Jones inherited two things from her mother: a pair of six shooters and perfect aim. She’s been offered a life of fame and fortune in Cessation, a glittering city where lawlessness is a way of life. But the price she pays for her freedom may be too great….

In this extraordinary debut from Lyndsay Ely, the West is once again wild after a Second Civil War fractures the U.S. into a broken, dangerous land. Pity’s struggle against the dark and twisted underbelly of a corrupt city will haunt you long after the final bullet is shot.

My problem with the book is that I bought the trade paperback on the left, and when I was checking out the details online I discovered the mass market paperback edition on the right, with the gorgeously colorful cover. It was vividly different and inexpensive enough ($5.49) that I decided to get a copy of that one as well, this time as a gift for my daughter. I ordered it from Amazon… and promptly received a second copy of the book at left. Every edition Amazon lists online has the cover at right (including the audio, paperback and hardcover editions), but I don’t see any way to actually get one.

Well, I love a book challenge, and I’m not ready to give up yet. I’ll let you know how it turns out. Here’s the back cover of the trade edition.

Read More Read More on Six-Guns and Strange Shooters on Six-Guns and Strange Shooters

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It’s been a very good year for science fiction, horror, and dark fantasy, and overall I am content. But, you know, I’m never totally content, because really, what’s the point of that? This year my crankiness originates from a near total lack of Weird Westerns. It’s like the genre dried up and blew away in the wind in 2019.

At least there are a few Weird West books, movies and comics to fall back on. Earlier this year at Theresa DeLucci shared her picks of some of the best in Six-Guns and Strange Shooters: A Weird West Primer, and she managed to point out more than a few I haven’t tried yet, including Emma Bull’s fantasy retelling of the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, Territory, and the 1990 film Dust Devil. And she reminded me I need to read more Jonah Hex. Here’s what she said about everyone’s favorite creepy gunslinger.

Forget the terrible movie. (You know Josh Brolin wishes he could.) The original 1977 DC comic is considered one of the first popular representations of the Weird West. The bounty hunter marked by a demon’s brand seeks out the West’s worst and also, sometimes, less earthly quarry. He also sometimes time travels and gets into a gun-fight with a T-Rex. Jonah Hex‘s best and creepiest run was written by east Texan horror master Joe R. Lansdale and come highly recommended.

Theresa also showcases The Etched City by K.J. Bishop, the Golgotha novels by R. S. Belcher, the great Deadlands: Reloaded RPG, and much more. Check out her article here.

See all our coverage of the best of the Weird West here.