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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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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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.
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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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.
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.
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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 Tor.com 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.
Cover art by Dominic Harman
I was impressed with David Boop’s 2017 anthology Straight Outta Tombstone, one of the better Weird Western volumes of the last few years. So I was excited to see the sequel, Straight Outta Deadwood, arrive this week from Bean. Boop gives us a taste of what to expect in his Foreword, “Histories Mysteries.”
My directive to all the authors in these anthologies [was] to give me the Old West the way it really was, where applicable. I wanted the history within to be accurate, the voices authentic… But I also asked them to give me, and you the readers, the world we wished to see: dragons flying overhead, or the ability to drink with dwarves, or hear how grandpappy fought off zombies in Deadwood…
For those of you who read read Straight Outta Tombstone, this second anthology is my Empire Strikes Back. It’s darker, and include a couple pieces that left me shaken afterward… Don’t worry if you get scared easily, though. I have broken the narrative up with humor, victories over evil, and gunfights.
Lots of gunfights.
There’s been a distinct lack of decent Weird Western recently, and Straight Outta Deadwood addresses that nicely. It contains brand new short fiction by Steve Rasnic Tem, Charlaine Harris, Stephen Graham Jones, Lacy Hensley, Jane Lindskold, Cliff Winnig, D.J. Butler, and many others. Here’s the complete table of contents.
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Charlaine Harris was the first really big interview we ever scored at Black Gate. This was thirteen years ago, before the breakout success of the True Blood HBO series based on her Sookie Stackhouse novels, but she was already hugely popular. Goth Chick met with her at a restaurant, before a big signing event here in the suburbs of Chicago, and came back totally charmed. We included the interview in Black Gate 8, the Summer 2005 issue, and it was a big hit with readers.
Harris has reached a point in her career where she can do whatever she wants. Fortunately for us, what she wants to do appears to be tell Weird Western tales. Her latest, An Easy Death, is set in a southwestern country known as Texoma, where magic is common and a young gunslinger named Lizbeth Rose takes a job to be a local guide for a pair of Russian wizards. But all is not what it appears to be, and dark forces are aligning against Lizbeth and her clients. It was published in hardcover earlier this month by Saga Press.
The beloved #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Sookie Stackhouse series, the inspiration for HBO’s True Blood, and the Midnight Crossroad trilogy adapted for NBC’s Midnight, Texas, has written a taut new thriller — the first in the Gunnie Rose series — centered on a young gunslinging mercenary, Lizbeth Rose.
Set in a fractured United States, in the southwestern country now known as Texoma. A world where magic is acknowledged but mistrusted, especially by a young gunslinger named Lizbeth Rose. Battered by a run across the border to Mexico Lizbeth Rose takes a job offer from a pair of Russian wizards to be their local guide and gunnie. For the wizards, Gunnie Rose has already acquired a fearsome reputation and they’re at a desperate crossroad, even if they won’t admit it. They’re searching through the small border towns near Mexico, trying to locate a low-level magic practitioner, Oleg Karkarov. The wizards believe Oleg is a direct descendant of Grigori Rasputin, and that Oleg’s blood can save the young tsar’s life.
As the trio journey through an altered America, shattered into several countries by the assassination of Franklin Roosevelt and the Great Depression, they’re set on by enemies. It’s clear that a powerful force does not want them to succeed in their mission. Lizbeth Rose is a gunnie who has never failed a client, but her oath will test all of her skills and resolve to get them all out alive.
An Easy Death was published by Saga Press on October 2, 2018. It is 306 pages, priced at $26.99 in hardcover and $7.99 for the digital edition. The cover is by Colin Anderson. Read the complete first chapter here.
If you’re a Weird Western fan like me, you know some years are a lot leaner than others. Like pioneers on the prairie, you learn to survive by keeping your eyes sharp for unexpected bounty.
So I have no idea how Lila Bowen’s The Shadow series managed to evade me this long. I stumbled on a remaindered copy of the second book over at Bookoutlet, and quickly tracked down the other two volumes. And I just learned today that the fourth and final book, Treason of Hawks, arrives on Tuesday — perfect timing.
“Lila Bowen” is a pseudonym for Delilah S. Dawson, the New York Times bestselling author of Star Wars: Phasma and Servants of the Storm. Wake of Vultures, the opening novel in The Shadow, won the RT Fantasy of the Year Award, and in a starred review Publishers Weekly said, “The unforgiving western landscape is home to supernatural beasties as diverse as the human inhabitants… the narrative is a love letter to the paranormal western genre.”
In a featured review last year at Tor.com, Alex Brown offered a tantalizing summary of the story so far. Here’s his take.
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