Laura Anne Gilman’s The Devil’s West trilogy is a Weird Western that follows Isobel, a sixteenth year-old who chooses to work for the devil in his territory west of the Mississippi. The opening novel Silver on the Road was a Locus hardcover bestseller and a Publishers Weekly Top Ten Pick for Fall 2015, and SF Signal said it “marks a major landmark in the burgeoning subgenre of Weird West Fantasy.” In his NPR review Jason Sheehan wrote:
Gilman… [has] chosen a fertile place to begin her new series (the broad plains, red rock and looming mountains of the American West), and amped up the oddity of it all by planting the Devil there as a card dealer, fancy-pants and owner of a saloon in a town called Flood.
And the Devil, he runs the Territory. Owns it in a way. Wards it against things meaner than he is, because Gilman’s Devil isn’t exactly the church-y version. He’s dapper in a fine suit and starched shirt. He’s power incarnate — a man (no horns, no forked tail, just a hint of brimstone now and then) who gets things done; who offers bargains to any who come asking and always keeps to the terms because, as everyone in the territory knows, “The Devil runs an honest house.” He never asks for anything you’re not prepared to give, never gives anything that doesn’t have a price.
So when Isobel, who has worked since childhood as an indenture in the Devil’s house, comes of age and has the chance to cut her own deal with Old Scratch, she gives the only thing she owns — herself — into the employ of the Boss and becomes the Devil’s Left Hand.
The sequel The Cold Eye arrived last year to similar acclaim; Library Journal called it “a fabulous coming-of-age tale of magic and power, set in a conflict-ridden alternative Wild West,” and NPR said “It’s like the Oregon Trail of magical voodoo western novels.”
The third and final volume, Red Waters Rising, finally arrived in June, and our friend John DeNardo at Kirkus Reviews called it “a gripping conclusion.” It’s been too long since I’ve had a great Weird Western to dig into, and finally having all three books on my shelf has proven irresistible. They will be my pleasure reading this weekend.
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Nebula Award winning author Rebecca Roanhorse released her first novel this week.
Trail of Lightning takes place on the Navajo reservation, where Roanhorse lived with her extended family (she, herself, is Ohkay Owingeh and African American). Environmental apocalypse has drowned most of the rest of the world, but the Navajo reservation — now called Dinétah — survived with some supernatural help. The Sixth World has dawned, bringing back the gods and monsters of old.
Main character, Maggie Hoskie, isn’t sure whether or not she’s a monster herself, but she excels at hunting them. When a new kind of horror starts abducting and killing innocent people, only Maggie, with the help of an unconventional (and rather attractive) medicine man named Kai, can hope to stop it; but can she defeat this great evil before it destroys what’s left of the world or will her own demons consume her first?
I had the privilege of facilitating a Q&A session with Roanhorse at the Jean-Cocteau Cinema on the day of her book launch. During the hour-long session, she read excerpts from her book and took audience questions about her work and process.
The video below is a record of that evening — unedited for the most part. The only parts it lacks are the signing session and the amazing cake that Roanhorse brought to celebrate.
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One of the many things I love about the Call of Cthulhu RPG — besides the prospect of gathering with close friends to cheerfully go insane together — is the rich array of settings. The core game is set in 1930s America, where Lovecraft (who died in 1937) set virtually all of his fiction, and that serves the pulp horror aesthetic nicely. But over the years Chaosium, and other publishers, have produced several top-notch supplements giving players the option to adventure in a wide range of times and places.
These include Cthulhu Now (1987), Terror Australis (1987), King of Chicago (1992), The Cairo Guidebook (1995), Atomic-Age Cthulhu (2013), and many, many more. The Dreamlands, Victorian London, Scotland, even the Orient Express… no other game invites you to go stark, raving mad in such finely detailed surroundings.
However, CoC has been sorely lacking a weird western sourcebook, so I was very pleased to see Kevin Ross and his friends at Chaosium release Down Darker Trails, a massive full-color 256-page hardcover which lovingly brings Mythos horror to the old west. The book is an excellent addition to Chaosium’s catalog, and contains a splendid historical re-telling of the American Territories, plenty of famous individuals, two complete towns, four western-themed Lost Worlds (including the weird subterranean world of K’n-yan, and the eerie Shadow Desert), and two complete introductory adventures.
Down Darker Trails invites you to play American Indian heroes and famous gunslingers, visit famous sites, and discover just how deeply the terror and mystery of the Great Old Ones has seeped into the West.
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Razored Saddles is the first Weird Western anthology I can recall. It was published as a limited edition hardcover from Dark Harvest in September 1989; I don’t usually buy limited edition hardcovers, but for this I made an exception.
I wasn’t even aware there was a paperback edition until I came across a copy three years ago at the Windy City Pulp and Paper Show. I loved the spooky new Avon cover by Lee MacLeod, but that copy was priced at $25 — more than I paid for the hardcover! I’m pretty good at tracking down paperbacks though, and now that I knew it existed, I figured I could find one at a reasonable price. And sure enough, I did, although it took longer than I expected. With the help of an eBay Saved Search, I finally found the unread copy above in March… priced at $7, less than a brand new paperback.
Razored Saddles had two co-editors. Joe R. Lansdale needs no introduction; these days he’s best known as the author of the Hap and Leonard series, crime novels made into the highly regarded series on SundanceTV. But he’s also the author of over 50 novels and 26 collections, including The Nightrunners (1987), By Bizarre Hands (1989), and The Bottoms (2000). He has won ten Bram Stoker Awards. Pat LoBrutto began working with a summer job in the mailroom of Ace Books, and soon graduated to editing the US editions of Perry Rhodan with Forrest J. Ackerman in 1974. He won the World Fantasy Award for editing in 1986, and co-edited Full Spectrum 2 (1989). He is currently an acquiring editor for Tor Books.
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As Rachael Acks, Alex Acks published some two dozen stories in places like Lightspeed, Shimmer, and Mothership Zeta. For novels he uses the name Alex Wells; his first, Hunger Makes the Wolf, was released last March by Angry Robot, and it got praised by a whole lot of people I respect. E Catherine Tobler said “It has a wonderful weird west vibe and some of the phrasing is simply delicious… Alex crafts a host of fascinating characters here – the Weathermen, the Bone Collector – and I reckon you’re going to love their adventures.” And at Tor.com, Liz Bourke said “It’s a science fiction Western thriller, and it is great, and I’m really, intensely, eagerly looking forward to the sequel.”
Well I have good news for Liz: the sequel has arrived. Blood Binds the Pack was released last week, it sounds as engaging as the first, and I ordered a copy as soon as it was available. Here’s the description.
War is coming to Hob Ravani’s world. The company that holds it in monopoly, TransRift Inc, has at last found what they’re looking for — the source of the power that enables their Weathermen to rip holes in space and time, allowing the interstellar travel all of human society now takes for granted. And they will mine every last grain of it from Tanegawa’s World no matter the cost.
Since Hob Ravani used her witchy powers to pull a massive train job and destroy TransRift Inc’s control on this part of the planet, the Ghost Wolves aren’t just outlaws, they’re the resistance. Mag’s miner collective grows restless as TransRift pushes them ever harder to strip the world of its strange, blue mineral. Now Shige Rollins has returned with a new charge — Mr Yellow, the most advanced model of Weatherman, infused with the recovered mineral samples and made into something stranger, stronger, and deadlier than before. And Mr Yellow is very, very hungry.
Blood Binds the Pack was published by Angry Robot on February 6, 2018. It is 496 pages, priced at $8.99 in paperback and $6.99 for the digital edition. The cover is by Ignacio Lazcano. Read the first two chapters here.
The Trials of Solomon Parker doesn’t look it, but it’s part of a series. A loose series maybe, but still a series. The first novel, Dr Potter’s Medicine Show, was published by Angry Robot back in March. At least you don’t have to wait long between installments.
John Shirley called the first novel “A powerful alchemical elixir concocted of post Civil War historical fiction, dark fantasy, and Felliniesque flavoring.” And the Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog labeled it a “gritty, down-and-dirty debut.” In her feature review at Tor.com, Arianne Thompson described it as:
An Enthusiastic Carnival of Horrors… even though Dr. Potter rightly belongs on the “horror/occult” side of the Weird Western spectrum, it cleaves apart from the sensational grimdark vogue that so heavily tints our view of the past. Fischl’s command of his characters’ world is grotesque, vivid, joyful, and sublime — an uncommon realism that honors the human side of history, and a reminder that a carnival of horrors is still a carnival, after all, with miracles and spectacles awaiting anyone brave enough to venture into the sideshow tent.
The B&N Sci-Fi Blog says “compelling and broken characters, and damn good storytelling elevates The Trials of Solomon Parker to whole new level of weird western. Two excellent books in a calendar year – Fischl is definitely a writer to watch.”
The Trials of Solomon Parker was published by Angry Robot on October 3, 2017. It is 384 pages, priced at $7.99 in paperback and $6.99 for the digital edition. The cover is by Steven Meyer-Rassow.
I must admit that my first thought on laying eyes on Deadlands: Boneyard was, “What the heck is Seanan McGuire doing writing a gaming tie-in?”
After all (as the cover of Boneyard proudly boasts) McGuire is a New York Times bestselling author all on her own, for her zombie Newflesh series (published under the name Mira Grant). It’s not often you see bestselling writers dabbling with game books. But who knows? Maybe she’s always wanted to write a Weird Western. Maybe she loves the Deadlands setting. Or maybe she promised Jay Lake she’d do it. (The dedicated to Boneyard reads, “For Jay Lake. Didn’t I always promise you a midway?”, whatever that means.)
But whatever the reason, I’m glad to have it. It went right to the top of my Halloween reading pile this year.
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GigaNotoSaurus got my attention back in July with Daniel Ausema’s long Sword & Sorcery novelette “The Poetics of Defiance.” Here’s what Ausema said about the story at his website, Twigs and Brambles.
“The Poetics of Defiance” is one of the longer stories I’ve had published. It’s a fun one that I’m very proud of. It started with an idea to come up with the two most unlikely jobs for a traditional sword & sorcery story, and I came up with an alchemist (I’ve liked the idea of a traveling alchemist ever since I was into D&D back in high school) and a poet. It ended up straying from the S&S idea somewhat… I had a lot of fun with creating the snippets of poetry for the attack poet.
This month GigaNotoSaurus features a brand new 15,507-word Weird Western by L.S. Johnson, “To Us May Grace Be Given.” Here’s Charles Payseur at Quick Sip Reviews.
October’s GigaNotoSaurus brings a sort of paranormal Western longer novelette, with a whiff of ash and the taste of blood and coming violence. It’s a storm of a story, sweeping through the life of the main character and leaving nothing untouched. It’s a piece that explores the vast frontier that the American West used to represent, the potential or at least the hope of renewal and forgiveness. And yet it was all built on murder, and exploitation, and blood, and the story paints this place as incredibly dark, perilous, and toxic. It’s a wonderful take on the setting and genre…
Read the story free here, and read Charles’ complete review here.
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In the days before television, movies, or even pulp magazines, readers who wanted exciting fantastic fare read dime novels. This style of popular literature lasted from about 1860 to 1930, before the pulps finally killed them off. In those 70 years, countless series and titles were published — mysteries, Westerns, historical dramas, romances, and even steampunk.
Yes, steampunk goes right back to the age of steam. I recently read one of the most popular titles, the 1883 edition of The Steam Man of the Plains, published by the Five Cent Wide-Awake Library, a series directed specifically at adolescent boys. You can read it online at Northern Illinois University’s excellent online collection of dime novels.
Warning: spoilers follow!
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Hey nerds! My latest collection, The Dead Ride Fast, is available at Amazon and Kobo.
It certainly feels like there’s been a recent abundance of weird Western fiction. Just this past summer alone several anthologies appeared on shelves, and even straitlaced historical magazines like True West have published listicles celebrating the genre.
Yet oddly we seem to have hit peak weird West way back in 2014, with searches today chugging along at 50 percent of that frequency. Still, the fact that searches haven’t dropped precipitously suggests a steady and abiding interest in cowpokes and aliens and zombies.
The Dead Ride Fast bundles together five previously published short stories of mine that appeared in Black Static and anthologies such as Eric Guignard’s Dark Tales of Lost Civilizations (nominated for a Stoker!). Also included is an original story involving a spoopy haunted house.
A gang of bank robbers arrives in a town where everyone knows the future. A prospector discovers the cost of gold is the loss of himself. An abandoned ranch house conceals a dark history. An ailing sailor is initiated into a secret world after consuming an unusual medicine. A businessman reopens a silver mine that should have been left sealed. Two young girls confront a string of unnoticed disappearances.
Just in time for Halloween! Makes a great gift!
If you’re interested in the collection’s provenance — how the book came together and the stories behind the stories — I’ve been blabbering about it at my blog.