by John Joseph Adams
Dead Man's Hand, so named for the aces and eights or the black two pair poker hand supposedly held by gunfighter Wild Bill Hickok when he was murdered, is an anthology of short stories set in the Old West. The twist is that these tales are not just shoot em ups though a few of those exist. No the common theme that links all these stories is that they occur not in the West that was but rather the West that could have been. As the book cover indicates it is a anthology of the weird west. For those of you who read this and immediately assume that Dead Man's Hand is just another low rent horror book that you'd prefer to avoid, not being a horror fan, you are probably making a mistake. Yes, there are some traditional horror stories within though here traditional doesn't mean that you'd know exactly what to expect. But the emphasis is not on vampires, ghouls or ghosts. The emphasis is on the weird. So in one story you can read about a battle between a vampire and a righteous revered gunfighter and in the next read a feminist take on what happens when a vicious pimp tries to reclaim his "property" from the women who work in an enlightened bordello. Some of these stories work better than others but I don't think I was ever really bored reading this. As usual the best thing about anthologies is that if there is a story that you dislike it's okay because in just a few pages something new is coming along. Other than always being set in the West these stories are often quite different in theme, tone, purpose and feel. There's something here for everyone, but I wouldn't say all of the stories are for everyone. My favorite story in this collection was Walter Jon Williams' "The Golden Age" which reimagines Gold Rush era California as something out of a Steampunk comic strip. An English sailor, unfairly cheated out of his gold claim, turns to a life of crime. He becomes known as The Commodore. He is alternately assisted and hindered by a motley crew of fellow superheroes and villains, most of whom will go out of their way to avoid killing each other outright but prefer old time radio serial favorites like leaving their enemy tied up over a flaming volcano. Other superheroes include Shanghai Susie, who uses Kung-fu to protect Chinese railroad workers or The Masked Hildalgo who fights for Mexican miners. Good or bad many of these people must put aside their quarrels when California is invaded by an Austrian madman with a blimp and an entirely unsporting attitude towards rivals.
Mike Resnick's "The Hellbound Stagecoach" is a new twist on a very old theme. Ben Winter's "The Old Slow Man and His Gold Gun From Space" had some surprises which I don't think most people will see coming. "Stingers and Strangers" finds a boyfriend/girlfriend team investigating why some very dangerous oversize wasps have suddenly vanished. Tobias Bucknell's "Sundown" tells the story of an extremely pragmatic Black Federal Marshal who teams up with Frederick Douglass to deliver some righteous and legal retribution on some very bad people. In "Holy Jingle" Alan Dean Foster tells us the story of a man who was last seen at a Carson City brothel. When he's found he might be drained of something besides that which one would normally expect. Charles Yu's "Bookkeeper, Narrator, Gunslinger" shows us what happens when a mild mannered bookkeeper opens his mouth and discovers he's not such a bad shot. Alastair Reynolds' "Wrecking Party" informs us that a man who's smashing up the newfangled horseless carriages may not be an ignorant Luddite after all.
All in all this was a good read. Not every story was a winner but I can honestly say that the gold outweighed the dross. It's a little long but you can read it at your leisure.
by Ken Bruen and Jason Starr
This is a quick thrill ride of a book. It's not deep into characterization. It's more about the moment than anything else. Consider this some really good fast food. There are lots of pop-culture and meta-fictional riffs on the nature of the publishing business, including the book's cover. If you can enjoy absurd situations without feeling that you have to sympathize or empathize with the characters you may like this book. This book parodies everyone. A woman's German accent is described as "about as soothing as a swift kick to the balls". A would be gigolo with a resemblance to the author Lee Child impersonates the author in order to live off women. Unfortunately since he can't write a lick this scam's half-life is pretty short.