Saturday, January 25, 2014

How the West was Weird: Campfire Tales 4 out of 5 Stars

How the West Was Weird: Campfire Tales is a very nice page-turner. It contains many elements from various genres that I love; westerns, pulp, adventure, and horror. Starting off with the rather excellent "Mr. Brass and the Crimson Skies of Kansas" proves to be a great choice; author Josh Reynolds absolutely knocks it out of the park with his highly entertaining story. With everything from cavorite powered airships ferrying President Teddy Roosevelt through the skies; to the acerbic verbal swordplay of one Samuel Clemens directed towards Dr. Henry Jekyll (yes, that Dr. Jekyll), every note of this story is spot-on, and aims to entertain. Mr. Brass, who stars in the story, was once human; however, he was remade into a clockwork automaton, and is now one of the Pinkertons involved with protecting the President, along with his partner Jimmy Rast. We have a Martian War mentioned, the Martian's attempted reforming of the state of Kansas into a similar condition as their home planet, and also, the Starry Wisdom cult apparently killing off presidents. Throw that in with Hanoi Xan, former right hand man of the Devil Doctor himself, and a nefarious plot by Dr. Frankenstein, and you have an extremely good adventure. Being a short story, there is not much time for character development, but the hints of emotion and tantalizing tidbits of the characters' history are very much appreciated. Suffice it to say, there is enough action included, and all-around coolness, in general, to satisfy a lover of great adventure tales. I had been hearing good things about the Mr. Brass character, and this was my introduction to him. Josh, and Mr. Brass, certainly lived up to all of that praise. I will be seeking out more by this author as soon as I can. Moving on to the second story, we have "Hell's Own" by Russ Anderson. After all the different characters and allusions to different historic events in the first story, the plot in this one is rather stream-lined and compact. Set in the Old West, we start with something strange falling from the sky in Newton County. Sherriff Gavin witnesses the sky-fall, and really thinks it nothing untoward. A meteor, or such-like, he thinks. Before you know it, we have zombie hordes amassing and converging on the Sherriff's one-horse town, ravening for flesh. I need to get this out of the way, and upfront. I have become a little bit tired of the whole zombie apocalypse scenario, mainly because it's just EVERYWHERE these days. Also, there are so many hacks out there churning out their insipid variations on the concept, that sometimes I feel like screaming. That said, this is a very well written piece of fiction, and I recommend it to fans of the two genres that it encapsulates, or to people who just like to read a terse, bare-bones horror tale. Russ does what a really good writer can do; write about something that's not really your cup of tea, and still draw you in with his execution of the idea. Thanks for the great story! Next up we have "The Tale of the Baron's Tribute" by Derrick Ferguson. The star of the show is Sebastian Red, vaunted sword-slinger, pistolero, and bounty hunter. Searching for some real bad hombres, Sebastian heads south of the border, hot on their trail. Coming across a friendly village of Iahnian farmers, he decides to take a little break, and quickly becomes close with the people. Sebastian and the headman Hu exchange stories, and he learns of the fact that they are soon to pay off their land with one last installment to Baron Orwell, the landowner. After an offer to accompany Hu and his men on their journey to the Baron's manse (which is refused good-naturedly by Hu), Sebastian continues on his journey. Tragedy and bedlam ensue. It seems that someone from Sebastian's past has been tracking him, and has jumped at the chance to draw him into a fight to the death. Will he win out against this shadowy enemy, and bring about justice? Or will he fall, as his past finally catches up with him? With everything from elements of Jonah Hex, to some of the qualities of Solomon Kane, Sebastian Red is an excellent character, who's further adventures I hope to read about in the future. You should also check out Dillon and Fortune McCall, written by Mr. Ferguson. Very good characters, and rousing story-lines. Moving on to the last story in this collection, we have "Gunmen of the Hollow Earth" by Joel Jenkins. Containing such luminaries of the Old West as Doc Holliday, Morgan Earp, Butch and Sundance, we have a tale of double crosses, triple crosses, and so on. After Doc, Morgan, and the true star of the story Crow (a Native American fighter), ambush Butch, Sundance, and the Wild Bunch, everything goes to hell. The first group is working within the law trying to apprehend the lawless Wild Bunch and their leaders. A bunch of banditos and hell-raisers stick to their trail, trying to steal the silver that was recovered by Crow's posse. Attempting to shake them, Crow and company ride lesser and lesser known trails... ending up in Doyle's Hollow Earth setting! Complete with Amazon warriors, and more action than you can shake a stick at, you have a suitably adventurous ending to the collection. The one thing I disliked, is there is not enough development of the personalities of the characters, other than Crow. Being that this seems to be an entry in a possible serial tale of the characters, this can be overlooked. All in all, a very fine collection of stories, that I enjoyed very much. I will be looking forward to reading more from the contributing authors.

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