Sunday, May 11, 2014

My review of MERKABAH RIDER: TALES OF A HIGH PLANE DRIFTER. A really killer collection of stories!

Well, I finished rereading Edward M. Erdelac's excellent Merkabah Rider: Tales of a High Planes Drifter a couple of days ago. I have to say I was even more impressed on my second go-around, and that's saying a lot. When I first read through this collection of four novella length stories, I thought that Edward's creation was one of the most unique, entertaining, and absolutely gripping group of stories I had read in some time. Taking a second look, I find these feelings have only gotten stronger with time. Melding many different genres together seamlessly, he takes a pinch of this, and a dash of that, and constructs a whole that outweighs the various ingredients. This is the best Western/Jewish mysticism/teacher betrays student, student seeks justice/horror/action/impending Doom stories that I have ever read. Of course, I've only read one, and it's this one. As I said, entirely unique, and it appeals to my love of mixed genre fiction. Looking past that, however, I must say that the overall writing talent of the esteemed author are what makes this work. I've read a number of stories that try to meld dissenting elements together, that have left me cold, and also wondering why I wasted my hard earned money on them. This collection is, of course, not one of them. Edward has a distinct talent at making these varied elements work, and going beyond that, makes you wonder why you're not seeing more exploration of this type in genre fiction. Before I totally exhaust my admiration for this entry in the first paragraph, here's a synopsis of the stories, and then some thoughts on the collection, as a whole.

First up is 'Blood Libel', in which we are introduced to The Rider, and the time period his story is set in. Set in the Old West, Rider is a former member of The Sons of the Essenes, who would travel the celestial realm, witnessing the Divine. The Sons, and The Rider, have been betrayed by his former master, Adon. Now The Rider wanders endlessly through the world, seeking to bring Adon to justice. Traveling down a lonely path, shunned by all but him, he arrives at the town of Delirium Tremens, Pop. 180. The townsfolk greet his arrival with both suspicion, and downright hatred. You see, there has been a bit of trouble going on in the town, as of late. First, the young hogs of the local pig farmers begin disappearing, then the calves of the ranchers are taken. Finally, the young children of a number of the townsfolk go missing. The blame has been laid at the feet of the residents of the local Jewish settlement, and a bloodthirsty posse is preparing to burn them out. The Rider will meet an old friend, and encounter an ancient enemy from the hidden realms, and possibly manage to save a few innocent souls...

In 'The Dust Devils', The Rider stumbles upon the town Polvo Arido, straight out of a roiling windstorm. Although the town seems deserted at first, his attention is drawn by a local man hiding in the dry goods store. Scared out of his wits, the man reveals that Polvo Arido has been taken over by bandits. Unable to leave to summon help due to the storm, he chooses to confront the gang head on. The mass of banditos is bad enough, but their leader, Hector Scarchilli, is pure poison. Add in Kelly Le Malfacteur, a brujo with powers rivaling that of The Rider, and our hero is in for a very bad day. One which he might not survive...

Next up is 'Hell's Hired Gun'. Weary from crossing through the desert, The Rider stops at a Catholic mission, hoping for rest and water. Instead, he finds the entire mission brutally slaughtered, down to the last man, woman, and child. A single monk clings to life, and with his dying breath utters the name, "Gadara." After burying the dead, he sets out to find Gadara (which turns out to be a town, high in the hills), and the force behind the slaughter at the mission. Waylaid in the hills by a snowstorm in the hills, and struck down by fever, he is tended to by a preacher who has been hiding from an implacable foe. He is soon to learn the story behind the atrocity he witnessed, and be brought face to face with the perpetrator. Will The Rider be able to overcome such a demented fiend?

The concluding episode of the collection is 'The Nightjar Women'. The Rider is unerringly drawn to the town of Tip Top, where he is suddenly overwhelmed by feelings of lust. He has felt temptation before, but never like this. After The Rider discovers that the newborns of the town are hideously warped at birth, he realizes that there is an ancient evil haunting the town. Is it his former master's doing? Could Adon be lurking in the town, furthering his own singular purpose? The Rider seeks to unravel the mystery, and what he finds, is a shock even to him...

This was my second time reading Merkabah Rider: Tales of a High Planes Drifter, and as I stated above, I was totally impressed once again. Edward has a knack for taking elements from different genres, mixing them well, and coming up with a totally original narrative. I'm a big fan of Western stories, and this is a wholly original and unique take, using the Western as a jumping off point. It takes us in truly imaginative directions, but still manages to keep the overall feel of a Western. The Rider is one of the most interesting characters I've come across, very well envisioned, and portrayed in a nuanced manner. Throughout the collection, we find out more about this mysterious man's past, and this has a distinct humanizing effect. Handled differently, the character could have easily ended up being a two-dimensional cutout. We are reminded throughout the stories that, despite the powers he wields, and the higher plane on which the battles take place, that this a thinking, feeling human being. If you look at the setting as a whole, this is present throughout. None of the mortal characters are solely good or evil, they are a mix of the two. Even the villains have a justification for acting as they do (however self-serving these reasons are). The setting is wonderfully imagined; as I read through, I was THERE. Like all the best tales, you could boil this one down to its core, strip away all the different genre trappings, and you would be left with what it is. An entirely entertaining group of stories, told by a master of the craft. I highly recommend picking up whatever edition of this entry that you can get your hands on, and diving in headfirst. It's that good. Happy reading, all!

Here's some links to start exploring. You can find Edward's blog here. Here's his Amazon page. Finally, here's his fan page on Facebook. Swing by, pick up a book, and say hello!

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