REVIEW: ‘Showdown at Midnight’ is an entertaining anthology of ‘classic’ contemporary Weird West Tales

SHOWDOWN AT MIDNIGHT

edited by David B. Riley (Science Fiction Trails 2011)

This anthology of original Weird West Tales falls comfortably within the parameters of western horror/supernatural fiction. It’s refreshing that these stories exhibit a great deal of creativity and variety without feeling the need to “push the envelope” and go genre-bending. As with any anthology, some stories will appeal to you more than others, but they all push the right buttons.

Showdown at MidnightThe Incorruptible, by Don D’Ammassa

Two cowboys find a ritually dismembered corpse, fight a Choctaw hunting party and encounter a lethal skinwalker. (Outstanding, as the “good guy” doesn’t realize what he’s done until it’s too late.)

Ghost of a Chance, by Bill Craig

A bounty hunter from hell tracks an escaped demon to a saloon. (Good showdown, with a vampire thrown in for good measure.)

The Shadow Walkers, by Joel Jenkins

Two gunfighters stumble over a mining camp massacre outside San Francisco and track the nearly-invulnerable Shadow Walkers who did it. (Very good “buddy” rapport, with interesting wraith-like foes.)

Lycanthropy Unbound, Sam Kepfield

A professor investigates a werewolf attack using the scientific method, seeking a cure. (Well-researched and plausible, with plenty of action.)

Low Noon, Henrik Ramsager

A gunfighter makes an unwise wager with a necromancer and tries to shoot it out with an undead adversary. (Scarier than you’d think.)

The Great Ghost Train Robbery, by Jennifer Campbell-Hicks

Body-hopping ghosts rob a train, and it’s up to Annie Oakley to defeat them. (Fun adventure, well written, with the added twist of a sharpshooter who mustn’t shoot the innocent bodies of the possessed .)

Samurai Blade, by John M. Whalen

The ghost of a murdered samurai seeks vengeance on those who brought him dishonor, and a “spirit lawman” assists. (Interesting characters, and cameo appearance by Dodge City lawman Bill Tilghman.)

Wolves of the Comancheria, by Carol Hightshoe

Inadequately developed but intriguing origin story about a girl who becomes a Spirit Avenger, and the pack of wolves who help her hunt down those who have betrayed the Comanche people.

The Banshee Mine, by M.H. Bonham

A prospector is lured into a haunted mine and encounters flesh-eating, humanoid Tommyknockers. (Scary as all get-out.)

A Promise Made, by Jennifer Brozek

Classic ghostly hitchhiker tale with a Wendigo thrown in for good measure. (A bit confusing because two souls share the protagonist’s body and he spends a lot of time talking to “himself.”)

Belfry’s in your Bats!, by Aaron B. Larson

Thrilling adventure featuring a strange leaning man, swarms of gigantic vampire bats, an assassination attempt on President Grant at Carlsbad Caverns, and a vagabond who receives welcome assistance from a well-known but unnamed Secret Service agent. (A rip-roaring, wild, wild western “yarn,” filled with jargon and colloquialisms.)

Night Thunder, by David B. Riley

Tall tale about a happy-go-lucky saddle tramp and his horse who face off against a ghost horse that is terrorizing a small Nevada town. (A little cavalier with its violence and amoral attitude, but entertaining.)

CLICK HERE to purchase SHOWDOWN AT MIDNIGHT.

Black Hats vs White Hats in Weird West Fiction: Can Evil Win the Shootout?

cowboy-hats-for-sale

Weird West Fiction. Is it western fiction? Horror fiction?

I think it’s both, and can include other genres as well, including supernatural, sci-fi and other “otherworldly” genres.

Except each genre has its own tropes, its own themes, its own rules.

Traditionally, westerns have a distinctive moral code. The Law of the West. The good guy may give his life fight for the right, but even in his death there is a sense of the scales being set to right, of justice, order, balance being restored. The individual strives to bring order out of chaos, civilization out of wilderness.

And if darkness does manage to prevail in a minority of stories, it’s meant to be a cautionary tale. So by the negative example, the positive is reinforced.

Horror doesn’t have to stick by that moral code. The goal is to generate fear, so there are a whole lot of horror stories that end with evil triumphing. The hero’s efforts to stem the tide are futile.

That doesn’t sit well with many fans of westerns.

What do you think? Is there a “rule” about the depiction of good and evil in Weird West stories?

REVIEW: The Cowboys of Cthulhu, by Dean Bain

Weird West short story.

Cowboys-of-CthulhuThe Cowboys of Cthulhu (Riders of the Weird West)

Dean Bain’s short story The Cowboys of Cthulhu (available only on Amazon/Kindle) is fifty-four pages of rip-roaring, “weird west” supernatural horror fiction, complete with a notorious gunslinger, a mystic “Celestial,” a deadly snake oil salesman, a trained bear, and space-warping squid-faced monsters that fire multiple six-guns with their head-tentacles.

Awesome.

Fans of H.P. Lovecraft and the pulp “weird west” comics and amazing stories of days gone by will thoroughly appreciate Bain’s attention to 19th-century style prose, exotic characters, and the mind-boggling danger of awakening a sleeping, subterranean elder god.

The short story is the prequel to the full-length Riders Where There Are No Roads, which is available both in paperback and on Kindle.

I’m immersing myself in “weird west” tales in preparation for writing my own series of supernatural horror short stories, set during the California Mission period.

The Cowboys of Cthulhu sets the bar pretty high. It’s horror/western yarn-spinning at its best.

REVIEW: The Devil’s Mouth, by Matt Kincade

Genre: Contemporary Weird West

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000039_00021]There’s a new vampire hunter in town, and he is…awesome!

The Devil’s Mouth, the first book in the Alex Rains Vampire Hunter series, is already a major contender in the Contemporary Weird West/horror genre.

Based primarily in the deserts and dusty towns of the Arizona and New Mexico desert, The Devil’s Mouth introduces Alex Rains, a skilled, ruthless—and surprisingly vulnerable—rockabilly vampire hunter.

Matt Kincade’s breakout novel doesn’t just kick butt in the action scenes—all writers in this genre had better know their way around describing exciting murder and mayhem—the story goes DEEP and BROAD in creating a believable world where society’s outcasts and outlaws have formed a community to defend the world from equally established criminal organizations of fanged, undead predators.

Against his better judgment, Alex breaks reconnaissance cover on a mid-level vampire to save Carmen, a young woman who’s gotten in over her head searching for a missing sister.

As Carmen recuperates from near undeath, the good old boy Alex, who treats women with respect and “aw shucks” humor, takes down vampires and their human collaborators without mercy or remorse. Soon Carmen is recruited into the motley vampire hunter club, and together they work their way up the food chain of blood-guzzling thugs, middle managers and bosses to the big daddy vampire of the region, Don Carlos, a former Conquistador and keeper of the “old ways.”

The Devil’s Mouth has several qualities that raise it a cut above most genre writing. The second act, which can sag in the hands of less capable writers, goes deeper into the characters of Alex, Carmen, Jen (a freelance nurse who patches Alex and Carmen up after their near-death extermination sprees), and even a couple of the vampire henchmen. There are several twists that come as a complete shock and surprise, in part because Alex and Carmen’s character arcs are so well developed. Then their fortunes become drastically more complicated.

Carmen’s personality and motivation are so compelling, and so much of the novel is from her point of view, I forgot that Alex is the true protagonist of the series. It’s as much her story as his.

The culture of both the vampire and the vampire hunter worlds is fully developed, unfolding gradually, logically, yet unpredictably. Human trafficking and the exploitation of illegal immigrants from Mexico take on even more horrific proportions.

Best of all, Kincade has put real thought into the “rules” of vampirism for his world, including the hierarchy of leadership and the checks and balances required to maintain a secret, disposable “food” supply. Kincade’s vampires are smart, fast, strong, hyper-sensitive, and driven by a powerful thirst for blood, but there’s no shape-shifting or sparkling. They do, however, have an incendiary allergic reaction to sunlight.

Kincade even shows WHY hunters insist on shooting bullets at vampires, knowing that it’s essentially futile. Alex blows out their knees and elbows, slowing the vampires down so he can decapitate them before the crippling wounds can heal.

The desert setting, including a barren landscape, an underground bunker from the Cold War, rundown themed motels along Route 66, and even a scene in Albuquerque’s underbelly, add to the book’s “otherness.” A funeral scene where the hunters gather to say goodbye to one of their own is particularly moving. Kincade’s battleground is vast, hostile, and unforgiving, and almost exotic compared to most urban fantasy/paranormal horror.

Ultimately, the success of the Alex Rains Vampire Hunter series is going to depend on readers’ ability to identify with the lead. Kincade has created a compelling, interesting, complicated hero for the series, but it’s his attention to detail in the other areas that had me wanting to come back for more.

The Devil’s Mouth gave me an insatiable thirst for the next installment in the Alex Rains Vampire Hunter series.

Visit Matt Kincade’s blog at www.matthewkincade.wordpress.com.

CLICK HERE to purchase a copy of The Devil’s Mouth.