Saturday, May 28, 2011

TIPPIN’ HANCOCKS HAT-Reviews of All Things Pulp by Tommy Hancock
Barry Reese, David Boop, Ian Taylor, Joel Jenkins, Ron Fortier, Joshua Reynolds, Thomas Deja, Desmond Reddick, Grahm Eberhardt, Dale W. Glaser, Ian Mileham, Stacy Dooks, Mark Mousquet, Matthew P. Mayo, Kevin Thornton, David Golightly, Tommy Hancock, Tony Wilson, Derrick Ferguson, Mike McGee
Edited by Russ Anderson
Published by Pulpwork Press

A truly American genre, the Western story holds so much meaning, so much emotion, so much raw action for anyone who reads it.  It also holds a whole passle of potential that until recent years, people were afraid to explore.  Due to the impact of western movies and such iconic luminaries as Louis L’Amour (one known to put the genre on its ear every now and again himself), the Western had for many years this ‘Oh, you can’t go outside the established boundaries’ unspoken rule.   And I’ll be the first to say that there are still a ton of stories that can be told within those parameters.  But I’m also glad to say that there’s a group of writers, an entire movement known as New Pulp, that recognizes just where Westerns can go that they haven’t yet, and those writers are taking this genre there yet again.

HOW THE WEST WAS WEIRD: VOL II, edited by Russ Anderson and published by Pulpwork Press, is a follow up collection to the very popular bestselling first volume, but stands on its own as a stellar collection of speculative Western fiction.  Not only are the traditional trappings strapped on for this rollicking rodeo of weirdness, but even the ‘supernatural’ or ‘strange’ elements seem to go beyond the ken in several of the stories.  This is a major positive because it shows that New Pulp can be different, can be enjoyable, and yet still hold on to the traditions and style that classic Pulps originated.

NOTE-As I review each story and the book overall, I will not be commenting on my story in this volume.  WEST OF FORT SMITH is my tale and that will be reviewed by others when they look at the collection, but I do not feel right talking about my work. 

DESIGN AND FORMAT-This is absolutely an exceptionally formatted book.  Easy to read, well laid out, and the Tamas Jakab designed cover, fantastically rendered by Jim Rugg adds that ‘new classic’ touch to this gorgeous looking paper back collection.  FIVE OUT OF FIVE TIPS OF THE HAT.

EDITING-Anderson does a tremendous job at not only providing mostly error free editing, but also in how these tales were placed in the book.  Each one seemed to build on the ones previous to it in terms of tension and quality.  Determining placement in such a mixed bag anthology as this one is extremely difficult, so fedoras off to Russ for handling this extremely well.  FOUR OUT OF FIVE TIPS OF THE HAT.

DESOLATION by BARRY REESE-This is a tale about family, about belief, and about just how crazy perception can be.  But it’s more than that, it’s a peek into the desperation that haunts every human soul, but must have been particularly strong in the wide open spaces of the West.  FIVE OUT OF FIVE TIPS OF THE HAT.

THE RAG DOLL KID by DAVID BOOP-This is not just any ghost story, although it is a well crafted one of those.  This tale takes the reader on a journey of what makes a man who he is and how even at the end of his life, keeps him going until the job is done.  FIVE OUT FIVE TIPS OF THE HAT.

THEY CALL HIM PAT by IAN TAYLOR- This one falls into the weird category because of ‘Pat’ and is one of those that goes a little farther than most would think.  Saying that, this is one helluva classic western ‘Stranger in town’ tale and were Clint Eastwood prone to play weird parts, Pat was written for him.  FIVE OUT FIVE TIPS OF THE HAT.

THE LOST VALE by JOEL JENKINS-Mixing historical characters with Doyle influenced locations and creatures is something that sounds easy, but would actually take an artisan to pull off.  Joel Jenkins proves to be just the man for the job.  The story reads as it should, like a Western with weird sprinkled throughout it for good taste and measure.  The sheer number of characters to follow is a slight drawback, but Jenkins turns out one heckuva tale that would make a Challenger proud! FOUR OUT OF FIVE TIPS OF THE HAT

THE YELLOW DOG by RON FORTIER- This story goes into an area many Western writers haven’t gone, even traditionally and that’s the Western Animal subgenre.  Typified by such books as OL’ YELLER and the FLICKA series, writers tend to shy away from this direction because it’s a fine line between Western rawness and sentimentality.  Fortier walks that line well, dipping liberally from both sides and producing a hard edged Western tale that explores the connection between man and beast.  FIVE OUT FIVE TIPS OF THE HAT

MR. BRASS AND THE DEVIL’S TEETH by JOSHUA REYNOLDS-Reynolds gets points right off the bat for teaming up his steampunk Pinkerton with one of the most underrated yet interesting outlaws that ever rode the West.  Frank James and Brass set out after a whole pack of owlhoots that have a bit of an advantage, thanks to cursed objects.  Reynolds keeps a distinctly Western flavor throughout, while still interspersing the conflict Brass feels about being more…or is that less…than human.  FIVE OUT OF FIVE TIPS OF THE HAT

THUNDER PURSUED by THOMAS DEJA-This was a fantastically fun tale that went a different direction than most of the others did.  Suffice it to say, seeing a Western character that had hints and glimmers of Doc Savage is not only something I enjoyed, but something I hope I see much more of.    Deja also deftly handled an exploration of Western family and friendship dynamics as well.  FIVE OUT OF FIVE TIPS OF THE HAT.

WALKER ON THE WIND by DESMOND REDDICK-Reddick takes the reader to the far West, using members of the Mounted Police, and plunges them all into the desolate, frozen West and all the horrors that and a man’s mind may hide.  The suspense built well, the character narration was engaging, and the end result extremely and appropriately disturbing.  Although putting together the pieces of the story seemed to be a bit slow, Reddick definitely knows how to make one’s hair stand up and never hear the wind blowing the same way again.  FOUR OUT OF FIVE TIPS OF THE HAT

THE VELVET SCOURGE by GRAHM EBERHARDT-This story so intrigued me I had to immediately read it again.  Eberhardt must have been channeling Sergio Leone with a liberal dash of Poe and Hitchcock to boot.  A totally reprehensible character takes the lead and by the end of it becomes the only one I was cheering for.  Characterization was top notch, establishment of atmosphere was unbelievable, and I’d be more than happy to see more from this author and this character in the near future.  FIVE OUT OF FIVE TIPS OF THE HAT

THE DEMON WRESTLER by DALE W. GLASER-This story took a little bit to get into, but as the smoke cleared, what remained in whole was a fantastic story of just what people will believe and what others will go through to benefit from those beliefs.  FOUR OUT FIVE TIPS OF THE HAT.

TELL ME YOU LOVE ME AND THAT’LL BE AN END TO IT by IAN MILEHAM-Mileham does two things in this tale:  He delivers one heck of an atmospheric telling of just how a murder might be handled in the Old West; and He drifts into the psychological as well as supernatural thriller realm as smoothly as silk and leaves the reader happily frighteningly chilled.  FIVE OUT OF FIVE TIPS OF THE HAT

UNHALLOWED GROUND by STACY DOOKS-Going back North for this Western tale, Dooks creates two memorable leads that basically fit the ‘buddy cop’ motif Old West style and then promptly throws them into a psychedelic Hell.  Even with that twist, this story holds up as a wonderfully written Western because, after all, Westerns are about ordinary men facing extraordinary challenges.  And Dooks definitely provides all of that in spades.  FIVE OUT OF FIVE TIPS OF THE HAT.

TRAIN COMES A-BURNIN’ by MARK BOUSQUET-I don’t know how to summarize this tale except to say that I hope there’s a novel that rises out of it in the future.  Two women board a train, each with a shared, yet their own distinct missions to complete.  Throw in a special forces type outfit, some monsters, and kids and their teddy bears, and you have one wild Western roundup.  It very much felt like the middle of a story, though, and sorting things out was a bit jarring, but as I opened with, I want the novel.  Now.  FOUR OUT OF FIVE TIPS OF THE HAT

THE WITCH HOLE by MATTHEW P. MAYO-Let me admit, this type of tale is not usually my favorite.  I can’t really tell you why, except that I wasn’t the kid who was into the mystery comics and such when I was young.  And this one reads as if it would fit perfectly in an old DC House of Mystery or an EC comic.   That, however, is the reason that I liked it as much as I did-because as I read it, I could see the artwork, I could see the creepy green and black coloring.  The set up, the premise, and the characters smack heavily and enjoyably of that 1950s and 60s weird tale comic story, even though it’s in prose.  FOUR OUT OF FIVE TIPS OF THE HAT

THE TESTIMONY OF CONSTABLE FRASER by KEVIN THORNTON-It’s interesting that in this volume of Western tales, so many writers chose to explore the Royal Canadian Mounted Police for stories.  And thankfully so.  Thornton not only paints a great image of a central character in Fraser, but he tells a story that simultaneously is serial killer/Western/ancient history mystery and it all blends together like hardtack and coffee at a campfire.  And yes, that’s good.  FIVE OUT OF FIVE TIPS OF THE HAT

RAID AT RAZORFANG RANCH by DAVID GOLIGHTLY-This was refreshing in the midst and toward the end of the book. Golightly takes us not only into the Weird West, but into ranch life and shows how hard both the work and that sort of living can be in general.  Combining that with the peculiar livestock the ranch deals in, Golightly delivers a quick draw blast of action and characterization.  FIVE OUT FIVE TIPS OF THE HAT

WEST OF FORT SMITH by TOMMY HANCOCK-As said before, skipping this one.

BEAST OF THE BLACK HILLS by TONY WILSON-Yes, this is a weird tale, involving everything from green glowing severed heads to hairy bipeds and more, but Wilson does something even more fantastic.  The two main characters in this story could just as well be in any John Wayne buddy western or Larry McMurtry’s LONESOME DOVE or Robert B. Parker’s turn at Western series.  They are men fully realized, strengths and flaws and bonds between them included.  The internal voice of one of them that Wilson uses for narration is absolutely dead on.  FIVE OUT OF FIVE TIPS OF THE HAT

STORMS OF BLOOD AND SNOW by DERRICK FERGUSON-Derrick Ferguson has a gift.  That is to take aspects and traits and render whole cloth full blown love and hate ‘em characters from varied pieces and parts.  Sebastian Red and the cast he leads through Derrick’s multilayered Western tale, that is part ‘man in pursuit,’ ‘blood feud’ and ‘Act of God versus Man’ all rolled together, are real people by the time you finish the story, real enough you want to see them again.  And often.  FIVE OUT OF FIVE TIPS OF THE HAT

TERROR IN TOYLAND by Mike McGee-Now, for me, this story just didn’t fit.  It’s a modern tale, which is all right with me, but I didn’t get that it had a Western feel to it.  It was, however, a fantastic slice of life after some apocalyptic event had changed at least the part of the world it’s set in.  McGee tells a great story and the narration was fun and equally creepy, which I feel like was the intent.  As a matter of fact, the strength of the story itself overcomes a little of my discombulation about its inclusion in this collection.  FOUR OUT OF FIVE TIPS OF THE HAT.

HOW THE WEST WAS WEIRD: VOLUME II will be out  July 1st, 2011.  You’re a dagnabbed fool if you don’t get it as soon as it splits the batwing doors of your favorite online book outlet.  Stay tuned at for more details and get it on your wish list today, Pard. Or Else.