One of my favorite sub-genres is a secret no longer. What was once a small specific mash-up of genre fiction sprinkled among a few authors and anthologies has blossomed into a renaissance of books, comics, and films. The Weird Western has its roots in classic pulp paperbacks and magazines (Robert E. Howard, Lon Williams, and Charles G. Finney) where authors who wrote with familiar tropes and themes of the western tale started to incorporate supernatural, speculative, ancient mythological, and even robotic fibers into their yarns. Unfortunately, in terms of content and what is available today with the e-boom of self-publishing, there are quite a few six-guns that should have remained holstered. This gold rush of stories has also expanded the arm of steampunk fiction, which has usually been contained within the constantly fluctuating threshold of science-fiction-fantasy. I’ve never been a huge fan of steampunk. I’ve read and liked a few original authors, but there is no denying that when it comes to Weird Westerns, that universe and it’s facets, without question, adds flair and substance to many creations on the Ranch.
So, every other month, in order to get you through the shutter doors of the saloon slinging the best whiskey, I’ll help you wade through the muck that has appeared near the hitchin’ post right outside...This month on the Ranch I highlight two collections that share the same title.
Just released is the anthology Dead Man’s Hand, edited by John Joseph Adams. Short stories are the backbone of the genre despite many successful and original novels and this new title has some heavyweights including Joe Lansdale, one of the patriarchs of the Weird Western tale, Alastair Reynolds, Orson Scott Card, Kelley Armstrong, and Jonathan Maberry. The Tad Williams story “Strong Medicine” recalls the enjoyable stop-motion film Valley of the Gwangi. Despite leaning more towards fantasy and alternate history over horror, Adams has nonetheless roped some wonderful tales.
The other Dead Man’s Hand, by Nancy A. Collins, was published in 2004 and contains three novellas, two short stories, and an intro by, who else? Joe Lansdale. Known for her Sonja Blue series and most recent Golgotham books, Collins adds old and new elements to her offerings. I particularly liked “Lynch,” with its contribution to the Frankenstein legacy, and I have a personal attachment to the darker Dia De Los Muertos story “Calaverada.” This title is a softer addition to the canon but a worthy collection and perfect for the entry-level Weird Western reader.
If you like these titles or the booklists below, send me a message and I will provide a more thorough bibliography (or filmography) of other great Weird Westerns. Other booklists and reviews in the next roundup, happy reading!