Wednesday, March 3, 2010
How The West Was Weird - Part 2
So the last time we talked about the book I mentioned how I hadn't managed to finish the story that I'd been asked to write for it, and I also reviewed the first three stories. So I figure this time I'll talk a little bit more about the story I didn't write, and review the next three stories in the book. My final installment will talk about the story I decided to write instead of the original story I'd planned to write, and how I how I didn't write that one either... and I'll review the final three stories in the book. Good times!
So my idea for the story I wanted to include in the book dealt with Daniel Boone. Now, I realize that Daniel Boone was more of a "frontier" guy rather than a "western" guy, but I figured I could probably get away with the story considering it wasn't taking place on Earth. Stay with me now. The idea I had was to write about Daniel Boone... in space! While I was reading up on Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie and various other frontiersmen I came across this interesting quote by Daniel Boone...
I can't say as ever I was lost, but I was bewildered once for three days.
The quote immediately raised my hackles. This was a soldier and a hunter, the guy that blazed the Wilderness Road, saved his daughter from a Native American war party of Shawnee that later killed his brother during a hunting trip, and when captured by those same Native Americans duped them into believing he was on their side long enough to escape and warn of their impending attack. He founded his own city, and also fought valiantly in the Revolutionary War, where he lost his son. What could possibly have bewildered this man?
And then I read how Boone had also been famous for going on extended treks into the wilderness known as long hunts that could last up to six months or more. Sometimes he'd take a couple of hunters along, but most times he went off by himself, accumulating hundreds of deerskins. In fact, the slang term for dollar, "buck", was primarily coined because of the massive amounts of deerskins sold to fur traders during this era. But anything could happen to man out there on his own in the wilderness all by his lonesome. What if he was visited by some otherworldly travelers that had heard of his exploits as a soldier and hunter and needed him to help them? Daniel Boone was a celebrity even in his own time, so it wouldn't be too much of a stretch to think that an advanced civilization might have heard of him. The possibilities for stories at that point are endless. And perhaps a little too endless, because when it came time to write the story I was bewildered as well.
But enough about that! Let's get to the reviews!
The fourth story in "How the West Was Weird" is titled "Don Cuevo's Curative" by Thomas Deja. The story is about a young boy that is possessed by a little boy and the struggles the township faces in getting rid of the demon. After numerous failed attempts at exorcising the demon, the town desperately contacts Don Cuevo, a mysterious practitioner of the dark arts that might be a snake oil salesman, or might be something more. Don Cuevo responds by sending his female assistant in advance of his arrival, who dutifully prepares the town for a proper exorcism. I admire the way Deja sets up the story. There's just enough going on to keep the reader invested until Don Cuevo arrives. One of the best aspects of the story is that the narrator is one of the more grounded, relatable characters, so as he's caught up in the strange world of Don Cuevo and his assistant, Dolores, the reader is brought right along for the ride. This is an essential connection for the reader to make, because once Don Cuevo does arrive things take a turn towards the bizarre relatively quickly. Another thing that appealed to me about the story was the similarities it had to another story about a mysterious man that visits a town being plagued by sinister forces and takes all the advantage he can before saving them, Clint Eastwood's "High Plains Drifter". In that story there was a strong motivation behind Eastwood's abuse of the town, while Don Cuevo seems to do it only because he knows he's needed, but the spirit is there and I enjoyed it. The confrontation between the demon and Don Cuevo was tense and satisfying, and although the ending probably wasn't as strong as it could have been, this was another story I thoroughly enjoyed.
Speaking of stories I thoroughly enjoyed, Mike McGee and Chris Munn's "The Town With No Name" also seemed to have shades of "High Plains Drifter" spun into its prose. The story is about a hard man named Carston who arrives at a small town in Virginia filled with seemingly churchgoing, honest, wholesome and utterly defenseless people. The town is ripe for the plucking, and Carston might have been just the man to do it if he hadn't arrived squirming on his belly from the various injuries he'd received before his arrival. He's nursed to health in a variety of ways by an enchanting woman named Jenny, who just happens to be the wife of the mayor of the town. During his recovery, Carston is told by the mayor that the township will be visited by villainous outsiders, and that the town needs his help to drive them away. Carston speculates that the outsiders would be interested in the golden cross nestled atop the church in town, as it was the beacon that guided him to the town's doorstep. But when the outsiders finally do arrive, it turns out to be Carston they were after all along, for the town has a secret that has kept them in God's good graces. One of the other excellent aspects of the story is the internal war being raged with Carston throughout. His injuries came about when he rebelled against a group of bandits he'd been running with, after they went a little too far, and as a result Carston is pulled in opposing directions by his nature, his guilt over what he's done, and something bubbling just under the surface of the town and the people within it he can't quite put his finger on. It all leads to an excellent climax, which for me was almost like a twist ending turned on its ear.
The sixth story in "How the West Was Weird" is titled "Sins of the Past" by Barry Reese, a story starring an Atlanta-based masked hero of 1940's called the Rook. The Rook is a pulp-inspired crimefighter that has fought in battles spanning the globe, but when he appropriates a unique box from a thief that crumbles to dust before his eyes, the Rook is drawn into a new type of battle - this one spanning time itself. The story is divided into four short chapters, which frame the story well, but although the tale stands on its own, there are times when the narrative is slowed somewhat by snippets of backstory concerning past exploits of the Rook. This is a minor complaint, however, as the action is crisp enough to compensate for it. The story is an excellent introduction to the Rook, and a worthy inclusion to the book.