Dead Man’s Hand

Sunday , 10, February 2019 4 Comments

A couple weeks back, I was at the main library for the county and happened to notice a weird western anthology that I knew of but had not read was on the shelves. Dead Man’s Hand is a trade paperback edited by John Joseph Adams. Published by Titan Books in May 2014. A total of 397 pages plus a section on the contributors in the back.

In the introduction, John Joseph Adams distinguishes that that steampunk can be anywhere and often has an urban setting. The weird western “is typically a darker, grittier take on a similar notion.” He mentions The Wild Wild West, The Dark Tower, The Phantom Empire. Brief mention of Robert E. Howard and Joe Lansdale’s novel Dead in the West.

I had to get a new set of tires on my car and took the book with me while I waited.

The first story is Joe Lansdale’s “The Red Headed Dead.” It is dedicated to Robert E. Howard. Reverend Mercer, protagonist of Dead in the West, fights a Progeny of Judas, a form of vampire. A story very pulp in execution with plenty of action. Very much an homage to Robert E. Howard and I would also throw in Manly Wade Wellman who wrote more weird westerns in the 1930s than Howard. A good start to the book.

Ben H. Winters, “The Old Slow Man and His Gold Gun From Space.” Alien from Neptune approaches a duo of prospectors in early 1850’s California with a proposition. He will use a gun to find gold on their claim in return for 50% of the cut.

David Farland, “Hellfire on the High Frontier” Morgan Gray sent to fight a Clockwork gunfighter. This story has several different things going on with a Cheyenne skin walker, a cloud land with dirty angels, and a psychopathic steampunk robot who likes to kill people.

Mike Resnick’s “The Hell-Bound Stagecoach” has group of dead people on the way to Hell. They get off the stage along the way and set up a way station. A little cliched but well done.

I have not liked anything Seanan McGuire I have read in a few anthologies. “Stingers and Strangers” set in Colorado in 1931. Jonathan Healy and Frances Brown fight an Apraxis hive of big intelligent wasps. I liked this one I think mainly it got to the point and was short. A check at isfdb shows it is part of the “InCryptid” series.

Charles Yu’s “Bookkeeper, Narrator, Gunslinger” First person narrative of gunfighter nerd who seems to slow everything down around him and gets the first draw. Before you know it, gunfighters are coming from all around to test their luck.

Alan Dean Foster’s “Holy Jingle” is a Mad Amos story set in Nevada 1863.  Chinese supernatural goings on. An Unknown type story that I really don’t care for.

Beth Revis’ “The Man with No Heart” is set in Arizona, 1882. A traveler finds a gate to other worlds with Indian who becomes his companion.

Alastair Reynolds “Wrecking Party” has dad machines looking to take over ripe worlds. Arizona 1898.

Mugh Howey “Hell From the East” is  set in Colorado 1868. Madness of an U.S. Army patrol. I found the story’s conclusion confusing.

Rajan Khanna’s “Second Hand” is a fight for magical playing cards.

Orson Scott Card “Alvin and the Apple Tree” 1820 State of Hio. Johnny Appleseed and sin eating. Very different in tone from the other stories.

Elizabeth Bear “Madam Damnable’s Sewing Circle” Scanned over this one as I have not particularly cared for Bear’s fiction in the past and it was about a quilting group with ironic dialog.

Tad Williams “Strong Medicine” Arizona 1899. Time shift every 38 years, this time to the Cretaceous. Steampunk robot comes to town to help it survive every 38 years. Interesting idea.

Jonathan Maberry “Red Dreams” Cheyenne chief ghost story. Did not care for it.

At this point, I simply lost interest in the book and quickly scanned over the remaining stories. Nothing really seemed to be of interest to me.

I had noted in my review of Straight Outta Tombstone that the weird western is more likely to be steampunk type fiction than horror. Again, the western component is often very weak. As so often happens in recent anthologies, normal male-female relationships are rare to non-existent. The ironic, smirking, attempted humorous tone, superior attitude is also present. I blame Buffy the Vampire Slayer for this. Am I right or wrong here?

I just received a weird western anthology from 2000, A Skull Full of Spurs in the mail today. I thought I might as well read the only weird western anthology I do not have. Stayed tuned in a few weeks.

  • Emmett Fitz-Hume says:

    “I just received a weird western anthology from 2000, A Skull Full of Spurs in the mail today. I thought I might as well read the only weird western anthology I do not have. Stayed tuned in a few weeks.”

    With any luck, being published in 2000, it might have some good stuff. Or at least it might not be totally full of [Required SJW Characters and Tropes]. Maybe.

    This sub-genre is the hardest to do well. I say that because it is the hardest sub-genre to find decent stories in. And since I am not a Steampunk fan, that makes it even more difficult.

  • I have a story in an upcoming indie Weird Western anthology. It just changed publishers, so I don’t have a release schedule, but I’ll pass along the info when I have it.

    For what it’s worth, my own story is non-Steampunk, it’s a “deal with the devil” story written from a Catholic perspective.

  • GK Chesterton says:

    Were the top stories worth the price of admission?

    • Morgan says:

      My personal opinion is skip DEAD MAN’S HAND and get Joe Lansdale’s DEAD ON THE BONES: PULP ON FIRE that contains his story from this anthology. DEAD MAN’S HAND is not worth the price of admission.

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