The weird western has been the red headed step-child of genre fiction. The idea pops up now and then but has never really taken off in popular culture in any big way.
More than likely, the first weird westerns I read were by Robert E. Howard in the Zebra paperback, Pigeons From Hell. The first weird western anthology I ever read was the Avon paperback edition of Razored Saddles, edited by Joe R. Lansdale and Pat LoBrutto. The 1980s horror boom still had the illusion of going on though serial killer fiction was already killing the horror genre.
Razored Saddles was a mixed bag, as most original fiction anthologies tend to be. I bought it off the shelf brand new in late 1990 during my Texas sojourn. I still remember Robert McCammon’s “Black Boots” best of all. To me, “Black Boots” was what a weird western should be. The story has never been reprinted. There was a time when Robert McCammon was poised to be the next Stephen King before he disappeared for a while.
Straight Outta Tombstone is the latest entry to the list of weird western anthologies. The trade paperback version came out last summer. I hate trade paperbacks and patiently waited for the mass market paperback, which just came out a little over a week ago.
This is a Baen paperback, $7.99 in cost, 371 pages. A good cover by Dominic Harman. Editor David Boop is someone new to me. His foreword is short at two pages. He mentions some movies, T.V. shows like The Wild, Wild West, and the Jonah Hex comic books. No mention of any pulp magazine or paperback prose fiction.
The first of 16 stories is from Larry Correia and the origins of the Monster Hunters International with “Bubba Shackleford’s Professional Monster Killers.” Set almost at the turn of the century so Correia can engage in some new guns that were just coming out. This is actually the first story in that series by Correia that I have read.
Jody Lynn Nye’s “Trouble in an Hour Glass” is a steam punk time travel paradox story involving stage coach robbers.
Were-bears and a rampaging Megatherium is the basis for Sam Knight’s “The Buffalo Hunters.” I would have been happy with a story with just a rampaging Megatherium.
Robert Vardeman’s “The Sixth World” has a government scientist and a Navajo healer encountering aliens.
“Easy Money” by Phil Foglio is a joke story of animal skinners providing dinosaur bones to museums back east from real live dinosaurs. Too glib for my taste.
Nicole Givens Kurtz features an African-American woman with some special powers. She has to deal with an enemy possessed by a demon.
Steampunk is front and center with “Chance Corrigan and the Lord of the Underworld” by Michael Stackpole. The story read to me as an homage to The Wild, Wild West. Hard to beat Dr. Miguelito Loveless as a villain.
Aliens traveling back in time to take on John Selman, killer of John Wesley Hardin is the basis for “The Greatest Guns in the Galaxy” by Bryan Thomas Schmidt and Ken Scholes. The aliens inadvertently set off a zombie apocalypse in old El Paso.
I have read Maurice Broaddus before in the Griots anthology. He has probably the most horror oriented story in the anthology in “Dance of Bones.” Bad things follow a cattle drive with a former buffalo soldier turned cook and tracker.
Sarah A. Hoyt is a writer who just has not clicked with me in the past. This continues with “Dry Gulch Dragon.” A shape-shifting dragon teams up with his girl-friend’s brother to rescue girl-friend from elves. The western element is very weak. This could have been set anywhere.
I can remember a paperback collection of Alan Dean Foster’s “Mad Amos” stories. Mad Amos returns in “A Treefold Problem.” This story is set in Wisconsin and the problem of repopossession of some undeveloped property. The story is built around a scatological joke at the end.
David Lee Summers brings together Billy the Kid, vampires, and some steampunk trappings in “Fountains of Blood.”
“High Midnight” by Kevin J. Anderson has a zombie private investigator and a hell raising gunslinger ghost. Nope, nope, nope. I don’t like this facile sort of fantasy going back to Thorne Smith through Unknown magazine. If I want this sort of thing, I will watch episodes of Bewitched on You Tube.
Supernatural vengeance by an Apache girl is “Coyote” by Naomi Brett Roarke. This was a an efficient update of a Weird Tales type story.
More steampunk in Peter J. Wacks’ “The Key.” There is a framing sequence with a gun toting Chinese female who tells the story of a western gunslinger and his katana wielding Japanese partner teaming up with Winston Churchill. They are out to deny a piece of ancient technology from Rasputin with a little help from Tesla. Too much name dropping going on. The story loses coherence like a A. E. van Vogt novel.
I have never read Jim Butcher before. “A Fistful of Warlocks” has Anastasia Luccio, a “warden,” travelling to Dodge City to battle a warlock. Wyatt Earp gets caught up in the action.
So, there you have it, Larry Correia and Jim Butcher are the stars and bookends to this anthology. Both deliver entertainment. I would give this anthology about a 3.5 out of 5 rating.
When I finished the book, it became clear that the weird western very much reflects our times. Razored Saddles has a 1980s horror quality to it. Straight Outta Tombstone is heavy on urban fantasy and steampunk elements.
There are two weird western anthologies that I have not read: Skull Full of Spurs: A Roundup of Weird Westerns (Dark Highway Press, 2000) and Dead Man’s Hand (edited by John Joseph Adams, Titan Books, 2014). Skull Full of Spurs has a bunch of 1990s horror writers. Dead Man’s Hand has writers from this decade who seem to show up often in the Martin-Dozois anthologies.
The best weird western anthology is Great Ghost Stories of the Old West. This was a hardback in 1968 and then a Scholastic Book Services paperback in 1973. All the stories are from western writers including Will Henry/Clay Fisher, T. V. Olsen, S. Omar Barker and others.
The newer original weird western anthologies are weak on the “west” portion of the equation. Often the stories could be set just about anywhere.
There has never been an anthology of legacy weird western stories by Otis Adelbert Kline, Arthur J. Burks, Robert E. Howard, Manly Wade Wellman, Manly Banister etc.
I would like to see a weird western anthology by western writers– James Reasoner, Robert Randisi, Peter Brandvold etc. Makes me wish western writers including Elmer Kelton, Gordon D. Shirreffs, Lewis Patten, Les Savage Jr., Luke Short, Ernest Haycox had not tried their hand at writing at least one story marrying the fantastic with the western.
The problem has always been almost no market for this sort of thing to appear. It remains a niche category.