I read a fair amount of weird westerns in 2017, and most were from Science Fiction Trails or its editor and publisher David B. Riley.
With every annual issue, Riley’s Science Fiction Trails magazine (at least starting with issue seven when I started reading them) packed an impressive variety into its literary saddlebags. Surprisingly, a lot of its stories didn’t go with the old store-bought plots of time travel and aliens.
Eventually, though, Riley couldn’t find enough contributors and the magazine went on hiatus.
Low Res Scan: Science Fiction Trails 11, ed. David B. Riley, 2014.
Editor Riley has his usual gang of tried-and-true contributors here and some new hands too.
The work is sound, not really awful and seldom outstanding. But they’re all good enough to push you along the trail even though the destination is sometimes is a bit dry at that end.
Star performance went to Jackson Kuhl’s “Red River”. That’s red as in anarchists and red as in Martians. Kuhl has the Martian invasion, complete with tripods and red weed, of H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds turning the trans-Mississippi American West into a war zone. The red weed seeks out moisture everywhere and that includes human bodies when it mutates to a lethal infection. The U.S. Army in airtight, modified Martian tripods wage war on the infestation. But that army needs money, supplies, and men, and the locals start to become real resentful about supplying them. It’s a dark, mosaic piece of different scenes and points of view that carom from killer plague to killer anarchists.
“Paradigm Lost” from R. A. Conine seems incomplete. If the subtitle, “Episode 1 of the Chronicles of Red Blade”, is a clue, that’s because it’s probably the first in a series of one about Sans Arc Sioux warrior Red Blade who finds himself whisked away from victory at the Battle of the Little Big Horn to a world where Indians and whites live at peace – because horrible critters from another dimension, the Dead, have wiped out most people in America and the survivors live in squalid bands. Blade meets the cause of this, and the story ends with him in yet another war in our timeline. Red Blade has, improbably, a degree in mathematics from Oxford though that’s of no relevance to anything in the story.
There’s usually dogs in Science Fiction Trails’ books, and this book’s got them too. It’s Scoot in J. A. Campbell’s “The Martian Menace of 1897”. Scoot belongs to Marshal Tolbert of the Department of Uncanny Affairs. Narrator De Gifford isn’t a Marshal because she’s a woman and she’s black. But she’s Tolbert’s partner as they track down some mysterious airship sightings. This one works in the mythic airship crash in Aurora, Texas and a dog from Pluto. Gifford skirts the edge of being one of those annoying warrior babes, but that didn’t ruin the story.
The title critter in Lyn McConchie’s “Such a Cute Puppy” doesn’t really grow up to be that cute. But he’s sure handy in taking care of widow Elizabeth Richards’ problems when a neighbor starts dealing dirty to get her ranch.
Sam Knight’s “Working the Salt Mine” seems like it’s going to be one of those be-nice-to-the-injured-alien stories, but it’s got a funny and vicious sting at the end.
“The Evolutionizer” is the latest in Henry Ram’s series about necromancer Potbury. No dead being resurrected here, though. Potbury’s object of desire, prostitute Miss Henrietta Davenport, inherits an odd machine from an uncle. It modifies an animal based on its species’ evolutionary future. Most of the story’s humor, as often in this series, comes from the petty and two-faced Mrs. Broadhurst. Here she does her best to remind her employee Henrietta of how kind she’s always been to her.
“Underhanded” from C. J. Killmer is an enjoyable tale of a scientist Myers and gunfighter Lefty Bolingbroke trying to wipe out metallic parasites that have invaded Earth – and keep its technology from the U.S. government which is probably up to no good.
And, of course, Karl, the dinosaur sheriff has a column pondering how back in his day, in the Cretaceous, his friends never knew their bones would be worth so much.
At this point in the magazine’s life, Riley was experimenting with the format.
Seven writers took up the challenge to do a story under 300 words about gunfights. Not being a big flash fiction fan, most didn’t rile me up with any great sentiment. And their setting varies from the Old West to the future to contemporary times. I did like one in the last category: C. J. Killmer’s “Old School” – experienced old guy and a .357 Colt Python vs. a spray-and-pray Glock-wielding punk.
There’s also a rare non-fiction piece where David Lee Summers reviews the 1999 comic book adaptation of The Wild Wild West.
There’s a few glitches in the kindle edition. Some scene changes needed line breaks.
Still, if you like weird westerns, Science Fiction Trails remains the main supplier and doesn’t disappoint with this book.