Science Fiction Trails #13

It’s time for another weird western review.

Review: Science Fiction Trails #13, ed. David B. Riley, 2018.

Science Fiction Trails 13
Cover by Laura Givens

To be honest, this issue was a disappointment. It was shorter than usual and a higher percentage of stories were ho-hum though there were a couple of bright points from two of the magazine’s old reliables.

I’m afraid the two newcomers don’t distinguish themselves.

Cynthia Ward’s “Six Guns of the Sierra Nevada” is actually a reprint of a story that first appeared 20 years ago in Pulp Eternity Magazine #1. It belongs to a time travel theme running throughout this issue. Carl Rhein seems to have been sent back in time by a shadowy cabal from the future in order to poison future American race relations by wiping out the Robin Hood Gang composed of all blacks. You have to be really good to get me to care about yet another story centering on what I’m told is the cause of all evil – racism, and this story isn’t, and its ending is a trifle murky.

There’s some racism in Paul J. Carney’s “The Warden of Chaco Canyon”, but it’s main problem is just that it’s kind of bland. It takes place in an alternate American West where prospectors have been hunting meteors with “star iron” – sought because of its use in protective amulets and bullets that will penetrate anything. However, the strikes have petered out after five years and prospector Hewitt wants to know why. He falls in with an Indian shaman who has his own ideas about what to do with “star iron”, and there are the ghosts of the town wiped out in the first meteor strike.

J. A. Campbell is a regular, but I found her “The Very Successful Mission” not successful in interesting me that much. It’s one of Campbell’s Bureau of Uncanny Affairs. One of its agents is sent to investigate reports of a downed flying saucer and keep it out of the hands of Martians.

Another regular with a ho-hum effort is Rebecca McFarland Kyle’s “The Full Metal Whatsit”. In summary, it sounds more interesting than it is. “Doctor” Cyrus Yancy, a black man, and his black assistant are running a traveling medicine show which benefits from using a bit of futuristic technology they got their hands on. Millie Dockery, a clever circus freak who likes to supplant her income by running criminal enterprises, wants it.

Karl, the Dinosaur Sheriff is never boring and keeps it short. This time he reminisces, in the usual “Karl’s Corner” column, about the benefits of barbecue dinosaur in his native Cretaceous Period.

Henry Ram gives us another Potbury the Necromancer story, “A Long Way From Name Pending”, and it’s another time travel story. A time traveler from the future is accidentally shot to death in Name Pending and the locals all have designs on his combination iPad and time travel machine. Of course, brothel madam Mrs. Broadhurst is one of them, but the end of her scheming surprised me and made this an amusing twist on the series.

No time travel or aliens in “A Better Place to Die” from Sam Knight. It’s one of those stories about a a man and the almost human-like relationship with his tools. The man is Whip, an ex-slave who moved out west, and Mighty Miner, a steam-powered mining device. It may be the end of the line for both.

The highlight of the issue is Sam S. Kepfield’s “Moon of the Iron Eagle”, an author who seems to consistently produce good weird westerns. It’s 1909, Teddy Roosevelt is the President of the United States, and Nickola Tesla’s idea of electrical power drawn from the Earth transmitted without wires is changing the country. Coal powered locomotives are vanishing by electrical trains, and electrical cars and airplanes are in use. Ben Goodnow aka Walks Ahead has left his post at Harvard and his government consultations to return to his native Pine Ridge Reservation. (The whole story takes place in South Dakota which, of course, pleases me.) He’ll go on to lead a coalition of Indians to take back the Great Plains from the whites.

I am generally not sympathetic to Indian irredentism. Our ancestors were conquered and dispossessed! Whose weren’t at some point in history? Whites conquered each other and never took the step of providing their fellow whites with reservations and government checks.

On the other hand, it’s hard not to feel sorry, at least a little bit, for the wreckage of life you see on reservations, the loss of purpose, listlessness, and alcoholism. It’s those conditions Goodnow wants to fix, and Kepfield’s story is largely effective if, maybe, a bit too short.


More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.

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