NB- I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review
As always, I’m not quite sure how to review anthologies, especially because this one is written by multiple people. I’ll do my best to describe the reoccurring themes from the book, and comment on the short stories that stood out to me for various reasons, while also giving an overall review of Straight Outta Tombstone as a whole.
Amazing cover art, it does a great job of indicating the feel of the book and drawing reader attention, without misrepresenting any characters or events
Tales of the Weird Wild West.Top authors take on the classic western, with a weird twist. Includes new stories by Larry Correia and Jim Butcher!
Come visit the Old West, the land where gang initiations, ride-by shootings and territory disputes got their start. But these tales aren’t the ones your grandpappy spun around a campfire, unless he spoke of soul-sucking ghosts, steam-powered demons, and wayward aliens.
Here then are seventeen stories that breathe new life in the Old West. Among them: Larry Correia explores the roots of his best-selling Monster Hunter International series in “Bubba Shackleford’s Professional Monster Killers.” Jim Butcher reveals the origin of one of the Dresden Files’ most popular characters in “A Fistful of Warlocks.” And Kevin J. Anderson’s Dan Shamble, Zombie P.I., finds himself in a showdown in “High Midnight.” Plus stories from Alan Dean Foster, Sarah A. Hoyt, Jody Lynn Nye, Michael A. Stackpole, and many more.
This is a new Old West and you ll be lucky to get outta town alive!
Weird westerns are a little odd—not quite steampunk, not quite period drama, not quite fantasy or sci fi, but with definite aspects of all of those genres. I really enjoyed the book, and will have to seek out more weird westerns in the future. Before reading this anthology, I think the only books I’d read that might qualify were Sarah Gailey’s River of Teeth and Brandon Sanderson’s Wax and Wayne novels (Mistborn 4-6); both of which I enjoyed, so I think my lack of awareness of the (admittedly quite niche) genre is probably not uncommon. If that’s the case for you but anything I write sounds appealing, I can definitely recommend Straight Outta Tombstone as an introduction to the genre, I enjoyed every short story, and there’s definitely a lot of variation in styles.
There are sixteen short stories in the anthology, varying quite a bit in length. The shortest (Easy Money by Phil Foglio) is just eight pages long, but every story packs a punch (Easy Money not excepted, the classic short story twist ending in the story is one of the best I’ve ever read, each moment leading up to a genuine laugh out loud moment of amusement at the finale. 10/10 would recommend).
I was very happy that most, if not all, of the stories took the setting of the American West, and used it to shine a light on the bigoted treatment of minorities—specifically native Americans, women and people of colour. While this may seem like a mere fact of historical accuracy, it quickly becomes apparent that the way (and the supposed reasons for which) minorities were mistreated hasn’t changed much since Western times. This neatly allows the stories in Straight Outta Tombstone to comment not just on these issues (sexism, racism etc) in our own time, but most forms of discrimination against minorities (gender and sexual minorities, refugees etc) for the mere crime of existing.
Now that everything got all heavy, lets talk about zombies!
Bubba Shackleford’s Professional Monster Killers by Larry Correia is a great starter to this book, and a great introduction (or reintroduction) to weird westerns as a whole. It combines classic tropes like a stoic cowboy and a peppy woman, with the gleeful abandonment of logic to create kickass monsters—‘cause now I really want to read about a tentacle bear.
Sam Knight’s The Buffalo Hunters took on the concept of the weird western by shoving in a third unexpected element—the West, magic and Russians1. The result is a chaotic and compulsively readable mishmash of cultures, and that’s a great way to think of the book.
The Wicked Wild by Nicole Givens Kurtz was an interesting story, and the magic system introduced made me hope that there are more works set in the world, or following Zara, the main character. Jim Butcher was the only author I had ever read the work of before reading this anthology, but I can honestly say that I would seek out the work of several authors again, to spend more times in the world and with the characters they have created.
Chance Corrigan and the Lord of the Underworld by Michael A Stackpole was a personal favourite of mine, cunning inventors and the amoral or useless rich being some of my preferred characters to read about. There are intriguingly well thought out systems of technology, interesting hints at a checkered and entangled past for the main characters, and a satisfying yet unexpected conclusion. What more can you ask for?
Dry Gulch Dragon by Sarah A Hoyt has to get a mention, despite the already overlong length of this article, simply for containing the absolutely superb line—“Best he could figure, this dragon was American.”2
Alan Dean Foster’s The Treefold Problem read almost like a creation myth, and the humour in the story is lowbrow (without being crass) in such a way that the reader is left feeling like a friend has just told them a joke. Naomi Brett Rourke’s Coyote, on the other hand, makes use of the Jicarilla Apache tale of Coyote and Yellow Jacket to tell a tale of well-deserved retribution, the ways oppression encourages violence and distrust, and the inevitable result of unjust power dynamics.
The Key by Peter J Wacks is perhaps the most ambitious crossover in the short story, involving a samurai, a Chinese cowgirl, time travel, a female math savant, international politics, Nikolai Tesla, British soldiers and Rasputin into a shockingly cohesive story.
Jim Butcher’s A Fistful of Warlocks does everything a short story about a minor character in a well established world should do, and shed light on character motivations from the continuing storyline without leaning on that storyline and perhaps alienating first time readers. In the case of A Fistful of Warlocks, the plot is set well before the Dresden Files, and stands as a fully realised story in its own right. Anastasia is a sympathetic and interesting character, and the not-horse and infamous deputy are likeable side characters that keep the plot entertaining and ‘settled’ into the world, with both its weird and western aspects.
All in all, Straight Outta Tombstone is a fantastic sampler of the work of a variety of a talented authors. If you enjoy westerns and any form of fantasy or science fiction or vice versa, then this book is for you. If you enjoyed tv shows like Firefly, Carnivale or Penny Dreadful; books like Brandon Sanderson’s Wax and Wayne series or Sarah Gailey’s River of Teeth; if you enjoy the entertaining settings and larger than life characters of Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim novels or if steampunk at all interests you; I think Straight Outta Tombstone would be a great choice that might just give you a whole new genre to enjoy. When it comes right down to it, unless the idea of cowboys and aliens makes you roll your eyes back, I think Straight Outta Tombstone will contain something you’ll enjoy. I certainly did.
1Okay, some of the people are weirder than Russians, but I’m not about spoilers here so go read the book. If buffalo hunting Russians don’t interest you, you may be beyond help
2As well as being an entertaining read, and containing some obvious but appreciated parallels to real issues