Wednesday 30 September 2009

Wild Bunch Wednesday - Short Story Part #9

The 9th part of the exciting Western with no name has been written by Richard Prosch and is available at: Meridian Bridge

The story so far:

Parts 1-6
Part 7 (Joseph A. West)
Part 8 (Bob Napier)

The first person to volunteer gets to write Part 10.

Saturday 26 September 2009

Bleached Bones in the Dust

I received a contract for Bleached Bones in the Dust. This one will be my 20th Black Horse Western, and although it initially started as a mystery tale, as reported here, the final version was more action-based than I expected.

The inspiration for the story was a half-remembered title of a western book that was mentioned in the tv series Hamish MacBeth, and I've resisted the urge so far to find out what the actual title is. I'll fish out the video later and report what that title really was.

Wednesday 23 September 2009

Wild Bunch Wednesday - Short Story Challenge #8

The 8th part of the exciting Western with no name has been written by Bob Napier and is available at: The Cap'n's Log

The story so far:

Parts 1-6
Part 7 (Joseph A. West)

The first person to volunteer gets to write Part 9

Saturday 19 September 2009

The worst ever ending to a novel? - The Marriage of the Living Dark by David Wingrove

The final chapters of novels often disappoint. After much building of tension, the ending comes along in which the hero has to resolve everything. Often readers are left wondering why they read on for several hundred pages only to find that the indestructible alien catches a cold and dies. This problem is magnified in long-running sagas. 3, 4, 10 volume books have even more to live up to. They have numerous plot strands and many characters arcs, and somehow that all has to be tied up in a satisfying way in the final volume. Do it too quickly and the reader can feel cheated, and yet do it too slowly and it can lose its edge.

I've rarely come across final volumes of long book series that are completely satisfying. The stakes are high for both the reader and the writer, who by the final book is probably heartly sick of their creation. So rather than churn out yet another all-too-convenient conclusion that fails to please anyone I've often wondered what would happen if an author got to the final bit and just thought: 'sod it. I'm sick of this bunch of whining characters. I know what I'll do. I'll kill off the hero, reveal that the sword of power they've been searching for for the last 2,000 pages doesn't work, then have the rest of the cast get bored with trying to kill the bad guy and decide to go on holiday instead. I'll let the bad guy conquer the world then elope with the heroine. And I'll reveal in the last chapter that she's really a re-incarnation of a minor character who died on the first page and anyhow the whole story you've been reading is actually just a book and on the last page everyone bursts out of the fictional world Blazing Saddles style and go running down the street to the local pub...'

Well The Marriage of the Living Dark by David Wingrove doesn't quite do all that. Actually, it's worse, much, much worse. I've always been fascinated to find out what went wrong, because it went wrong big time. The Internet didn't give me any definitive answers, other than the clues that were already there.

The series in question was called Chung Kuo. For me this was one of the greatest and most under-rated sci-fi sagas ever written. It was that rare beast of the epic sci-fi tale that can delight hard-boiled sf fans while being sufficently grounded in harsh reality that it could be enjoyed by those who normally wouldn't read such yarns.

The saga was set 200 odd years into the future. The world has been taken over by the Chinese nation who have formed the totalitarian state of Chung Kuo that makes 1984 look like a hippy commune. Any hint of rebellion is quashed with ruthless efficiency by killing the rebeller's entire family, all their friends and all their families. None of the hundred billion people on the planet-wide city dare raise a finger to oppose the cruel regime. Nobody even thinks rebellion could work as the regime has destroyed all history to make everyone believe they have been in power for thousands of years. But some men believe that at the height of its powers the regime is at its most vulnerable and change can be achieved.

For seven books Chung Kuo detailed that rebellion in intricate and fascinating detail. Hundreds of characters were involved with the viewpoint shifting with deft skill between the huge number of plot strands, all of which linked in clever ways that was a testament to the author's skill in creating fascinating characters and complex and believable plots. How he kept so many balls in the air for so long is a wonder and something few could achieve. Over the course of 5,000 odd pages and probably around 2 million words wars raged, billions died, and personal courage and cruelty were presented in the extreme. The series showed how history develops, how extra-ordinary and ordinary people can change everybody's lifes either for better or for worse. It kept control of the personal dramas while also detailing the larger history of a planet.

It was also realistic. There were no bad guys and good guys as such. Totalitarian leaders would execute millions but be kind to friends. The rebel leaders were ruthless sadists, but they acted for a common good, sometimes by accident as they pursued their own personal vendettas. Everyone and everything was shades of grey, and the series was easily the best available, if you like that sort of thing. Blade Runner meets Shogun the book covers proclaimed, and they were right. And then came the final book, book 8...

I've heard it said that originally the series was to be 7 books but the publisher wanted 8, so perhaps therein lies the hint of an impossible deadline, a rough first draft getting published, maybe even a contractual dispute that led to the fictional equivalent of Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music. I don't know. What I do know is that book 8, despite having a superb title, is so bad it evokes a strange fascination.

By the end of book 7 the series had reached an epic point, the world was burning, the regime toppling, and the few surviving characters faced impossible dilemmas. It was hard to see how it could all be resolved, but book 8 starts as it means to go on by ignoring everything that happened before. It introduces a brand new set of characters who have nothing to do with the story and stays with them and their tedious lives for ages. Eventually they wander off never to be seen again and the main characters come back, but none of them are interested in the problems they had the last time we saw them and instead they all act in completely different ways than before. No longer are they complex men and women, but now the men act like schoolboys, and the women are more interested in rough rumpy-pumpy. Nobody could care that the world is burning when there's fun and frolics to be had.

Just when the reader thinks it can't get any worse, the author delivers what has to be the worst plot twist of all time. Out of the morass of characters we were presented with in book 1, one man survived and grew in stature to become the greatest anti-hero I've ever come across. Howard DeVore typified the whole saga, a man dedicated to destroying the old regime while enjoying himself immensily power-mongering to set himself up as the new leader of a new regime. There were no depths he wouldn't plumb in his quest for power, nobody he wouldn't double-cross, no atrocity he wouldn't commit, and yet despite all his base motivations, he was a force for good and saved millions of lives even as he was gleefully torturing his closest allies.

So it comes as something of a shock to learn that DeVore, one of the most compelling and complex characters I've ever come across in fiction, isn't a man at all, but is in fact a giant immortal pan-dimensional space spider from the planet Zob, who came to earth for the sole reason that he wanted to roger the living daylights out of as many earth women as possible. But then he forgot he was a giant immortal pan-dimensional space spider from the planet Zob - as you do - and so he just hung around for thousands of years messing up all earth history in his quest to get laid with as many different types of women as he could find. It therefore follows that all the wars and atrocities and rebellions everyone committed for the last 2 million words weren't done to change history, in fact every major earth conflict in all history wasn't the result of anything we mere earthlings did, but were in reality only carried out because a giant immortal pan-dimensional space spider from the planet Zob was fascinating by the way women's jiggly bits move.

It should be said that this was a major shock because although this sort of thing happens in sci-fi, Chung Kuo wasn't that sort of sci-fi. It was gritty realistic sf about real people facing tough choices in dangerous times. This revelation was like getting to the end of War and Peace only to find the whole story was set in a Matrix style alternate reality. And speaking of alternate realities, while the reader is getting up off the floor after that revelation the story then surges even more out of control when we learn that not only was DeVore not the man we thought he was, but neither is anyone else.

You see, the entire civilization we've lived and breathed for 7 and a half books doesn't exist. It's really an alternate reality, and it's not the right reality. Our reality is the real one and the Chung Kuo one isn't. So the action then leaves Chung Kuo with all the plot strands and character arcs and main conflicts unresolved and moves to our world where alternate versions of the people from Chung Kuo are alive and happy. These people have completely different characters, are leading completely different lives, and are doing completely different things.

This new set of people bumble along doing nothing much for several hundred pages being totally unaware of all the billions who died in the reality that's no longer important. Just when the reader is losing the will to live, some people from the Chung Kuo reality inter-dimensionally shift to our reality just before that reality winks out of existence. They meet the people in our reality, who aren't all that bothered to see them, but the Chung Kuo people are generally relieved that they don't have to worry any more about all the tricky problems they had back in the other reality with the planet-wide rebellion. Then some aliens in shiny suits arrive in a shiny spaceship and our reality winks out of existence too, although nobody's all that concerned as they're too busy collecting pretty flowers. I kid you not.

The final chapter is even more bizarre and takes place in yet another reality, I think, although at this stage the author appears to have lost track of which reality is supposed to be the real one. In this reality the last-best-hope-for-mankind generational spaceship that left Chung Kuo earlier arrives at its destination. People who died in earlier books are on the ship as well as people from our reality and people from the defunct reality who did actually get on the ship as well as people who missed the ship. Everyone stands around being a bit confused by it all. Giant immortal pan-dimensional space spiders from the planet Zob get a mention as something they might do well to avoid when forging a new life on a new planet. Then everyone wanders off to pick flowers and the book ends.

From memory ten years on those are the lowlights that stick in the mind, but it was so much worse than that, especially after the heights the previous books had scaled. I remember that practically every page had something on it that made my mouth fall open in amazement as yet another major issue got dismissed in a casual manner, or yet another character did something so out-of-character it made me wonder if the typesetter had got everyone mixed up.

Is this a joke being told in dead-pan manner? I kept on wondering. I didn't know then and I still don't know now. Maybe if the whole cast had got together in the last chapter to sing 'Always look on the bright side of life' I might have finally got the joke.

As it is the one thing that does continue to amuse me about this book is that it was so poor the publisher tried to forget about it and printed very few copies. The result is this final book is literary gold-dust. It commands high prices on eBay whenever it makes a rare appearance as people who have been enthralled by the previous 7 books are always desperate to read the conclusion. And then they read it...

Tuesday 15 September 2009

Wild Bunch Wednesday - Short Story Challenge #7

The seventh part of the exciting Western with no name has been written by Gunsmoke author Joseph A. West and is available at Tainted Archive

Next week's section will appear at: The Cap'n's Blog

The story so far:

Part 1 - The Culbin Trail (I.J. Parnham)

"Come and see this," Merrill Wyman said. "Some fool is standing on the tracks."

Jerome Meeker stopped shovelling wood to join Merrill in peering over the side of the engine. Impossible as it had sounded, Merrill was right. A man was standing on the tracks, around 300 yards ahead. From such a distance and with the evening light fading fast Jerome couldn't be sure what he was doing but he appeared to be just standing there looking down at the ground.

Jerome dragged on the brake lever, tearing a desperate screech from the wheels. The reek of tortured metal overpowered the engine smell. It was a futile gesture as the train would require a quarter-mile to stop, but at least using the brakes would give the fool more time to move.

"Get off the tracks!" Jerome yelled although it was unlikely the man would be able to hear him while Merrill clanged the bell.

The sound would be loud enough to be heard in Matlock, four miles further on, but this didn't alert the man who remained hunched and staring downwards.

They were now 200 yards away and the man had around twenty seconds in which to move or die. Still he didn't react although the brake shoe was locking the wheels and the bell was tolling its insistent plea.

Now Jerome could see that the man was grey-haired and so stooped with age. There was also something familiar about him... But it was almost too late.

Then he looked up, but the train was only seconds away from hitting him. His gaze alighted on the engine looming over him. If its appearance shocked him, he didn't show it. Instead, he raised his arm and clutched in his outstretched hand was a six-shooter. He fired at the approaching train, his mouth opening wide. Blazing hatred contorted his face as he shouted something that Jerome couldn't hear.

Merrill and Jerome both jerked backwards. Lead cannoned off the engine. A stray bullet tore through the small window and ricocheted around before departing.

Then the gunfire stopped.

Merrill and Jerome looked at each other, sighing as they both wondered if the man had got his wits about him at the last moment and saved himself.

Jerome glanced over the right-hand side then backwards while Merrill took the other side. To his dismay Jerome saw a hunched shape lying beside the tracks. The cowcatcher would have tossed him aside but even so the pained look each man gave the other said they didn't think he could have survived the impact.

The train had now slowed sufficiently for one of them to jump down, yet both men stood frozen in place, reluctant to go back and find out what state the man was in.

"You check on him," Merrill said finally. "I'll see if there's a doctor amongst the passengers who can help him."

"I don't think he'd want that help," Jerome said. "He just let the train hit him."

Merrill provided a sorry shake of the head. "He sure did, but why would a man do that?"

Jerome shrugged. Then, with a heavy heart, he jumped down from the train.

Part 2 - Jack's Open Range (Jack Giles)

“What’s the hold up?” this curt question came from the portly conductor, Henry Cox, as he eased himself down the steps from the front of the first carriage. This as heads began to appear through the carriage windows behind him. He paused long enough to slip a fob from the pocket of a vest that was stretched, tightly, across his paunch and examined the watch face before glancing in Jerome’s direction.

“Better be good,” Henry snapped, shoving the watch back,as he turned to glare at Merrill who had halted with one foot on the footplate while gripping on to the brass handrail to maintain his balance. “We have a schedule to keep.”

Henry pounded towards them with a hiss of serge upon serge as his thick thighs collided with each other but neither man paid him much attention for they were watching the old man rise from the ground.

“Well, I guess, that’s my fault,” the old man told the trio of gaping men as he approached them brushing dust from his clothes with his hands. “Sorry if I’ve disrupted your schedule but you see I – yes, I needed to stop the train.” As he spoke his eyes wandered along the line of carriages until he spotted a red and white one at the end. Suddenly, he swung up an arm to point downline. “Hey, isn’t that Silas Bartlett’s private carriage?”

“It certainly is,” the conductor responded, pompously, finding it easier to answer the question rather than follow the oldster’s rambling drawl.

“Thought it was,” the old man nodded. “Good. I wasn’t sure if I’d stopped the right train.”

“And what if we hadn’t’ve stopped?” Merrill bellowed dropping to the ground. “God, by rights you should be dead.”

“But, don’t you see, you did stop,” the old man said, sagely.

“But if we hadn’t?” Merrill persisted.

All three stood there mesmerised as the old man reached inside his jacket and pulled out a stick of dynamite. As a man they took a few quick paces backwards.

“I’d’ve had to use this,” the old man mentioned. “Last resort – but the train would’ve stopped.”

“Just who the hell are you?” the conductor demanded, his eyes watchful as the old man slid the dynamite, carefully, back into his pocket.

“Didn’t I say?” the old man looked confused. “Walt Arnside.”

“You can’t be,” the Jerome gasped. “I knew Arnside and he’s dead.”

“Heard that rumour myself,” Walt nodded. “All the time I was in Yuma I had people telling me I was dead. But as you can see I’m very much alive.”

“Whoa! Whoa!” the conductor called out. “All this may be interesting but I don’t hear you saying why you stopped the train.”

“I didn’t, did I,” Walt nodded, scratching at the hairs at the side of his neck and glancing downline before facing the conductor. “Well, I’d’ve thought that was a mite obvious. I mean why would anyone try to stop a train, huh?” he glanced at each man expecting an answer and when none came stated the obvious. “To get on board.”

Part 3 - Tokyo West (Chuck Tyrell)

As Walt Arnside walked toward Silas Bartlett’s private car, his back seemed to straighten and his shoulders grow broader. His iron gray hair and close-cropped beard no longer marked him as a weak old man. Instead, his strides were firm and steady. A slight smile appeared on his face.

“Wait. Wait,” Cox cried. “You can’t just barge into Mr. Bartlett’s private car.”

Arnside never broke stride. “I can,” he said. “And I will. Get your crew back on that iron horse. In two minutes this train’d better be making up lost time, or if I know Silas Bartlett, you all will be looking for new jobs down the line.”

Merrell and Jerome jogged for the engine, and Henry Cox struggled across the sandy ground toward the passenger cars. Walt Arnside stepped up into the vestibule of the red-and-white Bartlett car. Less than a minute later, the steam whistle blew and the four-foot driver wheels of the locomotive began to turn.

Arnside stopped a moment outside the door to Bartlett’s car. The train moved out and each car clunked against its couplings in protest. He drew his .45 Peacemaker, turned the gilded knob, and pushed the door open as he stepped to the left, behind the door frame.

“That you, Straight? Come on in. Just me and the ghosts in here.”

A little smile showed on Arnside’s lips again. He shoved the Colt back into the well-worn holster that rode his right hip, and entered the well-lit Pullman.

“Put ‘er there,” Barlett said, his hand held out.

Arnside reached across the mahogany desk and firmly grasped his friend’s hand. “Long time no see, Scoot,” he said.

“Much too long, Straight. You still packing a star?”

“Nah. Too old for hard work. Never was as quick as you, Scoot.”


“Don’t mind if I do.” Arnside knew Bartlett would get around to telling him the reason for this strange visit when he was good and ready, and not before. Besides, he had no owlhoots to run down, no rustlers to catch, no wife to tie him down . . . no nothing. Waiting weighed easy on a man with nothing.

Bartlett poured four fingers of Jim Beam’s good whiskey into two of his fine glasses, all sparkles and facets. He handed one to Arnside, took one himself. He lifted the glass. “To memories past,” he said, “and adventures to come.”

“Hear, Hear,” said Arnside, one eyebrow raised. He clicked glasses with Bartlett and sipped the whiskey. It was real. The aroma filled his head and the heat of 80 proof Kaintuck lightning worked its way down his throat and into his guts. Fine stuff.

For a while, the two old friends tippled Jim Beam and communicated with the ghosts of times past. “Whatcha got up your sleeve, Scoot?” Arnside asked at last.

Bartlett leaned forward as if he wanted no one else to hear. “I know where there’s a Spanish treasure ship,” he said. “On dry land.”

Part 4 - Davy Crockett's Almanack (Dave Lewis)

Walt Arnside downed the last of his whiskey and placed the glass on the japanned table next to his chair. Bartlett’s remark buzzed about in his head, finding no place to light.

“Ever wonder how I made my fortune, Straight?” Bartlett hooked thumbs in the pockets of his silk waistcoat. A gold coin fixed to his watch chain caught the light and shone like a small sun.

Arnside dodged the question. “Ain’t a thing a man asks.”

“Or tells, unless he’s a damned fool. But I need your help. And your trust.”

Arnside’s eyes wandered about the private railcar. The plush carpet, velvet drapes and canopied bed looked like something out of The Arabian Nights. Bartlett had done well for himself, no mistake.

“I was raised by my grandfather," Bartlett said. "He was a queer old cuss, and more than half-mad. Claimed he’d once sailed with Jean Lafitte, but everyone knew that was hogwash.”

Arnside’s gaze settled on a painting hung between two windows. The subject was a high-prowed galleon, belled sails straining as she plowed a heavy sea. The ship’s side bristled with guns, and atop her mast flew the red and yellow flag of Spain. A treasure ship. Arnside’s pulse quickened.

Bartlett grinned. “The old fellow would sit for hours in his rocker, swilling rum and staring at that very painting. ‘A treasure ship,’ he’d mutter, ‘on dry land!’ Then he’d slap his knee and cackle, enjoying a private joke. After he died, I found an iron box under the floorboards. A box half-full of these.” Bartlett fingered the gold coin on his watch chain. “I kept one for luck, and I kept that painting, hoping to learn its secret.”

Arnside felt deflated. “But you said you knew…”

Bartlett rose and strode to the painting. “A month ago, the train hit rough track and the frame jumped from the wall, cracking free of the canvas. And what do you think I found?” He gave Arnside an owlish look.

A window exploded inward, showering Bartlett with glass. Bullets smashed into the opposite wall. More windows burst. The air was alive with singing lead, flying shards and acrid engine smoke. Bartlett gasped, clutched his shoulder and crumpled to the floor.

Arnside sprang from his chair, flattened next to a broken window. Five masked horsemen raced alongside the car, sixguns spitting fire. In one fluid motion, he drew his .45 and sent the nearest rider spinning from the saddle.

Bartlett lay on his side, his breathing ragged. A crimson stain spread over his fancy waistcoat.

Arnside’s gun crashed again, and a second rider pitched into the dirt. “Is there something you forgot to tell me?”

“I hate to say it, Straight, but you’re not the first man I asked for help.”

“Who was?” Arnside winced as a slug tore a chunk from his arm.

“You’re not going to like it.”

Arnside drew a bead on a third man, but the car lurched, spoiling his aim. Steel screeched on steel as the train began to slow.

“Damn it, Scoot! Who?”

A gas lamp shattered, raining hot oil over Bartlett’s bed. The comforter whooshed into flame. In moments the car would be an inferno.

Bartlett grimaced. “Zack Roden.”

A bullet scorched Arnside’s cheek, but he barely noticed. He felt like he’d swallowed a rattlesnake.

“If we survive this,” he said, “I’ll shoot you myself.”

Part 5 - Tainted Archive (Jack Martin)

Arnside, back against the wall, looked out of the smashed window, hoping to spot Zack Rodin among the riders but a slug tore into the window frame, splintering wood and sending him once again ducking for cover.

‘We’re sitting ducks.’ Arnside yelled and turned to look at Bartlett but his old friend had succumbed to the gut wound. He lay there, a curious, contented look upon his face. Arnside crawled across the floor and made his way to the rear of the private car.

He groaned as he stood upright and opened the door. The train was still chugging alone, a few miles per hour at the most, the engine yet to build up pressure and get the wheels turning. He jumped down onto the ground and hugging the wall of the private car he made his way behind the train. He suddenly felt his age. He was in the autumn of his life and as he cautiously made his way to the rear of the train he felt November with each step.

The train started to pick up speed and Arnside cursed. The damn thing was providing his only cover and he fell to the ground, laying flat, trying to make himself invisible.

Luck was with him and he grinned as he saw the riders chasing after the train, which was now picking up considerable speed and easily outdistancing them. He lay there until both train and riders had vanished into the distance and then and only then did he get to his feet. He scanned the desert landscape, knowing that he had gotten at least one of the riders. At first he didn’t see anything but then perhaps three hundred yards away he spotted the crumpled figure of what could only be a man.

There was no sign of the riders returning even though they must have given up their pursuit of the train by now and Arnside withdrew his .45 and he made his way towards the fallen man, all the while his eyes scanned the horizon for the return on the riders.

He reached the man and after a final look around, spotting the the fallen man’s horse in the far distance, he knelt and examined the dead man. It had been a good shot that had brought him down – without aim, slung in his general direction, the slug had struck home right between the eyes and exited from the rear his of head, taking a sizeable chunk of skull with. A sponge of gore clung to a nearby rock.

Won’t take long for the flies to get at him, Arnside thought and wiped his brow. He removed the man’s rig and slung it one side and then went into each of the man’s pockets. There was nothing to identify the man but he did find three bucks and a tobacco pouch.

Arnside sat back with the makings and quickly put together a quirly. He sucked it to life and allowed the smoke to escape between his teeth while he regained some breath.

God he felt old.

‘Who the hell are you?’ Arnside asked the dead man and then raised a hand as if fending off any reply.

He thought about Bartlett. What was it the man had wanted to tell him? What was it he had discovered behind the painting he spoke of? He had mentioned a treasure ship so Arnside figured a map would come into it somewhere. Was that what the armed riders had been after? A map? A map leading to a ship filled with treasure?

He got to his feet and looked across the desert to the dead man’s horse. There was nothing for it; he would have to trail the riders if he was to find out what all this was about. Suddenly he didn’t feel so old and he started out across the desert to the waiting horse….

Part 6 - Davy Crockett's Almanack (Jim Griffin)

Luck was with Walt. The horse didn’t shy from him, but snuffed Walt curiously. He reassured the black and white tobiano with a pat.

“Easy,” he said. “We’ve got some hard ridin’ ahead.”

Walt’s good fortune continued. A Winchester rode in the saddle boot. The saddlebags contained spare cartridges, along with some beef jerky. A half-full canteen hung from the saddlehorn. Walt shoved a strip of jerky in his mouth, checked the cinches, and swung into the saddle. He put the pinto into a long-reaching lope. The powerful horse responded eagerly.

Dark had fallen, but the bushwhackers’ trail was visible under the light of a waxing gibbous moon. Walt expected them to veer off, but they kept alongside the tracks.

“We’ll be comin’ upon Bannon before long,” Walt murmured to the pinto. “Seems kinda odd those renegades’d ride straight into town.”

He slowed the horse to a walk. A mile later, the outlaws’ trail turned into the brush.

“That makes more sense. They’ll be sneakin’ through the back alleys.”

Walt avoided the railroad depot when he rode into Bannon. The train had already pulled out. Bartlett’s burnt-out car had been shunted onto a siding. Walt used an alleyway to reach the livery stable. He unsaddled the pinto and turned him into a corral. Walt took the rifle and extra ammunition. He headed for the nearest saloon, certain that was where he’d find Bartlett’s killers.
Just as Walt reached the street, two men emerged from the saloon.

“Arnside!” one shouted. He clawed for his gun. Walt put a bullet in his chest. The second man fired, his slug smashing the Winchester from Walt’s grip. Walt ducked behind a trough and pulled his sixgun.

More men were boiling out of the saloon.

“It’s Walt Arnside!” the second man called. Walt shot him through the gut. The gunman screamed in pain.

“I’m hit in the belly, Zack! Help me!”

“I’ll take care of you, Billy!” Roden shouted. He leveled his Colt at his partner’s back and fired twice. Billy pitched to the road.

“That way you can’t talk,” Roden muttered.

The gunmen concentrated their fire on Walt. He ran for the cover of an open doorway. He had almost made it when a horrific pain ripped through his middle. Walt clamped a hand to his right side and sat down, hard. He hunched over, unconscious.

“Let’s get outta here,” Roden ordered. His men gathered their horses and galloped out of town.

Several bystanders carried the gravely wounded Arnside to the physician’s office.

“He’s in rough shape,” the doctor muttered. “Dunno what I can do.”


Walt awoke to find the doctor and marshal staring at him.

“Must’ve died and gone to Hell,” he said.

“Not yet, but you still might,” the doctor observed. “You could be one of the few men who survive bein’ gut-shot. I believe that bullet missed your intestines. It did nick your liver. You’ll be laid up for quite a spell.”

“Then you’ll be tried for killin’ two men,” the marshal added.

“They were doin’ their best to kill me,” Walt protested.

“Not the way the townsfolk saw it,” the lawman answered. He was interrupted by a feminine voice.

“Marshal, I’d like to see your prisoner, if I might.”

“Lola!” The name escaped Walt’s lips. He’d last seen Lola Metivier years ago, in New Orleans… and she’d left him with far more pain than the slug which had just been dug out of his gut.

Monday 14 September 2009

Review of The Legend of Shamus McGinty's Gold

Dave Lewis has posted a very generous review of my Avalon Western at Davy Crockett's Almanack

Thanks, Dave!

Saturday 12 September 2009

Sharshooter McClure - Blurb

I received the proofs for Sharpshooter McClure today. Publication is set for January 2010 and below is the blurb:

Mike McClure had been a deputy sheriff for only a week when U.S. Marshal Jesse Cole recruited him for a dangerous undercover mission to infiltrate the hired guns who were harassing the homesteaders of Harmony. But in a dreadful night of bloody carnage the mission ended in failure and with the marshal dead Mike had to flee for his life.

To escape from the gunslingers on his trail, Mike holed up with Brandon Webb's Wild West Show where he assumed a new identity. But no matter how successful he became in his new life, Mike could never forget the terrible events he had witnessed.

One day he must return to Harmony and call upon all his gun skills to bring the guilty parties to grim justice.

Wednesday 9 September 2009

Wild Bunch Wednesday - Short Story Challenge #6

The sixth part of the exciting Western with no name is now available at Davy Crockett's Almanack (Jim Griffin)

Part 1 - The Culbin Trail (I.J. Parnham)
Part 2 - Jack's Open Range (Jack Giles)
Part 3 - Tokyo West (Chuck Tyrell)
Part 4 - Davy Crockett's Almanack (Dave Lewis)
Part 5 - Tainted Archive (Jack Martin)

Each week a different author is writing 500 words in a western short story. The first author to volunteer to go next gets to write the next section.

Monday 7 September 2009

Passage to Pluto by Hugh Walters

The final review looking back at the old and largely forgotten science-fiction series Chris Godfrey of UNEXA.

By now Chris is approaching the impossibly ancient age of forty and so the time has come for him to get pensioned off. The space exploration series ends with Passage to Pluto (pub 1973). Chris doesn't go on this mission as he's now been made head of the united world space program where he gets to spend more time with the oddly-shaped bloke Gail.

His three chums go off without him to find out why Pluto has such a weird orbit. The answer turns out to be a rogue tenth planet that's on a mission to wreck havoc through the solar system. With Chris's help from back home they send the blighter packing.

I can’t remember much about this one. It read it only the once, as I was then old enough to be moved into the adult section of the library. From then on, I had to make do with science fiction for adults featuring plots that were less plausible and less entertaining.

The Pluto novel didn't quite mark the end for the series. Another six books appeared throughout the rest of the 1970s, usually with Tony Hale as the lead, but he didn't have an exploratory agenda. Instead the stories where either earth-based mystery yarns or rehashs of the First Contact tale in which nice aliens arrive on earth wanting to be nice to us and we try to kill them.

I didn't read the later books, but I gather these additions were weak, probably because Walters forgot that nasty radiation wielding aliens who want to conquer the earth are more entertaining than chummy aliens who want to be liked. So the later books didn't get much of an audience. The cover above suggests that the contents didn't match the greatness of the earlier titles. This helped to ensure that the books were never reprinted and so they didn't get a chance to excite new generations of teens.

The low-key fizzling out of the series is sad, as this was a great juvenile science fiction saga. As I said in my first review, I may have poked fun at some of the antiquated science and attitudes displayed, but I adored these books. These reviews have been my belated thank you to the author for the hours of fun he provided me with his tales of Brits in space.

Wednesday 2 September 2009

Wild Bunch Wednesday - Short Story Challenge #5

The fifth part of the exciting western short story with no name is now available at Tainted Archive

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

In brief, each week a different author is writing 500 words in a western short story. The first author to volunteer to go next gets to write the next section.

Jim Griffin will write Part 6.