From the Dusty Great Depression to the far future, to the wild west, to the era of big fin automobiles, soda shops and double features, as well as dark journey on an icy ocean full of ravenous sharks and a fantastic shipwreck that leads its survivors into a nightmarish Lovecraftian world of monsters and mystery, Joe R. Lansdale returns with a pack of stories for your consumption and enjoyment.
There’s even killer machines, a big ole grizzly bear, and entertaining story notes.
Joe R. Lansdale has been writing novels and stories, as well as screenplays and comics, for over forty-five years, and this is his latest concoction, encompassing stories informed by a variety of genres, but not quite comfortably fitting into any of them.
The reason is simple.
Joe R. Lansdale is his own genre.
“Lansdale (Hap and Leonard) ranges far afield in this short but sharp collection of six stories in a variety of genres… And saving the best for last, Lansdale adds to his history of black cowboy legend Nat Love, sending the marshal after four escaped murderers who also incur the wrath of one big, bad momma grizzly. Lansdale provides consistent entertainment for readers of all genres, not only in his fiction but also in the chatty intro and in afterwords of each yarn.”
– Publishers Weekly
“There is certainly horror in the as-Lovecraftian-as-you’d-expect ‘In the Mad Mountains,’ but there are also forays into Depression-era crime fiction, robot-apocalypse sf, and a western tale featuring an enraged bear. Despite the genre hopping, Lansdale’s storytelling skills make each piece worthwhile. It’s especially impressive how distinct each story feels: style and dialogue seem perfectly attuned to each genre’s demands, though the writing is equally strong throughout.”
“There is a note of both nostalgia and brutality that runs through these stories. Eras such as the Depression and the 1950s are evoked in terms that have less to do with naturalism than with popular iconography… A hard-nosed and evocative set of stories that carry a rough-hewn pleasure.”
– Kirkus Reviews
There is a treasure trove of storytelling here with all that makes the heart feel and tremble, characters conjured that have grit, fight, courage, adventure, and truth. He writes with that potent voice of his own, his humour and his fury at times, through his characters, to the injustices dealt to them. A craftsman using the fiction world as a vehicle in ways mirror imagining life struggles, love and war. An artist with his hands and mind, martial artist and word slinger firing at you six memorable nicely put together entertaining short stories.
Sunday 7th October 2018.
Ruminations, during long run after a post-fight major UFC title bout and reading Lansdale’s Stories.
Championships, fame, popularity, this author never wavered, stayed true to form, with grit, to all that he stands for, a writer from American south staying true to his roots, at the same time his potent voice against injustices and prejudices, a heart at battle with it self with all the terribleness in the world, working man, echoing Faulkner, Steinbeck, and Flannery O’Connor stood for, never a sellout to what people want to hear, nor loosing himself in all sound and fury and fame.
This collection starts with Driving to Geronimo’s Grave, in the depression era, of bygone days, on the road with car troubles, with the dead and one particular Geronimo’s grave on the journey.
In the Mad Mountains:
The introduction to this short story has some personal reflections on histories, with authors, people, and hate. These introductions are worthwhile reading and insightful, a warrior with words, with mind and soul.
This narrative loosely based around the Lovecraft story.
The beginning sentences hook you in, “The moon was bright. The sea was black. The waves rolled, and the bodies rolled with it. The dead ones and the live ones, screaming and dying, begging and pleading, praying and crying to the unconcerned sea.”
A narrative with survivors at seas looking for warmth and provisions, who encounter an old boat and scenes of macabre and dread, then other things, beings and a mountain.
A treat of a vivid darkly tale done well with all the strangeness, adventure and mystery Lovecraft conjured, with the suspense in what lurks, passed, and to come, ones to haunt your sleep.
A very personal story of the authors with love and war, bullies, fathers and sons.
A fight in everyone, passing legacies down, fighters, muster courage, fight or flight, and the rest, struggling forward, prose commanding hearts to hope, fight, aspire, and overcome.
A very heartfelt statement left by the author in last sentence of intro:
“One of the greatest gifts my father gave me was confidence and a love for martial arts. In a roundabout way, he gave me this story, and now I give it to you.”
With this one you have kin in the balance, life and death, in the dunes up against machines.
In the flatlands, before, it was humans against aliens, then the machines came with horrific rituals of sacrifice, human ones.
On this he mentions as part of its Introduction:
“Truth is, I write a lot of different sorts of stories, and not many are science fiction in nature. But as I said, science fiction was my first passionate love.”
Everything Sparkles in Hell:
It was winter, and they are in the thick of the snow out on the trail for a band of criminals, warmth was needed, Nat Love, a U.S. Marshal, and is friend and tracker, Choctaw, and one hell of a bear out there too.
Joe Lansdale delivers a swell Short story, with all the thrill and adventure you need in a western tale.
“…was a long way from Arkansas, and well out of my jurisdiction, but I had sworn to myself that I’d bring those four killers in, dead or alive. They were some of the worst there was. I was damn sure armed for it. I had my Winchester, and on my hip I carried a Colt .44 converted pistol, and a LeMat.”
In the introduction he mentions on the character Nat Love:
“There was a real Nat Love, but my character is an amalgam of many black westerners, from cowboys to soldiers to gunfighters to marshals.
Nat Love, however, was the impetus for several stories I wrote about a western hero with the same name, as well a novel, Paradise Sky, which to date is my favorite of all my novels.”
“This story takes place after the events of Paradise Sky. It is not only Nat’s story, but that of Choctaw, who appears at the end of the novel. I liked that guy and brought him back.”
Stories are created in a variety of ways. Some come to a writer like a flash of lightning and are birthed as if by magic. Others arrive in bits and pieces, and over time, and can be a struggle. I am fortunate that much of my writing is comfortable. I get up, the story is there. I write for about three hours, finish for the day, then rise the next morning and do it again.
Most of the time it’s that way. Some gestate, and as I said earlier, arrive more slowly, in bits and pieces. I may have a flash of an idea, a character, and I’ll write the opening of a story, and then…it may go away. That is rare for me, but some stories are like that. I suspect that the stories that show up each morning or in fact from a deep well of information, myth, and observation. I suspect, the story I choose is working itself out along with many others all the time, and it is only necessary for me to throw the bucket down the well and start cranking one of them up.
Much of what I write about comes from my past, or the past of relatives, or at least elements of their past that they have given me. If the background feels right, if the voice feels right, the story usually appears.
These stories are recent work, and most of them deal with young people coming of age, finding their place in the world, or merely surviving it. “Everything Sparkles in Hell” is an exception to that, but the others fit that concept pretty well, or at least, like “The Projectionist,” flirt with it.
Instead of writing a lengthy introduction, I’m going to save my comments for the individual stories, touch on some of the things I’ve mentioned here. If you are not a reader who cares about introductions or story notes, feel free to jump right in. But be prepared, these stories are not all of one ilk. They vary. I like it that way. When I go shopping I like a variety of foods, not one thing that I have to eat over and over. I want to have different culinary experiences, even if they are simple. I want to see if I can take standard ingredients and make an interesting meal. These stories are my meals. I’ve prepared them just for me with a hope you will like them too.
Driving to Geronimo’s Grave
I hadn’t even been good and awake for five minutes when Mama came in and said, “Chauncey, you got to drive on up to Fort Sill Oklahoma and pick up your Uncle Smat.”
I was still sitting on the bed, waking up, wearing my night-dress, trying to figure which foot went into what shoe, when she come in and said that. She had her dark hair pushed up on her head and held in place with a checkered scarf.
“Why would I drive to Oklahoma and pick up Uncle Smat?”
“Well, I got a letter from some folks got his body, and you need to bring it back so we can bury it. The Wentworths said they were gonna leave it in the chicken house if nobody comes for it. I wrote her back and posted the letter already telling her you’re coming.”
“Uncle Smat’s dead?” I said.
“We wouldn’t want to bury him otherwise,” Mama said, “though it took a lot longer for him to get dead than I would have figured, way he honky-tonked and fooled around with disreputable folks. Someone knifed him. Stuck him like a pig at one of them drinking places, I figure.”
“I ain’t never driven nowhere except around town,” I said. “I don’t even know which way is Oklahoma.”
“North,” Mama said.
“Well, I knew that much,” I said.
In the Mad Mountains
The moon was bright. The sea was black. The waves rolled and the bodies rolled with it. The dead ones and the live ones, screaming and dying, begging and pleading, praying and crying to the unconcerned sea.
Behind them the great ship tipped up as if to give a final display of its former magnificence, its bow parting the night-waters like a knife through chocolate, pointing its stern to the sky, slipping slowly beneath the cold waves, breaking in half as it rode down into the bottomless sea. Boilers hissed, the steam coughed up a great white cloud. The cloud pinned itself against the moon-bright sky, then faded like a fleeting dream.
The lifeboats bobbed and the survivors in the water swam for them, called to them. One of the boats, Number Three, stuffed full of human misery and taking on water, tried to rescue more survivors, and when it did it tipped, ejected two of its riders, then righted itself again. A man in nightclothes, and a woman wearing a fur coat, fell out. The coat took on water, grew heavy, and dragged her down. A shark rose up close to the boat with its mouth wide open, its teeth gleaming as if polished by rags. Its eyes rolled back in ecstasy, and then the man was in its jaws. The shark’s teeth snapped together and blood blew wide and into the boat, along with a soft bed slipper. The shark took half of the man down under, the other half of him bobbed, and then another shark drove up from below and bit the other half, carried it down and away into Davy Jones’ Locker.
First they took Marvin’s sack lunch, then his money, and then they kicked his ass. In fact, he felt the ass whipping, had it been put on a scale of one to ten, was probably about a fourteen. However, Marvin factored in that some of the beating had been inconsistent, as one of his attackers had paused to light a cigarette, and afterwards, two of them had appeared tired and out of breath.
Lying there, tasting blood, he liked to think that, taking in the pause for a smoke and the obvious exhaustion of a couple of his assailants, points could be taken away from their overall performance, and their rating would merely have been nine or ten instead of the full fourteen.
This, however, didn’t help his ribs one little bit, and it didn’t take away the spots swimming before his eyes just before he passed out from the pain. When he awoke, he was being slapped awake by one of the bullies, who wanted to know if he had any gold teeth. He said he didn’t, and the thug insisted on seeing, and Marvin opened his mouth, and the mugger took a look.
When I unwound the cloak it was heavy and wide, having belonged to my father and being made to accommodate his size. I laid on half of it and folded the other half over me, covering my head against the blowing sand. If I was lucky, the sand wouldn’t cover me so deep I would smother. Even though the night air was chill, I was warm beneath the fold of the cloak. My smaller bag of items rested beneath my head for a pillow. I watched the stars until I fell asleep.
I was two days out, and so far I had only found more sand, and as morning came and the sun shone bright, I could see the air was decorated with thin lines of sand that seemed to hang in the air like a beaded curtain.
I thought of the bad things that had brought me here, and for a moment I wished I hadn’t come, that I had stayed with Grandfather back on the Flatlands. But that thought passed. Somewhere out there were my brother and sister, and I planned to find them.
So far, I hadn’t found squat and I had sand in my teeth.
There’s some that think I got it easy on the job, but they don’t know there’s more to it than plugging in the projector. You got to be there at the right time to change reels, and you got to have it set so it’s seamless, so none of the movie gets stuttered, you know. You don’t do that right, well, you can cause a reel to flap and there goes the movie right at the good part, or it can get hung up and the bulb will burn it. Then everyone down there starts yelling, and that’s not good for business, and it’s not good for you, the boss hears about it, and with the racket they make when the picture flubs, he hears all right.
I ain’t had that kind of thing happen to me much, two or three times on the flapping, once I got a burn on a film, but it was messed up when we got it. Was packed in wrong and got a twist in it I couldn’t see when I pulled it out. That wasn’t my fault. Even the boss could see that.
Still, you got to watch it.
It ain’t the same kind of hard work as digging a ditch, which I’ve done, on account of I didn’t finish high school. Lacked a little over a year, but I had to drop out on account of some things. Not a lot of opportunities out there if you don’t have that diploma.
Everything Sparkles in Hell (excerpt)
I tell you right off and straight as an arrow, I wasn’t expecting what happened. Judge Parker had sent me out to get a two-bit chiseler named Duncan Rakes, along with three other ruffians, but when I found Duncan he was already dead. He was the first one I found, on account at some point the other three split off from him. It was his trail that was the easiest to follow, and the way you do it, is you try to take a man separate of the others, if you can, on account of then he’s just one man, but also ’cause he’s less likely going to feel he’s got something to prove to his pals.
I had been after Duncan for quite a few weeks, and as it turned out, winter had got to him and made him miserable. The only thing worse than tracking through the Rockies in the dead of winter with snow on the ground, is being tracked. It sets a man off his feed and makes him nervous. Winter got to him, all right, but it never got around to finishing him off. He took care of that himself. Between the forks of a dead tree he had seated himself, pulled his pistol, put it to his forehead, probably holding it with both hands, and shot his brains out.