|Biased Review Is Biased
||[Feb. 1st, 2012|11:29 pm]
(While I don't suppose I really need to add a disclaimer on books I review, I think it's worth mentioning that I am an above-entry level supporter of the Kickstarter project that spawned it. I'm a big believer in the project and predisposed to like it. Also, virtually every author in the collection is either a friend or a friend of a friend. So take that as you will.)
Tonight, I finished reading Tales of the Far West, a collection of short stories set in the titular Far West, a setting for fiction, games, videos, possibly even larger scale projects, created by Gareth-Michael Skarka with assistance from TS Luikart. The setting is a fantasy world that draws inspiration from two disparate, yet oddly compatible genres: the Spaghetti Western, and the Chinese Wuxia tradition (both film and prose). Perhaps, on the surface, the two seem at odds, but the shared elements are startling. In both, the stories tend to take place on the fringes of civilization, the wilderness, the frontier. If not an actual frontier, then a place where the rules of society have broken down. Into this setting comes the outsider (or outsiders), someone of remarkable puissance who can make things right again. In the Old West, it's the gunfighter, the man who must descend to barbarism to fight the barbarians (cattle barons, the railroad, corrupt officials, renegade indians). By picking up the gun, he forsakes civilization in order to preserve it, and in doing so, sets himself apart from it. In the Chinese tales, wandering martial artists, who live outside the world of social hierarchies and pious behavior who must protect those who live within the rules from others who would exploit them.
Tales of the Far West takes this notion and runs with it. The collection begins with "He Built the Wall to Knock it Down" by scott_lynch, a fantastic introduction that is a joy to read. It's been a while since I've read anything by the esteemed Mr. L, and I'd forgotten how cleverly he can turn a phrase, starting with the opening lines, "He called himself False Note. It wasn't his real name. Hell, it wasn't even his real fake name."
(Also, "The gun went down, and then it went back beneath the counter, and that's why Tychus Sload lived long enough to leave this story on his own terms.)
Each story reveals a little piece of the setting and its inhabitants. We learn that there's an Empire out to the east somewhere, and they're not particularly nice folks. Especially, the Imperial Marshalls, who can pretty much kill whoever they want in the name of the Emperor (and who are skilled enough to back it up). But even so, we get a favorable portrayal of a Marshall. Likewise, the Double Eagle Detective Agency is clearly all about the money, but that doesn't mean its agents can't be morally upright (or utter bastards).
The sense of moral ambiguity that drives just about every story makes for a great array of characters, and the stories wisely don't tell the same tale over and over. Some are quite short, nearly vignettes, but each left me wanting to see more of this place.
In short, it's two hoots, a holler, and a half-dozen Kiiais! And it's only five bucks for the electronic edition on Amazon. You ought to check it out.