David B. Riley of Pirate Dog Press and author of The Preacher provided us with a review copy of Science Fiction TrailsN.E. Lilly

Science Fiction Trails, edited by David B. Riley (Pirate Dog Press), is a slim anthology of science fiction stories placed in a Western setting. It weighs in at only 130 pages, and is a mixed-bag of fiction. Stemming from a sub-genre that contains the likes of The Wild Wild West, the short-lived The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. and the even shorter-lived Legend, I was expecting a bit more “action and adventure” than the anthology actually contained, but the anthology still gave me a selection of Science Fiction/Western that (mostly) didn’t descend into time-travel.

“The Looking Glass Girl” by Lyn McConchie started off well enough, but in the end I couldn’t bring myself to care about her protagonist. Except for at the very beginning there didn’t seem to be any major driving factor or adversity to overcome in the story, or any reason to sympathize with the looking-glass girl—a young woman simply trying to survive after the death of her mother. The character seemed too calculating, too in-control of her situation, and too apt to commit murder without fear of being caught.

“Reciprocating Wind” by Uncle River seemed to meander quite a bit. It’s told in the fashion of a travelogue and reminded me of Thoreau’s “A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers” giving ample description of the setting, the characters, and the lay of the land. It was a nice character piece, but without much actually happening. It was a story that didn’t go anywhere or do anything in particular, but was well-told.

In “My Magic Carpet Quit Working” by Norman Riger an alien corporation revokes the power source for the Earth’s magic carpets, just after an errant one has been discovered by a cowboy. It’s a great concept, but the story ended much too abruptly and simply ignored the vast possibilities that the genre-blending—cowboys, aliens, and magic carpets—could have unveiled.

“The Night Rider” by Connie Vigil Platt seemed to be going somewhere—a cowboy riding the trail, late at night ”“but in the end it just descended into silliness. It began with a nice melancholy feel to it, but didn’t have any conflict, drama, or really any basic interaction, in the plot.

The book begins to change pace with “The Great Little Falls Revival” by Ken Scholes. It’s about the unexplained death of a family, and subsequent vandalism of their graves and disappearance of their bodies. The back-and-forth between the Methodist preacher and the Catholic priest was entertaining enough. My problem with this story was more with the handling of the aliens than with the writing. At the end it seemed far too easy for the Sheriff to buffalo the aliens, give them orders, and wrap the story up.

“The Bullet Magnet” by James Patrick Cobb was interesting enough, a law-man inexplicably finds a mysterious device, but the story failed in that there was no explanation for the appearance of the anachronism. I spent the whole story waiting for something to happen with the titular device”¦ to paraphrase Anton Chekhov, “If a cell phone appears out of nowhere in the first Act, then it must ring by the last.”

In “Command Performance” by Donald Jacob Uitvlugt a wild-west reenactment show-owner—a cynical man who lived through the reality of Western expansion and now reenacts a more palatable, white-wahed myth—is paid to put on a show in the middle of nowhere. Of course the patrons turn out to be more than they seem. In the course of the performance the show-owner even rediscovers his own humanity. This was a wonderful story with some nice character development, and its optimism is all too welcome in an era where we’re given dark and “gritty” stories of the “real” west.

“Gate to Hell” by Harvey Roberts is a tale of John Taylor, a half-Chinese railroad worker, and his investigation into deaths at his work camp that were apparently being blamed on a mysterious animal. This leads him into a life or death encounter with an alien from another planet on one side and the camp overseer on the other.

“Tinker’s Damn” by Bill D. Allen and Sherri Dean seems to have been influenced by both the steampunk genre and the classic story of Pygmalion. It was relatively simple plot of cowboy sees girl, cowboy finds girl, cowboy loses girl, but the additional elements and the vivid descriptions in the story make it a bit more than that. If it had one fault it would be that it was too short—I would have liked to see two or three more chapters added to the adventures of the story’s characters.

The early stories were ultimately unfulfilling, but don’t put the anthology down right away: the stories do get progressively more entertaining. Of the nine stories collected here, the best three stories are at the end, and they left me feeling satisfied. If all the stories were the same quality as the last three it would have been phenomenal, taken together overall it was a satisfactory mid-list anthology.

Nathan E. Lilly is the editor-in-chief of SpaceWesterns.com and a man who wears many hats.

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