Lansdale and McCammon, c. 1990
Another of Robert McCammon's pleasant, inoffensive horror tales, "Black Boots," begins the anthology. A cowboy is being followed across the desert by a gunslinger wearing the titular objects. He stops in a dusty small "town" to drink some watered-down whiskey but soon sees "Black Boots" at the door of the saloon. Ironic tragedy follows. Its touches of surrealism are well-noted, but McCammon's simplistic style neuters the creepiness and final twist.
"Thirteen Days of Glory" by Scott A. Cupp upends a famous Western showdown with a decidedly transgressive aspect. Freedom must be for everyone or for none at all. Not bad, rather daring, probably offensive to some and liberating for others. Cupp's story is engaging and yet sad, one of the few here that are memorable.
"Gold" by Lewis Shiner is strong, well-told, tinged by magic-realism (a style much favored by genre writerly-writers), set in Creole swamps with strong characterization, but it ends with a damp whimper as it goes into mind-numbing financial details. A huge letdown.
Pulphouse Paperbacks, 1991, art by Doug Herring
David J. Schow's "Sedalia" is just... weird. Not fun weird, not weird weird, but just kinda what? weird, a proto-bizarro tale of ghost dinosaurs, maybe some kind of fossil fuel metaphor. Taking its title from the old-as-dinosaurs TV show "Rawhide," we've got "drovers" herding those ghost dinos in some future Los Angeles. It's marred by juvenile talk of dinosaur poop and incomprehensible politics, although I appreciated the fact that characters refuse to call a brontosaurus an apatosaurus as it "seemed too-too." 2015 showed that was correct.
Introduced by the editors as a bit of "Weird Tales" or EC Comics, Ardath Mayhar's "Trapline" is precisely that: a fur-trapper and a gory comeuppance. Sure, why not, whatever. The late Melissa Mia Hall, whose short fiction I've enjoyed in the past, contributes "Stampede," about a single mom and her obnoxious brood and her attempts to raise them right. Realism to spare, sure, but wow those kids suck.
Dark Harvest 1989 hardcover, art by Rick Araluce
Two of my least favorite '80s horror writers, F. Paul Wilson and Richard Laymon, join the rodeo but get bucked off. Respectively, "The Tenth Toe" and "Dinker's Pond" aren't as bad as some works I've read by these guys, but they're both flat and immature, corny and obvious. Several names were new to me, even for a almost-30-year-old anthology: Lenore Carroll, whose "Eldon's Penitente," with its theme of pain, suffering, loss, and guilt, is rather memorable; and Robert Petitt, who swipes Lansdale's title and uses it all-too-literally in an SF tale.
Science fiction features in Al Sarrantonio's "Trail of the Chromium Bandits" and Gary Raisor's "Empty Places." Neither did anything for me, although the latter's mawkishness struck me as particularly lame and derivative of both Lansdale and Ray Bradbury. Neal Barrett Jr's tale of a Native criminal "Tony Red Dog" reads like Elmore Leonard-lite when it is readable at all, which it isn't mostly thanks to a constant barrage of character first and last names. Howard Waldrop's metafictional academic treatise on Western movies, "The Passing of the Western," strains even the most patient reader with its faux film history. God it was a grind getting through these stories.
Scars. And for the finale, there's Chet Williamson and his too-cutely titled "'Yore Skin's Jes's So Soft 'n Purty...'" Man, there's a horrific climax waiting for you here.
That "cowpunk" novelty can't sustain an entire anthology, and the few tales here that I kind of enjoyed aren't essential reads by any means. I know every author has more and better work elsewhere; head out on the trail searching for those doggies, and let Razored Saddles fade into the sunset.