Authors: John Joseph Adams
Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse
Wastelands 2: More Stories of the Apocalypse
Dead Man’s Hand
Print edition ISBN: 9781781164501
E-book edition ISBN: 9781781164518
Published by Titan Books
A division of Titan Publishing Group Ltd
144 Southwark Street, London SE1 0UP
First edition: May 2014
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the
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“Introduction” by John Joseph Adams. © 2014 by John Joseph Adams. Original to this
“The Red-Headed Dead” by Joe R. Lansdale. © 2014 by Joe R. Lansdale. Original to this
“The Old Slow Man and His Gold Gun From Space” by Ben H. Winters. © 2014 by Ben H.
Winters. Original to this volume.
“Hellfire on the High Frontier” by David Farland. © 2014 by David Farland. Original
to this volume.
“The Hell-Bound Stagecoach” by Mike Resnick. © 2014 by Mike Resnick. Original to this
“Stingers and Strangers” by Seanan McGuire. © 2014 by Seanan McGuire. Original to
“Bookkeeper, Narrator, Gunslinger” by Charles Yu. © 2014 by Charles Yu. Original to
“Holy Jingle” by Alan Dean Foster. © 2014 by Alan Dean Foster. Original to this volume.
“The Man With No Heart” by Beth Revis. © 2014 by Beth Revis. Original to this volume.
“Wrecking Party” by Alastair Reynolds. © 2014 by Alastair Reynolds. Original to this
“Hell from the East” by Hugh Howey. © 2014 by Hugh Howey. Original to this volume.
“Second Hand” by Rajan Khanna. © 2014 by Rajan Khanna. Original to this volume.
“Alvin and the Apple Tree” by Orson Scott Card. © 2014 by Orson Scott Card. Original
to this volume.
“Madam Damnable’s Sewing Circle” by Elizabeth Bear. © 2014 by Elizabeth Bear. Original
to this volume.
“Strong Medicine” by Tad Williams. © 2014 by Tad Williams. Original to this volume.
“Red Dreams” by Jonathan Maberry. © 2014 by Jonathan Maberry. Original to this volume.
“Bamboozled” by Kelley Armstrong. © 2014 by Kelley Armstrong. Original to this volume.
“Sundown” by Tobias S. Buckell. © 2014 by Tobias S. Buckell. Original to this volume.
“La Madre Del Oro” by Jeffrey Ford. © 2014 by Jeffrey Ford. Original to this volume.
“What I Assume You Shall Assume” by Ken Liu. © 2014 by Ken Liu. Original to this volume.
“The Devil’s Jack” by Laura Anne Gilman. © 2014 by Laura Anne Gilman. Original to
“The Golden Age” by Walter Jon Williams. © 2014 by Walter Jon Williams. Original to
“Neversleeps” by Fred Van Lente. © 2014 by Fred Van Lente. Original to this volume.
“Dead Man’s Hand” by Christie Yant. © 2014 by Christie Yant. Original to this volume.
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WILD BILL HICKOK
The phrase “dead man’s hand” refers to the poker hand held by the gunfighter Wild
Bill Hickok when, in 1876, he was shot and killed by the coward Jack McCall. There’s
little doubt that Hickok was playing cards at the time of his death, but what Wild
Bill was actually holding seems to be open to some debate. Legend has it that Hickok’s
hand was comprised of black aces and eights (with the fifth card a mystery), but in
some accounts it’s jacks and tens, or other variations. I suppose the only way we
could ever know for sure would be to ask the man himself by reanimating his corpse
or traveling back in time… both of which are the stuff of the “weird western” tale.
Not to be confused with “space westerns” like Joss Whedon’s beloved, cancelled-too-soon
, weird westerns generally take place right here on Earth, only the world we all know
and love is just a little bit different. Like worlds where vampires are real. Or clockwork
cowboys roam the frontier. Or 49ers head to California to mine for mana. Or airships
patrol the skies. In other words: weird westerns are stories of the Old West infused
with elements of science fiction, fantasy, or horror, and often with a little counterfactual
twist thrown into the mix.
You might be thinking: that kind of sounds like steampunk. And it’s true that steampunk
and weird westerns are similar in a lot of ways, and you’ll find some stories—like
Cherie Priest’s Clockwork Century novels—that could certainly be considered both.
But where steampunk can take place anywhere (and often is set in Victorian-era Britain),
the weird western almost always takes place in the American Old West; where steampunk
is often focused on urban settings and the accouterments of its period, the weird
western is typically a darker, grittier take on a similar notion, with strong elements
of the traditional Western genre—the wild frontier, the gunslinger/cowboy, gold fever.
And while in both you often see anachronistic uses of technology, steampunk tends
to be more focused on counterfactual scientific advancements; whereas the weird western
welcomes that but also equally embraces magic and other elements of the supernatural.
So while both may have clockwork automatons, it’s in the weird western where you are
most likely to have a dead man reanimated by a necromancer only to be subsequently
gunned down in a duel by the aforementioned automaton.
The origins of the genre can be clearly traced as far back as the ’60s with television
The Wild, Wild West
, and the ’70s with Stephen King’s
The Dark Tower
series—and perhaps all the way back to the 1930s with the works of Robert E. Howard
and the strange Gene Autry serial
The Phantom Empire
—but it was Joe R. Lansdale’s acclaimed novel
Dead in the West
(1986) that truly blazed a trail; the book, which features the gunslinging Reverend
Jebediah Mercer, is considered by many to be the definitive example of weird western
literature, and consequently helped define the genre.
As such, this book would be incomplete without a contribution from Mr. Lansdale; happily,
I did not have to contemplate such a notion, for the good Reverend Mercer has a new
unholy monster to battle in the very first story in the anthology, “The Red-Headed
Unlike the abovementioned story, many of the tales in the anthology have no literary
antecedents—such as “Neversleeps,”
Cowboys & Aliens
writer Fred Van Lente’s wildly inventive tale of magic, alternate history, and clockwork
chrysalises, and Walter Jon Williams’s “The Golden Age,” a rip-roaring adventure story
of superheroes in the Old West—but several of the other writers herein, like Lansdale,
have already staked their weird west claims and, at my request, have returned to mine
them once again:
Alan Dean Foster, who over the last thirty years or so has written more than a dozen
tales about Mad Amos Malone and his magical steed Worthless, brings the mountain man
back to battle the occult once again in “Holy Jingle.”
Orson Scott Card’s Alvin Maker, the seventh son of a seventh son who is locked in
an epic battle against the Unmaker, returns in “Alvin and the Apple Tree”—the first
new Alvin tale in more than a decade.
In “Stingers and Strangers,” Seanan McGuire brings us a new InCryptid story in which
cryptozoologists Frances Brown and Jonathan Healy encounter some very weird wasps
(plus some other unpleasant surprises).
And in “Second Hand,” Rajan Khanna returns to the world of his story “Card Sharp,”
in which decks of playing cards are imbued with a magic that makes any deck of cards
a deadly one.
That’s just a little taste of what this anthology has in store for you, and that last
example brings us right back around to playing cards and our eponymous dead man’s
hand. To sum up, in the weird western, we take the historical hand we’re dealt, but
we bluff reality and make what you would think is an impossible play.
So that’s the game, pard. Pull up a chair, ante up, and I’ll deal you in. The game’s
“Weird West,” no limit, and
Reverend Mercer knew it was coming because the clouds were being plucked down into
a black funnel, making the midday sky go dark. It was the last of many omens, and
he knew from experience it smacked of more than a prediction of bad weather. There
had been the shooting star last night, bleeding across the sky in a looping red wound.
He had never seen one like it. And there had been the angry face he had seen in the
morning clouds, ever so briefly, but long enough to know that God was sending him
another task in his endless list.
He paused his horse on a high hill and pushed his hat up slightly, determining the
direction of the storm. When the funnels were yanked earthward and touched, he saw,
as he expected, that the twister was tearing up earth and heading swiftly in his direction.
He cursed the god he served unwillingly and plunged his mount down the hill as the
sky spat rain and the wind began to howl and blow at his back like the damp breath
of a pursuing giant. Down the hill and into the depths of the forest his horse went,
thundering along the pine-needle trail, dashing for any cover he might find.