Book Review: The Complete Western Stories of Elmore Leonard

Book Review: The Complete Western Stories of Elmore Leonard by Elmore Leonard

Elmore John Leonard Jr. (1925-2013) started his career as a professional writer by producing short Western stories for the pulp magazines.  According to the introduction, Mr. Leonard’s first attempt was not very good and was rejected, whereupon he decided that next time he would do his research first.  He focused on the Arizona Territory, because that part of the country had a strong draw for him, and he liked the Apaches best of the various tribes of Native Americans.

The Complete Western Stories of Elmore Leonard

This volume presents the bulk of the stories in order of publication, rather than when they were written.  Thus it begins with Elmore Leonard’s first published work, “Trail of the Apache.”  Indian agent Travisin does his best to keep his Apache charges peaceful and moderately satisfied.  He keeps his wits sharp through a bet with his lead scout Gatito that if the other man can ever touch his knife to Travisin’s back, he will win a bottle of whiskey.  For the last two years, Gatito has not had alcohol.

The trouble arrives with Travisin’s new trainee, Lieutenant De Both.  De Both himself is a decent enough fellow, though green in the ways of the West.  But he’s escorting a band of Apache from another reservation, led by the renegade Pillo.  The Army, in its infinite wisdom, has decided that Pillo and his rowdy comrades should be separated from their wives and families on Travisin’s reservation to calm them down.

To no one’s surprise, Pillo and his men are soon off the reservation with Gatito, and looking to gather other renegades to restart the Indian Wars.  It’s up to Travisin, De Bolt, and the tracker known as Fry to stop them.

By the end of the 1950s, the pulp magazines had died, and the market for short Westerns had dried up.   Mr. Leonard switched to primarily doing crime stories (You may remember Get Shorty.)  But every so often, a Western collection would ask him to contribute, so there’s not quite a handful of such late stories.   The last one published was “Hurrah for Captain Early!” which takes place in a small Arizona town which is having a return celebration for its hometown hero of the recent Spanish-American War.

The main character is Bo Catlett, a cavalryman who also served in the war.  But since Mr. Catlett is black, there are those who don’t believe that he’s a veteran.   In fact, they don’t believe that Mr. Catlett should be in town at all.  And possibly not breathing.  But Sergeant Major Bo Catlett has something to return to Captain Early, and maybe it would be okay if there was a little blood of an ignorant fool on it.

Like the other late-period stories, this one contains strong language that wasn’t allowed in the magazines, as well as the period racism.  Taking place in the twilight of the Old West, it’s a suitable and somewhat cynical endpiece.

Of special interest to movie fans are the stories “Three-Ten to Yuma” and “The Captives” (which became The Tall T.)  Both were considerably expanded from their original short format.  In the former tale, a deputy marshal tries to get his prisoner aboard the title train with them both still alive despite their respective enemies.  In the latter, a rancher who’s lost his horse hitches a ride aboard a stagecoach–which is promptly captured by outlaws, and he must use his wits to keep himself and at least one other passenger alive.  Both are exciting and suspenseful.

Mr. Leonard was no stranger to dark humor, the best example of this in the current volume being “Cavalry Boots” in which a cowardly deserter becomes honored as the hero of a battle.  Mostly because he’s not around to dispute it, but partially because he accidentally did save the day.

This edition has an extra story at the end, “The Treasure of Mungo’s Landing”, which wasn’t in the first edition because it couldn’t be proved it existed.  Tracking down clues, it was discovered to have been printed under the wrong author’s name (Leonard Elmore) and in a different magazine than believed.  The story itself is a nice tale of a man who discovers a robbery is about to be committed, and stops it only to be accused of the crime himself.  The bad guy would have gotten away if he hadn’t let his greed and gloating get away with his common sense.

It’s thirty-one fine stories in all, ranging from talented newcomer quality to very good.  There’s period depiction of Native Americans (not usually entirely negative) and some period sexism (plus a couple of attempted rapes.)

Recommended for Western fans, Elmore Leonard fans and fans of the TV series Justified, which was based on Mr. Leonard’s work.

Let’s have a video of the opening to the 1957 film of 3:10 to Yuma.

Book Review: Infinity Five

Book Review: Infinity Five edited by Robert Hoskins

This is the fifth and last (so far as I know) of the Infinity series of science fiction anthologies from Lancer Books.  As mentioned in my review of Infinity Two, they’re heavy on the New Wave style of story, free to have sex scenes and rough language (but not yet skilled at their use) and experimental storytelling styles.  The opening editorial mentions that SF has become a respectable genre for adults, but I’m not sure you could tell from this book.

Infinity Five

SPOILER WARNING: I’m going to be giving away some of the endings.

“The Science Fiction Hall of Fame” by Robert Silverberg starts us off with one of the more experimental pieces, Short fragments from different stories cobbled together around the reminiscences of an avid science fiction fan who has a recurring nightmare about possible futures.  It feels like Mr. Silverberg just grabbed random pages from rejected stories to fill out the length.  At the end, the nightmare becomes reality, and the fear vanishes.

“In Between Then and Now” by Arthur Byron Cover is about two immortal and nigh-omnipotent beings that have been fighting since they can remember.  One of them has a realization that his feelings have changed, but the other isn’t quite ready to accept this.

“Kelly, Frederic Michael: 1928-1987” by William F. Nolan is another “randomish fragments” story.  Mr. Kelly is dying on an alien planet, and his mind slips back and forth.

“Nostalgia Tripping” by Alan Brennert has people listening to oldies radio, except that what precisely the oldies are, and the history that created them, keeps changing.  It turns out that time travel has been invented and harnessed solely to change history to create these new “oldies” because 2003 is just that bleak.  An interesting concept, but perhaps wasted on such a short story.

“She/Her” by Robert Thurston is about telepathic aliens whose planet is undergoing first contact with humans.   Among the new concepts the visitors have brought with them is the significance of gender, as the humans innocently try to fit the aliens into their stereotypes.  This is actually a decent story with a good try at thinking in alien mindsets.

“Trashing” by Barry N. Malzberg goes back to trippy as an assassin attempts to kill a madman who is spreading riots and disorder.  Or is that really what’s happening?

“Hello, Walls and Fences” by Russell Bates is about an artist, or maybe an engineer, who’s asked to do something he finds repugnant by a wealthy man.   Unfortunately, he’s got a wife to feed (this was back when most married women were expected not to have jobs) and his solo work doesn’t sell, so at the end he has to accept the rich man’s job.  We never really find out what the process is or why the artist/engineer doesn’t like it.

“Free at Last” by Ron Goulart moves towards the silly.  A man with a Wide Open Marriage in 1992 is cheating on it by having a secret affair with his invalid aunt’s nurse.  Wide Open, of course, means no secrets.  As part of this, he’s also concealing that his aunt is already dead.  However, the man from the U.S. Department of Transition, which provides free funerals for all American citizens, is getting suspicious.  This one has a lot of extrapolating Seventies California goofiness into the future.  It’s maybe the best story in the issue.

“Changing of the Gods” by Terry Carr, on the other hand, takes a bitter approach to extrapolation.  It is a future where all the mainstream religions have collapsed, to be replaced with the Ancient and Apostolic Church of Christ, Pragmatist.  Yet they still have Fifties style ad agencies.  Sam Luckman is a creative type for one of those agencies, which has been chosen by the Pragmatists to create an ad campaign for “family control” to battle the hideous overpopulation of the world.  Luckman’s personal life is in the toilet, and his disgust with youth-oriented culture and the betrayal of his closest relatives boils over into the advertisements he creates.

Warnings for on-screen incest, pedophilia, castration, body horror.  Also casual homophobia: “homosexual rapists” are said to haunt restrooms.  This is all meant to shock, but just comes off as trying too hard.   One begins to understand why Mr. Carr normally was restricted to editing.

“Interpose” by George Zebrowski has Jesus snatched from the Cross by cruel time travelers.  Jesus is also an alien, not that it does him any good as apparently all his powers were withdrawn for the Crucifixion.

“Greyworld” by Dean R, Koontz is a full novella.  An amnesiac man who is probably named Joel wakes up in a suspended animation pod in a deserted laboratory.  After some wandering around, he runs into a faceless man and passes out.  When Joel awakens, he’s still amnesiac, but is now in a New England country house with his hot wife and distrustful uncle-in-law.  Several more layers of reality ensue.  It’s similar in many ways to Keith Laumer’s Night of Delusions, which I reviewed earlier, but has a more stable (if highly implausible) ending.

“Isaac Under Pressure” by Scott Edelstein wraps up the volume with a quick joke story about unusual genie containers.

Overall, this collection has not aged well, and is only worth seeking out if you collect one of the authors whose story hasn’t been reprinted elsewhere.

 

 

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