Thursday, November 12, 2020

Tales Around the Supper Table: -An Anthology of Texas Writers. Collected by J. L. Curtis

The cover art, with an Amazon Associates link, so I get a few cents if you click the link and buy something:

I have encountered almost all of these writers via the long form, and can testify of their skill in that area. I have no explanation for the concentration of such talent in the Lonestar State, other than to note that some, at least, are Texan by choice, rather than by birth.

Despite their shared geography, these are not what you are probably thinking of as “Texas Tales.” That’s as it should be; even in San Antonio, where I lived in 1958 and 1972, there is a lot more going on than the Alamo and the River Walk. My firstborn son’s K9s for Warriors dog came from San Antonio, in fact.

So, no, don’t expect these stories to be stamped out with a Texas shaped cookie cutter. If they have any thing in common, it’s that all Texans are liars, I mean, tell good stories.

Pigmintum Regium, Alma T.C. Boykin. Your average author says “Marie was a dragon.” Boykin is NOT average. She tells us that Marie relies on long habit to keep from flaming a little, and that she she fists purple talons on a brown forefoot in frustration. Isn’t that lovely? The revelations of Marie’s attempts to produce a specified chemical reaction are also lovely, in that she SCIENTIFICALLY has to consider, and painstakingly document, any number of factors that we mundanes would never encounter. This isn’t merely a story; this is a cleverly constructed world, with humans and dragons fitting nicely into their defined roles, and working together to punish violators of the peace. 
If you want a story that ends with the knight rescuing a maiden from the clutches of a dragon, you may either go elsewhere, or, better yet, stay here. Have your view expanded!

 Caliborne’s Curse, Monalisa Foster. No one disputes that our basic needs are food, shelter, and clothing. Some choices are better than others, but it seems to me that the ‘shelter’ need is most likely to offer long-term issues. True, some food might kill you, but you can get reliable mediocrity almost anywhere. Shelter, though; a bad decision there can leave you in misery for a long time. Roaches and leaks are bad enough, but Mallory has moved into a house with some truly unexpected features. It only STARTS with a mysterious magic sword; there’s a vampire, a werewolf, it goes on. Fortunately, none of them make serious attempts to harm her, but these are just not acceptable variations for a home. So: get out of the contract. Wait, there’s more...

Business not Bullets, Dorothy Grant. Catriona pilots a small-time trade vessel that is keeping one small village alive. These are people related to her by marriage, and their loss of technology means that what Catriona is able to bring them keeps them, barely, on their feet. She wasn’t planning on making any changes to her trade routes, hoping that she can keep things going until a miracle happens. Her luck runs out, when a marooned naval officer asks to be taken on board. That’s only the first impediment to her plans, though. If she isn’t able to produce a working solution, everyone she knows will die.

The Invisible Train, Kathey Gray. This isn’t exactly a ghost story. It might be made into one, but as it stands, it’s just a story of discontinuity in time. Two brothers, Amos, 12, and Arthur, 9, tumble onto some very strange train tracks, and are transported back in time. Forget the paradoxes; that’s been done to death. This story is about problem-solving, when most of the problems are people. The fact that these problem solving folks are more the age (and manner) of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer just adds to the charm.

Runaway, Pam Uphoff. Another excellent short, set in Uphoff’s ever-expanding Wine of the Gods universe. Zodiac is on the run from his mother, a Not Nice Person who wishes to torture and destroy him; kind of makes you wonder about where she got her parenting advice from. He crosses over to a world very similar to the  timeline you and I live in (but not exactly the same). Over the course of his adventures, the number of people, places, and things he is on the run from continues to mount. Those include the local cops, the local criminals, the local peasants trapped into criminal activities, and even a local grandmother.
She’s a great cook, though. Truly hard to run away from that...

Starting Over, Peter Grant. This one is set in the REAL world, at least, that world as described by Peter Grant in the Ames books. After the Civil War, discharged soldiers return home to try to start over in a cash-starved economy. Tyler is one of these, although he has the good fortune to obtain some Yankee cash money. He uses that to finance a move of beef cattle from HERE, where they live, to THERE, where they can be eaten by hungry people. This one is a great read, not only for the adventure story, but for bringing alive the feel of the toughness of trying to create a living out of devastation. 

For a Child, Wayne Whisnand. Trip has special powers, which he hides so he doesn’t get killed, as most of his folk have been. He admits to himself that they usually deserved it, but Trip tries to live a better life. Bad people, who steal the child of one of his few friends, make that impossible. He can’t hide; he can’t stay out of trouble, and he just can’t stop people from looking at him with adoration in their eyes.

Bad Night in Falls Town, Lawdog.  I do not intend any dishonor to the Great State of Texas when I say that MOST of the stories I’ve read with this feel are set in San Francisco, or Los Angeles, or Chicago, Detroit, or New York City. New Orleans, maybe? They are NOT set in Wichita Falls!  (And there is a REASON for that!)
This is NOIR (!), at least to these old eyes and brain. I LOVE noir! Magnificent variations: 1. He’s not a Lone Wolf; he’s a Married Fox. BUT: he’s still willing to work for so many bucks per day, plus expenses, to help out a client. 2. All of the other hard-nosed PI types were easily affected by the pulchritude of the clients; not sure the “leather halter top attempting manfully – and failing miserably – to keep significant portions of her anatomy contained” will benefit this client. Married, remember, and wifey 

They Only Ever Send Just One, John Van Stry. I spent JUST enough time in San Antonio, at JUST the right age, to have some part of my systems respond to...TEXAS RANGER! The television series, I missed utterly; but, I’ve read enough stories of the old days and the modern days, some stark fact and some total fiction, for Emmet, the Ranger in this story, to stride right into my imagination. In his cowboy boots, which aren’t broken in.
I wonder why his boots aren't broken in? New boots. Hmmmm....
ONE of the great things about being a Texas Ranger is that you don’t have to start from the beginning with your average criminal, or with innocent bystanders; they KNOW what's going to take place. And for those criminals who don’t IMMEDIATELY fold their hands? Something bad might happen to them.

 Knights and Dragons, Jonathan LaForce. If I’m not mistaken, Crayon-Eating LaForce is the most junior member of the Texas team. GOOD DEAL! He is in for SUCH great training!
(Confession: I have a special love for LaForce. He and my firstborn son did the same things, wearing different uniforms, in the same conflict, and there were outcomes, and I am ever-so-frapping proud of them for coming back as well as they have. SO, feel free to laugh at an old man for some tears.)
LaForce invents a GREAT private investigator. Nero Wolfe was fat, and functionally agoraphobic; Ironside was (fat and) in a wheelchair; I can’t remember the name of the blind private investigator, but LaForce invents Hans Abney, a PI with an extensive background in uniforms who lost his voice to shrapnel. That ALSO permits him to invent Giselle, a sign-language interpreter who just happens to be drop-dead gorgeous, as his non-ditzy, dynamic partner. That OUGHT to give some better opportunities for developing plots; as it is, there is too much mental reflection spelled out. 
Another EXCELLENT aspect of LaForce’s world in this particular story is the ambiguous nature of the Bad Guy. Minor bad guys just look good, but are really bad; they are a dime a dozen. But: you get a Bad Guy who looks bad, but is really good? Writers have based a franchise on that character alone.  (But ditch the love scene at the end; it’s clumsy.)

A Favor Owed, JL Curtis. Oh, how I hope J L Curtis has more to say in this world! The characters have SUCH depth, it would be a shame to shut them down with just this little view. 
The old blacksmith is a good man, and I have no idea whether or not this is characteristic of the trade. I DO know that craftsmen who do excellent work are honored wherever they go, and the honor shown Lubec by his customers shows him to be one of those. And he has some magical access as well, in the form of a fire-breathing dragon(-ish).
It’s rather unfortunate, though, because his excellent past has caught up with him. This is not an ancient crime that chases him down; he has been pursued because he once gave a great gift. The Baron thinks it’s time for another one, and he has a point. But points need edges, and hilts, and flex, and strength, and none of that comes free.

1600+ words to describe 340+ pages; I'll take it. You will enjoy this read!

Peace be on your household.

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