So I did another disappearing act. Sorry about that. I’m getting a little tired of explaining it over and over again, so I’ll give you the short version: health issues,blah blah, emergency surgery, blah-ditty-blah, week in the hospital, blah blah, recovery is taking forever, blah blah done. There. Clear? Good.
Oh, yeah, adding insult to injury: I broke my glasses. Grrrr!
So while I’ve been doing the invalid routine, I’ve gotten bugger all writing done; it requires more strength and concentration than I had in me. But I have gotten piles and piles of reading done, which is very good. My To Be Read pile of books was getting pretty enormous; either it was gonna soon reach critical mass and explode, or it was going to gain sentience and attempt world domination. Or both. Either way, it wasn’t gonna be pretty, so taking advantage of this opportunity to shrink it down was a good thing.
So one of the offerings that’s been on The Pile for a bit is a pair of books entitled Six Gun Tarot and Shotgun Arcana, written by R. S. Belcher. They are part of what Goodreads calls The Golgotha series (only two books in the series, so far; would that be a duology?).
I think this books is Steampunk. Sort of? It’s set in the Old West, Nevada, 1869. This definitely falls in the Weird category: no steam technology, none of the optimism I have come to expect from Steampunk offerings. This is as though H.P. Lovecraft decided to write an episode of the old Wild Wild West tv show. Dark, weird stuff.
So the setting, like I said, is Nevada, in a town called Golgotha (for those of you who aren’t up to date on your Sunday School classes, Golgotha is a place in the Bible, the hill outside Jerusalem where Christ was crucified; yeah, kinda says it all about our story setting). Golgotha looks like a town right out of Central Casting: respectable town at the bottom of a mountain, mining concern and all the raucous Wild West excitement that comes with miners, enclave of inscrutable Chinese near the mines, colony of Mormons (this one surprised me) down in the respectable part of town, whores and cowboys everywhere. You get the idea.
Except there’s more to Golgotha than Central Casting. All the weird in the country is somehow attracted to our little town. It’s like the Old West’s answer to Sunnydale. Vampires, werewolves, Lovecraftian nightmares, ghosts, these turn up so often that the good townspeople have stopped even commenting on them.
Not that the townspeople are all that normal. Mayor Pratt, a Mormon church leader (and closeted homosexual) is the secret guardian of certain ancient LDS artifacts. Sheriff Hightower bears the scars of the noose on his throat, and has some uncanny anti-Murphy’s-Law thing going on so that, no matter how bad the situation, he can’t be killed. Deputy Mutt is an Indian and a were-coyote, his pal Jim (who is our entry into the story when he arrives in town) is the carrier of an artifact of the gods. Maude Stapleton, one of the ladies of the town, is a trained assassin and follower of a cult of Lilith, which apparently gives her superhuman powers and unnaturally long life. Ch’eng, the leader of the Chinese criminal element, is the holder of much ancient, esoteric knowledge.
This is one of my problems with the book. Even the homeless dudes have flashbacks and backstory, an we are forced to sit through all of it. All. Of. It. I appreciate that in real life, everybody has a story, a depth and a reason for why they ended up where they are. But in the world of fiction, there simply isn’t enough room to cover every detail of every spear-carrier. A good author learns to pick and choose only those stories that have bearing on the main narrative. Mr. Belcher had to put in everything. And his timing for those flashbacks was odd. For example, Maude Stapleton’s flashback came in the first 20% of the book, which was fine, in an of itself. But once he had given her story, he dropped her. Completely. She just disappeared from the story entirely until the last 20% of the book. By then, I had forgotten who she was, and had to go back and re-read, to remind myself why I gave a crap about who this person was. This happened over and over; there was so much information thrown at me so quickly and over such an odd timeline that I needed a flipping scorecard to keep track of who did what.
The plot was okay: the mine, which had been played out, has been reopened by a group who are seeking something evil and Lovecraftian under the mountain. Of course they find it, and it comes out to possess half the town into evil zombies. After that, it’s up to the good guys to stop the invasion, destroy the Evil, and stop the bad guys who dug up said evil. Not bad; not particularly inspired or original, but not bad.
So, in short, I liked the setting, the plot was okay, and the characters annoyed me, not so much because they were badly written, as much as because there were too many and too busy. Out of five stars, I’d give the book a solid three. If you like Weird West stories, go for it, but don’t expect miracles.
On the other hand, I did not like the sequel, Shotgun Arcana, at all. Same setting, which is great. Same characters, with the same problems as before: every new appearance, even by an old character, spawned a new series of flashbacks that drown the narrative in a deluge of minutiae.
But what killed the story for me was the bad guys. Okay, the plot, as far as I got, is that a fallen angel, seeking to gain an artifact in Golgotha, is summoning an army of evil to come here an lay waste to the town. Okay, a little far-fetched,but I’m willing to roll with it so far. But our author gives 23 three flashbacks — Twenty Three, I’m not kidding, the same number as there are arcana in a tarot deck, not coincidentally — one for each incoming baddie. Twenty three is waaaaaaay too many. How do you tell them apart? Why should I care about twenty three? Give them names, sure, give backstories to a couple of the major players. But every one? Too much; I stopped caring.
And the flashbacks? I understand that he wanted our baddies to be extra bad. But there’s such a thing as stretching credulity to the breaking point. Every baddie is a serial killer, most of them are cannibals, and many had body counts in the hundreds. And that’s where the story lost me. The backstories were appallingly graphic and gross, but I can roll with that. But the most prolific serial killer in real life didn’t have a body count like these guys. And there were 23 of them, and not only was there not a hue and cry for the killers’ heads, nobody has even noticed babies being eaten??? My imagination is pretty good, but even I couldn’t go that far. I stopped reading.
So the verdict on Shotgun Arcana: avoid it. It wasn’t worth the money I spent on it.
So that pretty much covers it for me today. Hopefully my health issues are settled down to the point where there will be no more prolonged disappearances from me. I really am sorry bout that. But not it’s time for me to get warm and watch the snow fall here in the darkest jungles of Appalachia. For y’all, you know the routine: share, comment, tweet, email. You can contact me at the addy in the About page. Send along your submissions for Fun Friday. And I’ll talk to you on Wednesday!