Not many are familiar with the Weird West genre, and for good reason. The popularity of Westerns in modern mass media fluctuates wildly from year to year. And usually, when you think of Westerns, you most likely think of cowboys and conflict with Native American peoples. Weird West takes the tropes of the Western, but adds in elements of fantasy: such as orcs, elves, and demonic possession.
Enter A Demon in the Desert by Ashe Armstrong.
The town of Greenreach Bluffs is under siege by something straight from a nightmare. Grimluk, an orc demon-hunter, takes on the case. But what has brought this plague of evil—of demonic activity—upon Greenreach Bluffs? The answer is not what you’d expect.
If you say the phrase “Victorian seance,” you immediately have my attention. Everything about that period in history, especially the “paranormal” elements, is really rather fascinating.
The Witch of Lime Street is a venture into the Victorian era when those who could claim to speak with the dead were a dime a dozen, and almost-nondenominational belief in the afterlife exploded alongside technological innovation. In the thick of all this walked magic titan Harry Houdini, who made it his personal mission to find an authentic medium. His road led him to become friends with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who was the mastermind behind Sherlock Holmes, and who also became a leader in the Spiritualist movement.
“Then again, how much of any of us includes the original parts? Organs, limbs, cells. Even the molecules. We’re constantly recycling what are already only recycled bits of dead stars. Ever think about that? Puts everything in perspective.” – C. Piprell, MOM
It has been years since I last read sci-fi, so when I jumped into C. Piprell’s MOM, I was taken on one heck of a ride. Our protagonist is Cisco the Kid, in a future where what remains of humankind has been relegated to existing safely in Malls. There, Cisco and others spend much of their time Worlding: playing in any number of digital alternate realities. But not all is well in would-be Paradise. Cisco’s memory and personality have started to fragment, the AI that takes care of everything from food to entertainment to staying alive is going insane, and that is only the beginning. This is the end of the world, but not in a way you would expect.
First, I have to give the author major credit for creating futuristic slang that makes sense given the technology that is introduced in the story. Second, the perspective shift between Cisco and others—I cannot specify, as I do not wish to spoil the story—is both sharp and engaging. Everything moves at a pace that kept me enthralled and wanting more. Third, Piprell also demonstrates a mastery of writing dialog and using language in a way that really captures the personality of each character. Piprell’s pinpoint attention to detail also shows; any mention of something in passing, such as electronic graffiti, has a purpose.
When we think of witches—at least here in the States—we most often think of hags with
warts, long noses, and quite the menacing laugh. Wicked Witches explored those tropes and pushed past them, which is something I absolutely adore in a good anthology.
Instead of using the same tired old cliches in these stories, the authors provided a wide variety of perspectives and approaches to witches. In “Access Violation” by Jeremy Flagg, we get witchcraft as a form of hacking. In “Tilberian Holiday” by Izzy Lee, we get a woman who has suffered extreme loss, but a strange hope comes from an even stranger place. And to top it all off, in “Moving House” by Rob Smales you get the story of an iconic witch in a modern neighborhood. There are some very talented writers in this group, and it shows. I also noticed—and thoroughly enjoyed—a theme of witchcraft as a tool to help downtrodden women.