Saturday, August 22, 2015

With Sword and Pistol review

    With Sword and Pistol is a collection of four novellas by Edward M. Erdelac which, if not for the final story, could have easily been classified as a Sword and Sorcery work. As such, it's now, instead, a collection of three Sword and Sorcery stories as well as one dark urban fantasy one. This dissonance is kind of annoying but is mitigated heavily by the fact three of the four stories are very good.
    The fourth?

    Mostly good.

    Ed is a talkative author who provides each of the stories an introduction which spells out his thoughts on the material within. I appreciate when authors do this. I enjoy reading about what they think of their stories as well as what they mean. Ed doesn't shy away from controversy in his stories, either, as the introduction to "Gully Gods" discusses his opinion as to why modern gangbangers get less respect in fiction than Wild West gunslingers.

    While not familiar with any of Edward M. Erdelac's other material, it's interesting to see what common elements exist in his style across four wildly different settings as well as protagonists. There's a Golden Age of Piracy horror story, a zombie-horror story in Shogunate Japan, a modern-day horror story in the slums, and a Sinbad the Sailor pastiche set during the Caliphate's heyday.

    One thing I got from Ed's stories is he's an individual who loves taking advantage of exotic foreign locals as well as the differing cultural standards thereof. His characters think differently based on their social rank, society, and class. All of them have doubts, feelings, and troubles which are universally applicable but are dealt with via their societal expectations. In simple terms, he's illustrating how people are the same because of their differences rather than in spite of them.

    I enjoyed how Ed tends to deconstruct classicism as we have a conflict between castes in "Night of The Jikininki" and a Caribbean island native teaming up with a Catholic priest in "Red Sails." Sinbad the Sailor's crew is absurdly international for the time period but fits the sort of off-beat sensibility he's going for.

    My opinion of the stories themselves?

Night of The Jikininki

    "Night of the Jikiniki" is the aforementioned zombie-horror story set in Shogunate Japan but the zombies are almost incidental, a third act curse which comes to pass to bring down judgement on the cast. The story is really about class relations and how they've warped the protagonists in various ways.

    Given the protagonists consist of a serial-killer, a man who tests swords on whoever is brought before him, and a bandit, it's not exactly a great collection of guys. The ending is appropriately bleak and called to mind the original Night of the Living Dead where it doesn't matter whether you're good or evil, prepared or unprepared, life is just not fair.

Red Sails

    A priest, a Spaniard, and island woman team up to fight a pirate ship crewed by werewolves with a vampire captain. It's an over-the-top premise which I enjoyed reading about, especially as Ed manages to treat it with a complete absence of camp. One thing I liked about the story which was similarly true in "Night of the Jikiniki" was how the protagonists were normal people up against a supernatural horror. No Van Helsings here.

    Anywho, this is a fun and dramatic little action-horror tale with an appropriately epic finale. Fans of pirate movies as well as classic horror will probably get the most out of it but it's a good story in general.

Sinbad and the Sword of Solomon

    "Sinbad and the Sword of Solomon" is a story which is much-much more over-the-top than even "Red Sails" with the titular character being sent to find the sword by the Caliph. It's an old-fashioned Pulpy sort of tale with Sinbad versus an evil Jinn on a mysterious island with a beautiful female companion he rescues from pirates.
    Aiding Sinbad in this task is a crew of Christians, Muslims, and other otherwise who, nevertheless, are the best at their jobs. Sinbad will encounter giant eagles, Maori, and ancient curses as he tries to figure out who (if any) of his crew has betrayed him. This was just a rollicking good time to read and one I found it to be incredibly entertaining. I would read a whole novel starring Ed's Sinbad.

Gully Gods

    This is going to be the most controversial story in the book, I'm sure. It deals with gangbangers in South Houston and gets a rather troubled introduction from Ed Erdelac which indicates how he doesn't want to romanticize them. I understand that opinion but the most anti-gang stories I've ever read starred gangbangers. Hell, many older gang members have become virulently anti-gang once the full cost of their actions reached them. It was the chief source of controversy during the execution of Stanley Williams, founder of the Crips, that he had become an advocate against gang culture.

    But, I digress.

    This is a story about a gang member who makes a deal with a former child soldier from Africa to gain supernatural powers from a spirit of war. Honestly, this was my least favorite of the stories because the subject matter is clearly uncomfortable for Ed and I think he got a little trapped by the lingo (to the point the characters became nearly unintelligible). Likewise, some readers will dislike his use of racially charged language by the protagonist.

    E for Effort, though.

    Overall, I really enjoyed With Sword and Pistol and recommend it for people who want some quick swashbuckling fantasy stories.


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