Wednesday, November 09, 2011

"That Damned Coyote Hill"/"Deadland, USA: Mindless Consumerism" - Heath Lowrance

Heath Lowrance's debut novel THE BASTARD HAND is one of the best books I've read so far this year, so I had high hopes for a couple of his short stories I read recently, "That Damned Coyote Hill" and "Deadland, USA: Mindless Consumerism", both of which are available as e-books on Amazon.

"That Damned Coyote Hill" is a Weird Western, a crossover genre that's a lot older than some people think ("The Horror From the Mound", anyone?), but it's enjoying a well-deserved resurgence right now. Some of the new stories I've read have suffered from being unbalanced: the horror elements are strong and done well, but the Western elements aren't, or vice versa. Lowrance, however, does a fine job with both. You've got a mysterious gunfighter on a mission of vengeance, an isolated settlement, a trio of fairly formidable bad guys, a kidnapped little girl . . . but you've also got an even more mysterious old Indian, townspeople who don't act quite right, strange creatures that haunt the prairie . . . mix that together and you have a very entertaining yarn that's an excellent example of the Weird Western. I'm hoping that Lowrance's protagonist in this story, the gunfighter called Hawthorne (named after Nathaniel Hawthorne, perhaps?) will soon make a return appearance.

Not having read a lot of zombie fiction and written even less (one unsold novelette that's now lost), I hardly qualify as an expert on that genre, but it seems to me that zombie fiction can be viewed as an oddball variation of the old "man vs. nature" plot, only in this case it would be the "man vs. unnature" plot. But a horde of hungry zombies is as much a vast, inexorable threat as a flood, a forest fire, or an earthquake. You can't really identify with them, they have no back-story (or rather, they have so many back-stories that it's too unwieldy to deal with them), and so the writer has to focus on their potential victims, as Steven Booth and Harry Shannon do so well in THE HUNGRY, which I blogged about a few days ago.

"Deadland, USA: Mindless Consumerism" is definitely the first in a series, and Lowrance makes it work by giving us a really likable narrator/protagonist, 19-year-old would-be slacker Sammy, who's forced to grow up and take over the leadership of a small group of survivors on the run from a zombie apocalypse. The supporting characters are good, too, but Sammy really carries this story, which reads like the first chapter in an on-going serialized novel. The focus is very tight, the reader doesn't really know what's going on beyond this small group of characters, but I'm sensing some sort of epic structure behind it all. I guess we'll have to wait and see.

I also have Lowrance's short story collection DIG TEN GRAVES (a great title), but I haven't gotten to it yet. Between THE BASTARD HAND and these two stories, though, I'm very close to saying that whatever Heath Lowrance wants to write, I want to read it. Highly recommended. 


Cullen Gallagher said...

Just went to amazon to pick up DEADLAND USA! (I'm not sure why I didn't have it already -- total oversight on my part that I'm ashamed of, since I had all of Heath's other books.)

Dawn & Ron said...

Lowrance has a terrific voice and an authentic grasp of the fringe genres he writes. He's certainly not letting the momentum from "The Bastard Hand" go to waste.