The Shotgun Arcana


I have some mixed feelings about The Shotgun Arcana. On the one hand, it gives us still more weird wild west with pirate queens, gunslingers, mad scientists, fallen angels, a gay Mormon superhero, and kung fu gangsters. On the other hand, I think it suffers a bit from middle book syndrome, and is inconsistent in its relativism. Mild plot spoilers follow.

While Six-Gun Tarot was almost purely Lovecraftian, Shotgun Arcana brings us back down to Earth by making big bad the Skull of Cain. The Skull inspires a diverse cult of murderers and cannibals loosely cribbed from pulp and penny dreadfuls. At first this is an interesting choice, with the argument that the genocidal horrors of the 19th century provided cover for serial killers. However it quickly gets eclipsed by a comic book plot.

Arcana nearly doubles the cast of characters in the cursed town of Golgotha. While Tarot devoted multiple chapters to character development, Tarot feels a bit thinner. Conflicts and conversations are telegraphed but never fully completed. Relationships lurch forward a few steps, and are put on hold pending the next novel. It’s a style of series writing that I find frustrating, as opposed to Bujold or Pratchett who rarely dependent on subplot cliffhangers.

Almost spoiling this for me is minor inconsistency in the series’s religious or magical relativism. As we’re told by multiple characters, Mormon relics, Confucian magic, Native American religion, and biblical angels all have their place in Golgotha. They’re all true, if differing in perspective. But then, we’re introduced to Thugee Batra the Kali worshiper. Later in the novel, we hear about Kali again, described as one of those horrors that go bump in the night. I’m going to punt to Leah Schnelbach’s essay on why Temple of Doom is bad theology (or history or social studies). It’s a rather egregious exception to the explicit universalism of the novel, especially if Lilith is introduced as a feminist religious figure.

Cartoon image of Kali.
Kali by Pixar artist Sanjay Patel

But if that’s not a dealbreaker for you, Shotgun Arcana offers a lot of weird wild west fun, with the promise of more to come.

Nnedi Okorafor Interview

From the very beginning I was writing what was considered literary fiction. But because of my own world view, I see the world as a magical, mythical place. My professors called it magical realism. At some point, I turned that up more and the fantastical elements became more pronounced. And when I was published, people started classifying my work as fantasy. In 2000, the science fiction stuff kicked in, too. When I traveled to Nigeria, I would see Nigerians interacting with technology in a way that I was not seeing reflected in literature. I was not seeing Africa as a whole reflected in writing about the future.

Nnedi Okorafor Is Putting Africans at the Center of Science Fiction and Fantasy – The Root

Six-Gun Tarot

Book cover of a young but weathered man holding a jade eye to his face.
The Six-Gun Tarot

A pirate-ninja-witch, a son of Coyote, an unkillable sheriff, and a gay Mormon walk into the apocalypse.

I think two things make this everything-and-the-kitchen-sink fantasy work. First, it’s weird wild west and not Seattle, Chicago, New York, or London. The Western genre has been over-the-top since Sergio Leone sent us on a surreal trip across the civil war. It doesn’t go quite as far as King’s The Gunslinger, Jarmusch’s vision quest Dead Man, or the wire-fu Warrior’s Way.

The second saving grace of this book is that it embraces its weirdness rather than trying a charade of a “masquerade” or “Secret World.” Golgotha is the town where weird stuff happens. “Hey, John, remember that time with the rat people?” (paraphrased from memory.) It’s the kind of place where the mayor can organize an evacuation or the sheriff can hand out silver bullets without anyone blinking an eye.

A fair bit, perhaps a bit too much, is left to be explained by sequels, but I think I’m ok with that.

Lovecraft and Slave Leia Dumped

Photo of Slave Leia Flash Drive

The World Fantasy Awards are no longer going to use H. P. Lovecraft as their figurehead.

The World Fantasy award trophy will no longer be modelled on HP Lovecraft, it has been announced, following a campaign last year that called the author out as an “avowed racist” with “hideous opinions”.

People more familiar with his personal writings say that Lovecraft’s views went beyond 1920s endemic racism to WTFery. A replacement hasn’t been announced, but my fannish opinion is that Fantasy is one of those places where you don’t want an author’s head.

Meanwhile, a rumor has been going around that Disney is considering dumping Slave Leia as a marketing image. This won’t affect Rule 34 or cosplay, but it might mean fewer car decals, dog costumes, or novelty aprons.

Revenants and Westerns

I must admit that I’m a sucker for a good dead-man western revenge story. Just a weird bit of synchronicity was getting a youtube ad for Revenant that reveals all the highlights of that particular genre: man left for dead recovers (possibly via supernatural intervention) and seeks out revenge or justice.

As a story, I think it goes back to classic ghost folklore. The modern Western incarnation tends to either leave the supernatural elements ambiguous, or omits them altogether by proposing that the revenant is just plain tougher than everyone else and hard to kill.

It’s a story so central to the genre that Eastwood did two variations behind the camera: the nihilistic High Plains Drifter and the less cynical Pale Rider. Both of these, in my read, imply a ghostly origin for the gunslinger. Eastwood did it at least two more times in front of the camera: Hang Em High and the conclusion of Fistful of Dollars.

Probably my favorite is Jarmusch’s anti-western Dead Man, with accountant turned outlaw William Blake cutting a path to the Pacific in a quest to die on his own terms. The irony of Dead Man is that Blake is already dying and on the run. He’s confronted by a series of opportunists and bounty hunters engaged in a farce of frontier justice.

In an interesting bit of synchronicity, I picked up R. S. Belcher’s Six-Gun Tarot. Sure enough, the hanged man turned lawman appears in the fourth chapter. (Not really a spoiler since it’s a back-cover blurb.)

The Six-Gun Tarot Book Cover

Not to mention there’s a ton of this within superhero cinema. Classic Tony Stark is arguably an example, although he’s spoiled in that near-death experience doesn’t make him a cultural outsider. I’d say Darkman and Robocop are the classic revenants.

In spite of a rich folklore of women as revenants (usually ethereal), I don’t really think women have been represented in modern Western or action film as such. I think it would be interesting to see.

Since the puppy story won’t die …

  • Yes, I’m an evil SJW SF&F fan who primarily reads feminist and lgbt-focused stories. It’s my dime and my hour.
  • Yes, that includes a fair number of “message stories.”
  • No, Ancillary Justice wasn’t one of them. For contrast, read Rupetta which tells you its feminist philosophy up front, and then uses it to tear apart both history and transhumanism.
  • Of course, that would mean actually reading both a moderately feminist Ancillary Justice and a more radically feminist Rupetta.
  • That Justice won a Hugo and Rupetta a Tiptree is a good sign that both awards do different things.
  • No, I don’t think a campaign that included carpetbagging and smearing voters deserves an apology for NO AWARD and jeers.
  • I really don’t care if Card, Correia, or Butcher are on the NYT best-seller lists. Card, Day, and Wright have called for boycotts of my movies, comics, and books in contrast.

Side thought of the night: Fluid and nonbinary gender cultures have previously been featured on Star Trek: TNG and Star Trek: DS9. Why don’t joined Trill have their own nonbinary pronouns and forms of address reflecting their elite status within their society? Why do Founders and Jem’Hadar have gendered pronouns?