Lone Star Stories, Issue No. 9, June 1, 2005

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"The Hangman isn’t Hanging" by Jay Lake
"No God is a Mosquito" by Jon Hansen
"A Good Hair Day in Anarchy" by Ken Scholes

Opening this issue of Lone Star Stories is Jay Lake‘s historical fantasy/alternative history "The Hangman isn’t Hanging." In this story, nineteenth century America is very different. Angels hunt across the land, seeking out the Chosen Ones and killing them. And if anyone else gets in the way, or even too close, the angels aren’t too worried about wiping them out too. Native American Red Eye Parker is on his way to trade with the hated Americanos when he comes across an angel who has been crippled, jammed into a steep ravine, and left there. The angel pleads with Parker to kill him. Parker won’t do that. Instead, he hauls the angel into town for "white man’s justice."

As you would expect from a Jay Lake story, "The Hangman isn’t Hanging" is imaginative, original, and well-written. Lake’s ability to create wild, imaginative, believable stories at a high rate is enviable. However, the story suffers from the same weaknesses that some of Lake’s other stories do, being a little loose in its construction. Ideas seem to have been tossed in because they are so cool rather than because the story requires them. Elements, such as the Nephilim who protect the Chosen Ones, and the Chosen Ones themselves, are not fully integrated into the story.

Despite these reservations, I loved the fervent imagination of "The Hangman isn’t Hanging." It is an involving and exciting story that is well worth the time to read.

Next up is Jon Hansen‘s "No Mosquito is a God," a short-short probably more memorable for its title than its content. While on holiday in Greece, the narrator is bitten by a mosquito. When he returns to America, his leg swells rapidly and alarmingly. He is hurried into hospital where the doctors decide to operate.

It’s rare to find a short-short or a flash piece that really satisfies. Putting characters, story, quality writing, and a good speculative idea into such a short space is extremely difficult. Hansen doesn’t quite manage it, but neither does he fail. "No Mosquito is a God" has an extremely cool title and a neat core idea, but it is a fairly ordinary piece with decent, if not exceptional, writing.

Ken Scholes provides the final story with "A Good Hair Day in Anarchy." Anarchy is a small town on the planet of New Texas. One day, a bounty hunter turns up in Ed’s barbershop and asks for a haircut. He has been trailing a notorious—and now disappeared—old gunfighter, Slope Dobbins, and he thinks he’s found his man: Sheriff Brady.

"A Good Hair Day in Anarchy" is really a straight Western. The fact that it is set on another planet, and in the future, has no real relevance to the story. There is only one science-fictional device—a DNA reader—that has no equivalent in a normal Western. Of course, "being a Western" and "being only marginally Science Fiction" shouldn’t be considered to be criticisms of the story. Lone Star Stories was started as a Texas-themed zine, and "A Good Hair Day in Anarchy" fits that theme.

The action proceeds at a good rate through the story, and Scholes does a good job of portraying the feel of a Western town. There are some nice little touches, such as the bounty hunter’s reaction when Ed doesn’t know who he is. However, you can see the end coming from the first page, and Scholes doesn’t do enough along the way to compensate.

This is a reasonable story, but there’s little to set it apart from the mass of other semi-pro fiction out there. It would have been nice to see Scholes blend the SF skin more fully with the Western setting and to see him make more of the SF ideas he just hints at, such as the Waygate that opens from time-to-time, allowing an influx of new settlers and an outflux of the disillusioned. There are interesting stories to be told in this world, when the setting has been more fully realized, but "A Good Hair Day in Anarchy" doesn’t really make it.

There were no stories in this issue of Lone Star Stories that stood out like Sandra McDonald‘s "The Heirs of Cenpa" in the last issue or Sarah Prineas‘s "Winged Victory" in the issue before that. Jay Lake’s "The Hangman isn’t Hanging" was the pick of the issue, with the other two stories being readable and enjoyable, but not exceptional.

In my review of the last issue, I commented on the lack of archiving of old stories in Lone Star Stories and the unattractive web design. I’m delighted to see that with this issue, the past stories are available in an archive and the design of the website is attractive and clean.