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Review: Space Cowboys I & II
Delivering exactly what it says on the label
Thanks to Amazon’s policies, I can’t review a book I am involved with. So, since I have a story in Space Cowboys 2: Electric Rodeo from Raconteur Press, I can’t legitimately leave a review on Amazon. Bleah.
On the other hand, I can (and did!) leave a review for the original Space Cowboys anthology. Plus, as this is my blog, blag, stack, or whatever we’re calling it these days, I can do what I want here. So all y’all buckle up for a short review of the first two Space Cowboy anthologies.
tl;dr - Two Human-standard Thumbs Up.
Do you like space? Do you like cowboys? Have you ever thought “What I need is stories about cowboys… in space”? If that’s you, then pardner - I’ve got a pair of books you’ll want to check out. The Space Cowboys anthologies do, indeed, deliver exactly what's advertised on the cover.
First up: Space Cowboys.
The book is chock full of stories about things like interstellar cattle drives. Undercover Texas Rangers (or, rather, their spiritual successors). Asteroid wranglers. Reluctant lawmen in over their heads, or not. Criminals on the frontier who think they can get away with murder... until they don't. All painted against a backdrop of spaceships, alien planets, and - sometimes - aliens who have more in common with their Human cowboy brethren than those dang city-slickers who think they run the show.
Every story was memorable, but there are a few in particular that deserve a call out...
“No Home on the Range” by Rick Cutler grabbed me from the opening line. He tells a futuristic story that you could easily picture taking place in the post-Civil War old west. Highly recommended.
“All Creatures Weird and Wonderful” by David Bock shows the struggles that a veterinary unit has keeping cattle alive on a frontier world in the face of alien - and human - dangers.
“Tin Badge, Tin Dog” by Daniel Ziedler introduces Tass and Zdrev, two very different marshalls for a settlement dealing with rustlers. The story was interesting, but the hints of world-building and characterization are what made this really work for me. I definitely want to see more of Tass and Zdrev.
“Interstellar Cattle Drive” by Cedar Sanderson shows what it's like riding the plains, so to speak, when the plains are self-contained ships with their own unique problems. I love how the story slowly unfolds, leaving you wondering what’s going on until it more or less comes together at the end.
Along with all of those, “Astroid Wranglers” by J. L. Curtis keeps coming to mind. At first glance, it seems rather low-key compared to some of the other stories, what with its lack of shoot-outs, outlaws, and general hijinks. I think that’s because, in the end, it’s more about one man wrangling his mind and overcoming his fears out there in the Black. There’s something there that resonated with me.
Next in line: Space Cowboys 2: Electric Rodeo
SC2 continues in the tradition of the first anthology, improving significantly by including “Pard”, a particularly charming story from a guy by the name of Sam something-or-other. You might want to check that one out. It’s got taxi drivers, alien mobsters, a farm full of wee coo beasties, and an alien that dreams of one day becoming a cowboy.
We also get to visit Colt Ostergaard again in “Bad Blood on the High Plains” by Rick Cutler, and the stop-off here doesn’t disappoint. We get a tale of war, aftermath, forgiveness, and the lack thereof that doesn’t quite play out the way you expect. Rick’s building a pretty rich backstory for both Colt and his world, and I’m looking forward to seeing more at some point.
“Space Sheep and the Electric Cow” by A. Kristina Casasent was just delightfully weird. It made me think of some of the stories I used to read in the “Best Science Fiction of the Year” collections from the late 60’s and early 70’s. Definitely one you need to experience for yourself.
“The Quick Brown Fox” by James Copely also had that strange, almost ethereal quality to it. I love a story that spins off a huge number of ideas as casually as this one, and I’d love to see more stories set in this universe.
“Homecoming” by Kelly Grayson caps off the anthology and does an excellent job of it. There’s some action, but the majority of the story is about the characters; their personalities, dreams, and interactions. Bonus points for the pop-culture callouts and some truly ingenious logic for why you’d have spaceships and six-shooters operating alongside one another. The ending left me wondering and imagining the further adventures of Tyrell and his fellow clones.
Summary? Two good books with a fistful of great stories. Take a chance on them; I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
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