I am in the middle of reading a short story collection called Tales of the Far West right now, so I thought I would share some thoughts on the stories and my journey into the world of Far West. (If you are already familiar with Far West or want to jump right to my partial review of the short story collection, click here.)
I first noticed Far West on Kickstarter (or maybe I got pointed there by someone else, but if so, I can’t recall from who or where…bygones). The project was described as a “transmedia” project, including fiction and a role-playing game (RPG) set in a fantasy world “based on the inspirations of the Spaghetti Western and Chinese Wuxia. Add steampunk elements. Mix well.” Well, I’m not a big Western fan, but I have enjoyed Wuxia movies ever since I saw Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (perhaps the only movie that I have paid to see in theaters three times in the span of 2 or 3 weeks) and I have always thought steampunk was great fun. The project also referenced Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. Okay, now we’re talking. I may not have watched a bunch of Westerns, but I tore through that series and I could imagine the type of gunfighting skill that Roland displays mixed with the high-flying acrobats of Chow Yun Fat and Michelle Yeoh. Add to that a really cool selection of Kickstarter rewards, and I was in. By the time the Kickstarter was over at the end of August 2011, they had raised just shy of $50,000 (their original goal was only $5,000) and had added a bunch of great rewards as time went on.
Into the Far West
The website for Far West had a number of vignettes set in the Far West universe, and informative short entries about some of the people and places that make up the world. Some combination of the excitement that led up to the successful funding of the Kickstarter project and the intriguing setting led me to write a short story based in the Far West universe, even though I did not have much knowledge of the details of the world yet. I sent it to one of the game’s designers, Gareth Skarka, and he was kind enough to edit it and post it on the Far West site, and even to create some art for the piece. The story, Digging in the Dirt, can be found here.
My excitement for the project waned a little as the project had its completion date pushed back a couple of times; I understand the reasons and the nature of Kickstarter projects, but without any new details about the setting, I didn’t give much thought to creating more stories in the Far West world. Without a “bible” to work off of, or the core RPG book, I don’t feel like I could add much to the setting. Not so some other fans, who have already come up with some cool ideas on the Far West forums, which went live in January 2012. (Caveat: You have to belong to the Far West Society to see the forums that contain these ideas; membership to the society allows you to pitch ideas that can be voted on for inclusion in the game.) The forums have been a fun place to be introduced to new (to me) music and movies that either inspire or mesh well with the Far West setting, and background information on Wuxia. So even if you do not plan to get involved with Far West, you could do worse than to browse the Inspirography and Far West Music discussions for some cool links.
Tales of the Far West
Last week, the short story collection Tales of the Far West was released. I have only read four of the twelve stories so far, but I have to say that the first story, He Built The Wall To Knock It Down by Scott Lynch, re-energized my passion for the Far West setting. It is cool in exactly the way a Western/Wuxia/steampunk tale should be, with clear, concise action scenes that impart a very cinematic feel to the story with an amazing brevity. It has bar fights, the requisite master teaching the apprentice by having him do mundane tasks, amazing feats of kung fu and gunfighting, gravity-defying acrobatic stunts, explosive fights, and steampunk limbs aplenty.
The second story, In Stillness, Music by Aaron Rosenberg, is about a Wandering Star, a member of a clan of couriers who, according to the Far West website “are carefully neutral, no matter what their hearts may tell them. While many of them would be swift to assist wounded farmers after a bandit raid, for all their martial skill, they would not lift one brightly colored finger to stop it in progress.” So of course this story is about an exception to that rule. This story was good but not quite as strong as the opener. I also wonder if this exception will be overused by players once the RPG comes out, because a character that must remain neutral could be a very difficult character to roleplay in the context of a larger group that likely will be taking sides quite often. (One minor complaint regarding my Kindle version of the book: in this story, the character sings songs and the formatting does not show up correctly on the Kindle. Two phrases are smushed together with no separation on each line, and with no punctuation it was up to me to guess where the sentence break should be.)
The third story is Riding the Thunderbird by Chuck Wendig. I would call it more of a scene, or the seed of a story. It starts in media res and ends there as well. Secrets are hinted at and what happens next is implied, but as a stand-alone story in a collection, it left me shrugging my shoulders. It might just be me, but I expected something fleshed out more. If this is a prelude to a longer story someplace else, it should say so. If not, I don’t think it stands on its own.
The fourth story, Purity of Purpose by Gareth-Michael Skarka, is one of the vignettes that was already up on the Far West website. While short, it is a complete story with a well-described, fantastical fight scene that combines gunplay and kung fu.
There are eight more stories to go and I am hopeful that some of them rise to the level of kickassedness in the first story.
Even though I do not currently have a roleplaying group, I am still looking forward to the RPG’s eventual release. Why? Because once it is released, the setting will be wide open to all the fans to help flesh out the world. In effect, I will have the setting bible in my hands at last, and I am looking forward to writing more stories once I have that. I only hope my pen and paper style kung fu will be strong enough for the task.