Fiction Review: Tales of the Far West edited by Gareth-Michael Sharka from Adamant Entertainment

We are riding the wave of some great short fiction from fresh new authors these days in the gaming community. And though I’ve come a bit late to the party, I’m damn happy I finally arrived… First with the Stories in the Ether quarterly magazines (I’m two issues behind now and need to catch up) and now with Tales of the Far West from Gareth-Michael Sharka’s Into the Far West movement.

So let’s back up for a minute. In the summer of 2011 a new Kickstarter project was announced by Gareth-Michael Sharka for a RPG called Into the Far West – a mashup of the Western and Wuxia genres combining gunfights, kung fu, and Eastern mysticism into one cool package. And yes, I was one of the folks who contributed to the funding drive. They were hoping for $5k and raised nearly $50k, which just shows how excited the gaming community was to see this sort of direction. As the roof was blown off the funding goals, the folks involved even added some new incentives – a short fiction anthology called Tales of the Far West and a supplement called Legends of the Far West.

Though I was very excited to see what this world was like and how the system works, I have to admit I kind of forgot about the project until I saw an e-mail in late January announcing that Tales of the Far West was available for backers. I downloaded that puppy mighty quick after that and stuck it onto my phone to read as time allowed via the Kindle app for Android. After reading the first issue of Stories in the Ether from Nevermet Press I was interested to read more short fiction from gamers, but I wasn’t quite sure what to expect in this case.

After devouring the eBook over the last week or so I have to say that I was blown out of the water. These stories take all the best parts of the 1970s Kung Fu TV series starring David Carradine and injects a healthy dose of equal parts Steampunk and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Though I’m not a huge fan of Westerns in general, each of these stories takes that Western tradition and puts it in a blender with Eastern thought to come out with something remarkable.

There are twelve tales written by twelve different authors, but I’ll be here all day if I try to write about every story in the bunch. Instead I’m going to focus on three. Scott Lynch writes about one teacher’s lesson in ultimate mindfulness in “He Built the Wall to Knock it Down.” Aaron Rosenberg shows that even a traveling musician and messenger must stand up for what he believes occasionally in “In Stillness, Music.” And Dave Gross shows us that regardless of any physical imperfections, we shall overcome the odds in “Crippled Avengers.”

Scott Lynch’s story really sets the tone for the whole collection with a “Snatch the pebble from my hand” approach to life. It starts in a saloon and ends in one heck of a knock-down, drag-out fight, but between the two is… an enlightened approach to life. A fighter, False Note, saves another man, Stray, from certain doom after he accuses another man of cheating at cards. False Note takes Stray under his wing to teach him a “pursuit of excellence in all things.” or as False Note Puts it “Presence of mind and devotion to craft.” This Zen mindfulness is applied to everything from making tea to making sure that your weapon is ready when you need it.

As I read this story I told my eldest daughter that she needs to read it. (Definitely not the only one I’ll have her read in the collection.) There are life lessons to be learned here. Take the time to do things right the first time because you never know if you’re going to get a second chance. And if you get a second chance, make damned sure you don’t make the same mistakes twice. It’s taken me half my life to learn some of these lessons and I hope Lynch’s story can set my daughter on the right path to help her avoid making some of the mistakes I made along the way. (She’ll make her own, but hopefully she can learn from other people’s mistakes also.)

The very next story in the collection is “In Stillness, Music” by Aaron Rosenberg. This one focuses on a messenger – Melodious Flight, a member of the Wandering Stars. Apparently the Wandering Stars are a monastic group or brotherhood trained as neutral messengers who avoid getting involved in the “everyday affairs of other men.” But this particular assignment leads him to an important crossroads. Should he save a poor village of farmers from being murdered in their sleep by an unscrupulous warlord trying to make some coin selling cattle?

This story reminded me a bit of a Spaghetti Western-style tale with a stranger saving the day combined with a bit of the tight combat in House of Flying Daggers. One man doing the right thing against a collection of assassins despite any potential personal cost… A matter of honor reflected by deeds, not words. I wish more of our modern day “heroes” would use this approach!

And lastly is the final story in the collection – “Crippled Avengers” by Dave Gross. This is a story about empowering oneself to move past your limitations to accomplish something greater than yourself. Pei Pei was a slave working to uncover a weapon for her master. When she fights back against her “handlers” and kicks one of them to the ground she isn’t killed, but is instead left half-on, half-off the train tracks where the train will make sure she doesn’t kick anyone again… Somehow she survives, but barely, and finds her way to a village of others tortured in similar ways. Not only does our heroine recover from the incident, but finds a new purpose with her new companions. Does she seek revenge or does she simply try to free the other slaves before it’s too late?

These are just three of the stories in this collection – and all twelve offer a unique glimpse into the world we’ll get to explore in the Into the Far West roleplaying game. I thoroughly enjoyed every story in this book and hope it isn’t the only anthology of stories we see from Adamant Entertainment – I would love to read more from these authors or others who can spin a good tale.

You can pick up Tales from the Far West at the IntoTheFarWest.com store, DriveThruFiction as well as the Amazon Kindle store.

And be sure to keep an eye on IntoTheFarWest.com for the latest on the Into the West roleplaying game!

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