In 2013 at the World Science Fiction Convention, I had the great fortune of meeting Arriane “Tex” Thompson. She was and acquaintance of a friend and she joined a group of us going out to dinner. It took about 15 minutes before she charmed the entire table. When dinner was over, I knew she had a novel being published in 2014 and that I would be reading it. I wasn’t sure what to expect – either I didn’t ask or I had too much to drink and the former was unlikely – but I didn’t expect a western horror fantasy novel. Don’t take the Sci-Fi portion of the convention too literally; the fantasy genre is often lumped in with it. No one in their right minds thinks of A Song of Ice and Fire (which you may think of as Game of Thrones) as Sci-Fi and that was why I was there.
This summer, Tex’s One Night in Sixes was published. Having preordered it, it came with little fanfare in a box with a smile. I had seen the cover on line, but I had not really gauged the entire “westernness” that confronted me. I’m not really a western kind of guy. I can say Zane Gray and Louis L’Amour because I’m observant – I’ve never read anything of theirs. Nor have I read King’s Gunslinger series. My father always loved westerns like “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon”, but I always resisted the nonexistent temptation to watch with him. I have seen “Unforgiven” so I’m not completely clueless. Just mostly. That’s enough from the peanut gallery.
Of course when I hear “Sixes” I immediately thing of one thing. No, not people whose looks are slightly above average, but the Rolling Stones “Tumbling Dice“.
I’m all Sixes and Sevens and Nines
As a craps player, and thank you Dad for teaching me the game and reinforcing its joys, we want sixes and nines. But usually it is sixes and eights or nines and fives or seven and elevens. It is context sensitive (in addition to being fully math/statistics based). I ‘m guessing Mick and Keith don’t roll the bones for money. So while I hoped the novel had a dice based theme, I knew better.
I opened the book and started with minor trepidation. Was she going to brand cattle? Teach us how to use a lasso? Perhaps chuck wagon chili was on the menu. Oh well, I was going to find out. It didn’t matter after a few pages of establishing the western motif, I realized we weren’t in Texas anymore. Almost immediately I was thrust into a new world, where western elements mixed with the unusual. Was this some post-apocalyptic future? Perhaps an alternate universe where the weather and man’s arrogance transformed this part of the world into a heap of dry clay, ready to be molded but unable to maintain any sort of structural integrity. It didn’t matter; the landscape in my mind’s eye provided an ample canvas for the tale to unfold.
We quickly meet Appaloosa Elim and Sil Halfwick. My next thought was this was going to be the literary equivalent of a buddy movie. You know, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby in “The Road to Someplace” or Eddy Murphy and Nick Nolte roaming San Francisco for 48 hours, twice it seems. But again no, the two main characters are not really buddies and they don’t really travel together. Yes, I do have an overactive imagination.
The basic premise of the books is that Elim and Sil travel to the town of Sixes and bad shit happens. Then it gets convoluted and worse shit happens and it continues to go downhill, with unusual characters and their veiled motivations pulled into that downward spiral ever faster. I wondered if Tex listened to too much Nine Inch Nails while writing the book.
If I was 14, this would be where I start to summarize the plot and dissect the characters’ actions and motivation. As an adult, I believe you can do that if you choose to do so. What I do want to focus on is the depth and density of the detailed mythology Tex showers the reader with. There are multiple cultures, languages and motivations that reveal themselves at her pace. There are not any “remember when…” moments. This is a smart book for intelligent readers. The novel rewards both the thoughtful reader and the multiple rereads you will want to do.
She also pays homage and leverages what has been done well in the past. I’m not about to say that One Night in Sixes is a new entry into the big book of Cthulhu mythos, but I definitely saw some influence from Lovecraft. In my world that is always worth 3 bonus points.
Subtitled “Children of the Drought Book One”, this is clearly the first of a series, as the small print proclaims. I’m looking forward to future books, as Tex has a fantastic way with words. Her prose is engaging, descriptive and refreshing. Here are a few examples.
A stab of fear pierced the fog as Elim was hauled up to his feet, and he suddenly understood done. (Page 122)
The darkness opened her eyes, angry white tears tracked down her cheeks, and found him. (Page 214)
But even with his hair half out from its tie and full pockets under his eyes, he knew better than to wait for an invitation to speak. (Page 339)
Why yes, I did take these at random. That’s what makes this such a rewarding read. Her unique style fills the pages, keeping the reader – ok, me – fully in her thrall until she decided she was done with me. Now all I can do is wait for the next book. I’m sure I’m not the first to say this, but you’ll be hearing a lot from her. My book collection is waiting for fancy limited versions that are trademark of beloved books. I’ll make room for hers on a prominent shelf.
On a side note, Tex has called me “the MacGyver of Gastronomy”. Don’t you think you should buy and read her book just for that alone?
Today’s blog brought to you by REM. Boxcars - a carnival of sorts, if you please.