The Strange by Nathan Ballingrud
(Titan Books, 2023)
Reviewed by Andy Sawyer
Galaxy magazine used to promote their kind of sf by stating exactly what kind of sf it wasn’t. The example was the “space western” in which “Hoofs drumming, Bat Durston came galloping down through the narrow pass at Eagle Gulch, a tiny gold colony 400 miles north of Tombstone” is simply transcribed into “Jets blasting, Bat Durston came screeching down through the atmosphere of Bbllzznaj, a tiny planet seven billion light years from Sol.” After a few pages, or possibly even paragraphs, it’s quite clear that the Martian colony of New Brunswick, from where 14-year-old Anabelle Crisp sets out to retrieve the recording of her mother’s voice which is among the loot taken when their diner is robbed, is a small town in the American West. The recording is all that she and her father are left with after “the Silence” cuts all contact with Earth. Anabelle “persuades” the shunned spaceship pilot Joe, stranded on Mars, and the outlaw Sally Milkwood to join her and her dishwasher “Engine” Watson to follow the thieves to Dig Town and Peabody Crater where the mineral aptly called “the Strange” is mined. It doesn’t take much time to work out that “Dig Town” is any western mining community, Watson is the trusty Native American servant (though he is programmed with an “English butler” voice and vocabulary), and the “recording” is, say, a picture or memento left by Anabel’s mother who has “gone East” to civilisation and never come back. There is even a sheriff; that staple diet in Westerns, beans; and ambushes and shoot-outs aplenty. There is even a (threatened) hanging.
Review from BSFA Review 21 - Download your copy here.