Cross Plains Universe

Posted by : atcampbell | On : January 9, 2007

Cross Plains Universe edited by Scott A. Cupp & Joe R. Lansdale

Six people gathered at Charles and Willie’s home for this meeting. Our topic was Cross Plains Universe, an anthology of stories that honor the work of Robert E. Howard. All of the authors in the book are Texans. The book was co-published by FACT and Monkeybrain and released at the 2006 World Fantasy Convention in Austin. All of us had read Robert E. Howard before, and most had read at least some of the authors whose work appears here.

The stories in the book mostly fell into a few categories: Heroic Fantasy, Westerns, and stories featuring Robert E. Howard himself. We were surprised that there were no stories about boxers or sailors, who were featured prominently in Howard’s fiction.

Three stories by relatively little-known authors were mentioned favorably by everyone at the meeting. “A Penny a Word” by Rick Klaw and Paul O. Miles is a clever secret history about the publishers of Howard’s work. “The Toughest Jew in the West” by Lawrence Person intricately weaves diverse elements including Western fiction, martial arts, golems, and religion into a wonderful and humorous whole. Melissa Mia Hall’s “The Sea of Grass on the Day of Wings,” a beautifully-written tale of Robert E. Howard’s last day on Earth, would not surprise us if nominated for a major award.

We liked several other stories. Jayme Lynn Blaschke’s “Prince Koindrindra Escapes” is a fun twist on King Kong, with perhaps the most tenuous connection to the anthology’s theme. “The Jewel of Leystall” by Chris Roberson feels like an authentic REH-style fantasy adventure. We had fun with Jessica Reisman’s young adult fantasy “Two Hearts in Zamora.” Chris Nakashima-Brown’s “The Bunker of the Tikriti” is a clever and effective modern-day retelling of REH’s classic “Tower of the Elephant.” “Boomtown Bandits” by L. J. Washburn is a fun mystery set in Cross Plains, where Robert E. Howard himself gets to play detective.

Some of the better stories in the book were written by well-established writers. Neal Barrett, Jr.’s “The Heart” is a wondrous Texas tall tale that ranks among his best work. Scott A. Cupp’s “One Fang” is a delightful and well-told Western horror story. And Michael Moorcock’s “The Roaming Forest” is an imaginative heroic fantasy that reads like a great lost REH story.

Every story in the book had its admirers. We felt this was a strong anthology, and we offer kudos to the editors for their hard work and good taste.

At the end of the meeting, two people who had not read the book arrived to join us for dinner. We had a nice meal at Hyde Park Grill South.

— A. T. Campbell, III