Fishing for Dinosaurs and Other Stories, Joe R. Lansdale (Subterranean Press 978-15960-6993-0, $40.00, 384pp, tp) November 2020. Cover by Timothy Truman.
“It’s no secret that I like to write stories in a variety of genres, and my favorite of those is the Lansdale genre.” That’s the opening line of the introduction Joe Lansdale penned for his own Fishing for Dinosaurs and Other Stories, and it gets to the heart of what makes this collection so great. Lansdale sounds like Lansdale, and that applies whether he’s writing horror, crime, thrillers, weird westerns, or science fiction.
Fishing for Dinosaurs is not exactly a collection of stories; it’s mostly a collection of previously published novellas, with one original. It kicks things off with “Black Hat Jack: The True Life Adventures of Deadwood Dick, as told by His Ownself”, an action-packed narrative that chronicles the adventures of Nat Love, an African- American gunslinger known as Deadwood Dick. It’s a Western, but it’s a Lansdale Western, and that means that the action and humor are there, but also the commentary. Here Deadwood Dick sets the record straight on a variety of events that have been told incorrectly in other places.
“Fishing for Dinosaurs” delivers on the promises made by its title. A man desperate for a job accepts an opportunity offered by people who know too much about his past and personal life, and the journey that ensues eventually takes him to a strange world under the South Pole, an endangered place full of people and creatures that could endanger the outside world:
That the ice caps were melting from Global Climate Change was obvious, but the worry for Cranston and his Secret Rulers was that the world beneath our world would be revealed. Why that was their worry, I couldn’t say. But, you see, the water-going dinosaur likes to eat people. It was envisioned that it might swim through the newly acquired waterways because of the ice melting and find its way to warmer waters and make its way to our civilization. Then, much like an old Japanese monster movie, start tearing down cities and eating fleeing citizens, stomping pedestrians, and receiving an air strike.
“The Ape Man’s Brother”, the third novella collected here, moves away from the underground mayhem of its predecessor, but presents another hidden world as it tells the story of a Tarzan-like figure that was raised in a mysterious, dangerous world under a constant mist after he became an orphan due to a plane crash. When some explorers discover him and bring him to civilization, his life changes and he ends up making movies and learning to live as a normal person, but then he does something that brings his new life crashing down, and the fact that his ape brothers have gotten used to the pampered life doesn’t help. The ape-man returns to his world under the mist, where he faces a formidable foe. Obviously an ape-man, his ape sibling, and jungle antics weren’t enough, so Lansdale packed this fun, pulpy tale with everything from dinosaurs to a tip of the hat to Edgar Rice Burroughs.
“Prisoner 489” is another Lansdale tale I’d been wanting to read, but the original illustrated edition was out of my budget. Unlike the first three novellas, this is pure horror. On an island with a prison for the world’s worst criminals, a big man is finally put to death via electric chair after many attempts. After he’s buried with just “489” on his grave’s marker, a horrible storm hits and a prison staff member goes missing. While looking for him, they find that 489’s grave has been unearthed, and the body is missing. In the ensuing mayhem, everyone will have to fight for their lives.
Lastly, “Sixty-eight Barrels on Treasure Lake”, a new novella, closes the collection. While everything else here is full of science fiction, pulp, and horror mayhem, this is perhaps the perfect closer because it shows Lansdale not only still has it but is in fact still getting better. This novella follows a young boy who inherits a mining town saloon when his father dies. Lost in the aftermath, he sets out to look for gold in the company of a beautiful young lady and some dangerous bank robbers. In typical Lansdale fashion, the pacing is great and the humor is as dark as it is effective. This line is a perfect example: “The rest of the night I was as nervous as a female goat in a miner’s hut.”
Fishing for Dinosaurs is a must for Lansdale fans, and not only because it contains some great previous work and a new novella. While those make this a must-read, this edition also has introductions by Robin Hobb, Poppy Z. Brite, Richard Chizmar, David J. Schow, and Norman Partridge. Fans will love to have so many great stories collected in a single tome, and those who are new to Lansdale’s world have here a perfect introduction to his wild range and unique voice.
Gabino Iglesias is a writer, journalist, professor, and book reviewer living in Austin TX. He is the author of Zero Saints and Coyote Songs and the editor of Both Sides. His work has been nominated to the Bram Stoker and Locus Awards and won the Wonderland Book Award for Best Novel in 2019. His short stories have appeared in a plethora of anthologies and his non-fiction has appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and CrimeReads. His work has been published in five languages, optioned for film, and praised by authors as diverse as Roxane Gay, David Joy, Jerry Stahl, and Meg Gardiner. His reviews appear regularly in places like NPR, Publishers Weekly, the San Francisco Chronicle, Criminal Element, Mystery Tribune, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and other print and online venues. He’s been a juror for the Shirley Jackson Awards twice and has judged the PANK Big Book Contest, the Splatterpunk Awards, and the Newfound Prose Prize. He teaches creative writing at Southern New Hampshire University’s online MFA program. You can find him on Twitter at @Gabino_Iglesias.
This review and more like it in the May 2021 issue of Locus.
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