Travel Documents 68: Secondhand Angels

Secondhand Angels

 Eugene W. Cundiff 
Genre: far-future, post apocalyptic, dystopian, weird west, techno-fantasy

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The Dust Cover Copy

Exiles, outlaws, runaways, and traitors – they’re the scum of the earth, but they’re Verlorene’s last hope.

Frontier scavenger Billy Barrows has no love for the cruel Authority that rules the planet Verlorene, though his rebelling has never gone beyond a cross word or two. But when he wakes up in an Authority cell beside one of the regime’s most-wanted outlaws, his only option is to misbehave like never before.

Caught up in infamous outlaw Zane Slade’s daring jail-break, Billy swiftly learns that his misadventures have only begun. Alongside a posse of traitors, mercenaries, and misfits, Billy finds himself on the trail of a legendary treasure from the days before the mysterious Silence left Verlorene all alone in the cold black of space.

Hounded by a brutal Authority Lawbringer and harried by savage raiders, Billy and his newfound band of wayward souls will need all their impressive talents and a little luck besides if they hope to claim the lost treasure of Highwayman’s Rest…

The Deets

The Scene

World building

In the proud tradition of our favorite pulp novels and adventure movies, Secondhand Angels is an energetic romp through a world full of hardscrabble folk trying to make a living, haughty high class types and filthy no-accounts. Of course here the high-class types are genetically modified, the horses photosynthesize, and the no-accounts have much fancier guns, but it still has the feel of worn leather and grit about it, a hint of Louis L’amour in the way the world moves and a twang of the old West in the way it speaks.

Verlorene is a hardscrabble settler’s planet forgotten by Earth, left to fend for itself in the cold of space. The people on it get by as best they can, this new frontier society falling back on many frontier traditions and mainstays. You get by on hard work, and you get to sleep with a drink. The only thing that you live for is the hope for a better tomorrow.

In the tradition of history rhyming rather than repeating, Cundiff has created a world that smacks of post-Alamo Texas, and is yet a creature all its own. It has the same sort of weary honorable dreaming of battles past, frightened scrabblers trying to keep out of the way, wild-eyed dreamers and dregs of society that any place on the edge of civilization creates. This makes it both endearingly familiar and fascinatingly new.

 

The Crowd

Characterization

The characters have the same timeless quality as the world. Fans of Firefly will recognize a kindred sense of ‘could be old west, also totally fits in the future’ to this ragtag band. There’s Billy, the sweet Luke Skywalker character of the crew, and his darling Songbird the wounded small-town angel. There’s Zane, a very Doc Holiday character with an ace and a knife up his sleeve, a quick word to go with his wits and an easy smile. There’s the right honorable warrior of bygone battles still gamely soldiering on, and the dead-eyed gunslinger. But Cundiff has a knack for taking these classic archetypes and retooling them without losing any of their spirit. The General’s magnificent and courtly love now lost is his dearly departed husband. The dead-eyed gunslinger is a woman cyborg. And the damaged dust angel isn’t carrying a sullied virtue, but scars and two malfunctioning cybernetic hands. These touches take the old tropes and resurrects them into a shining new future full of dust, grit, hope, and witty back-talk.

I particularly like the fact that this story doesn’t burden the reader with a lot of exposition. We learn about the General’s lost husband in a commiseration between old friends. We find out about Billy through a few casually dropped remarks. We learn about wars past in conversation, and not the as-you-know-Bob kind. That’s not easy to pull off, but Cundiff has given us breathing characters who hold their cards close to the vest, yet open up if you sit a spell and listen good. (No, I am not going to stop riffing on how cowboys talk in old movies, not for this entire review. :P)

The Lingo

Writing Style

Snappy and energetic, the style takes you on a grand gallop through the Weird West. It’s got a solid, punchy style that holds its own in the genre. My only issue is with the occasional difficulty getting into the patois as a reader, but once you adjust it flows nicely.

Plot

This one has everything for Weird West fans. There’s gun battles. There’s showdowns to protect the town and the people. There’s righteous causes to fight for and rascally bastards to gun down. There’s a corrupt law system to do battle against, and there’s the hardscrabble life itself.
And above all, there is resolve, and the greatness of the human spirit on fire with a cause. The fire can be anything: a love for a friend, a fight for freedom, or a hope for a better day. A song. But the match that sets it off doesn’t matter. The flame of the human soul burns bright.

Overall Rating

A fun and fascinating ride through the Weird West, if you need an good old-fashioned adventure without the outdated baggage this one’s for you!