Rod Walker regrettably knows nothing at all about the Western genre – by the time RW started reading for fun, the Western genre was moribund, and RW’s sole recollection of it is seeing elderly men reading large-print editions of Louis L’Amour novels in the first floor of the local public library. RW did see the TRUE GRIT remake and thought it was pretty good, and he could see how a lot of Western tropes have been applied to the science fiction genre, with the vastness of space standing in for the vastness of the American West, bandits and marshals operating under their own conscience far from any supervising authority.
The book was pretty good! The main character is Walt Ames, a Confederate scout making his way back home to Tennessee after Lee’s surrender in April 1865. Of course, home is kind of a mess, thanks to the war. The Confederate government accidentally told Walt’s family that he died in the war, which meant the farm that Walt would have inherited instead went to his sister and her fiancee. Walt, being a gentlemanly sort of fellow, isn’t about to impoverish his sister, and being an enterprising sort of fellow, decides to seek his fortune out in the expanding west, where there are both opportunities to get rich and end up in a shallow grave. Along the way Walt has to tangle with corrupt soldiers, ruthless riverboat gamblers, vengeful Indians, and merciless bandits.
RW definitely enjoyed the book. It was a fun read, and obviously a lot of research went into it. RW’s only complaint is that Walt is a little too competent and a little too lucky, but, alas, it would be a short book if Walt got shot in the head the first time he fights a bandit. Recommended! There will apparently be sequels, and RW looks forward to reading them.
On a semi-related note, after reading this RW can totally see how the Western genre influenced science fiction. The author could have just as easily have swapped the West for Alpha Centauri and the bandits for space pirates, and it would have been a very similar book.