Analysis, inspiration, Reading, Reviews

Shooting Iron

TLDR: Shooting Iron is an awesome, gorey, badass, new twist on some western tropes. It can be found here and this story alone is worth the price of admission.

This post is going to be equal parts review of an awesome short story and lessons that I learned about writing from reading it.

I’ve complained about Fantasy and Science Fiction magazine‘s stories before and on the one hand, Shooting Iron is everything that annoys me about the stories they publish. The first dozen pages of this forty page story are mystery upon mystery upon mystery.

Where is this person going? Why? Why is this character so quirky about wild west tropes? Who’s trying to kill them? Why? What’s up with the seemingly unrelated interludes of a plane crash in the desert?

Can a reader get a little bit more stable ground to stand on?

There are many ways for authors to engage readers. “What’s the explanation?” isn’t the only question that can motivate one to read onward. It’s ok to know the character’s objective and have the questions be, “How will they try to achieve the objective?” and “Will they be successful?”

One point I’m trying to make is “different strokes for different folks”. When my writing critique group gets together we often criticize each other for rules that published authors violate all the time. It’s important to be aware that most criticism is opinion.

You’ve got to listen to your critics and take them seriously, but you also have to write what you enjoy and trust your instincts (not without question, but a little). There are no easy and rigid rules to writing.

Let’s get back to what the story does right, because it’s a badass story. First of all, I’ve got a soft spot for punchy use of language, for a story that wants to be read out loud so the words can flow across the tongue. Some readers might find it too much to use crack, slit, punch, and slip across only two sentences, but not me. I love it.

I like adjectives that push boundaries. You want to use “sacred lead” and “killing ice”, well good sir or madam, then I want to read your story!

The authors (there are two) describe the story thus “It’s a modern day Weird West story that has oodles of violence, some creative swearing, an awesome protagonist, a solid backstory, and some lighthearted giggles amidst the eviscerations” and that’s spot on. The story has an epic flare and a commitment to, and confidence in, its weirdness. It’s got that excellent “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” rhythm that oscillates between quiet moments and sudden bouts of intense violence.

This is the kind of shit Neil Gaiman wishes he could write: gods, demons, gunslingers, and regular British people all thrown together. It’s action, violence, and a hero that Hollywood ought to salivate over.

At least one reviewer criticized the story as feeling incomplete. They’ve got a point there, which is just one more reminder that a story can be imperfect and still excellent. My hope is that the authors are open to writing another installment in the saga of Jenny Lim. I could easily see this being a TV series (not that every story has to eventually end up in that medium). It’s definitely got potential for being an episodic narrative.

In summary, if you like westerns with a modern twist and you’re not too turned off by some violence and gore, Shooting Iron is worth your time.


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