Thu 3 Jan 2013
MURRAY LEINSTER – Outlaw Guns. Star Books #3, digest paperback, abridged, 1950. Previously published as Wanted–Dead or Alive!, Quarter Books #25, digest paperback original, 1949. First serialized under the latter title in Triple-X Magazine, February-May 1929.
Outlaw Guns is a popular rallying cry in some circles these days, but it’s also the title of a rather odd western by that prolific and very talented hack Murray Leinster (Will F. Jenkins.) Leinster is probably best remembered for his enjoyable sci-fi, but he also did a number of westerns, generally as much fun to read as his other stuff. Outlaw Guns is a solid western, but I was struck by the motifs it shares with the sci-fi.
The story starts ordinarily enough, with rancher Buck Galway getting shot out of his saddle by owlhoot or owlhoots unknown, and his brother Slim leaving the Wild West Show and coming home to square things. But on the train into his home town, Slim comes close to getting killed by a man hired for that purpose, and when he hits town he discovers another man posing as him while he is suddenly known as outlaw Snatch Gillian, wanted for murder, robbery, cattle rustlin’, hoss thievin’ and who knows what all.
This theme of lost identity recurs in Leinster’s sci-fi, as does the notion of a community cut off from the rest of civilization (it quickly develops that the bad guys have bottled up the roads into town and are controlling the telegraph) and the portents of something big and bad taking place in secret — we soon get glimpses of some kind of secret lab set up in a hidden valley, populated by odd-looking denizens who have terrified the good folks in those parts into ominous silence — that’s yet another vibe from his tales of Space Aliens and creepy invasions.
This ain’t sci-fi though, it’s Western, and a crackling good thing, filled with chases, shoot-outs, fist-fights and a surprising sense of humor, as when Slim is nearly run down by a posse and finds himself rescued by a bunch of squatters who have decided to turn outlaw, and since they don’t know anything about the business, they figure to learn the trade from the notorious Snatch Gillian. The passages where Slim pretends to be the ornery varmint they think he is — and they follow his orders with a devotion bordering on hero-worship — have an understated hilarity to have to read to appreciate. And I recommend you do.