Wednesday, January 1, 2014

King of the Gunmen by L. Ron Hubbard

Quite often we tend to categorize writers by some convenient label, usually something associated with their public image. For example, Hemingway was a boozer and hunter; L. Ron Hubbard was a science fiction writer. The labels are an easy way to compartmentalize trivia. It’s true that Hemingway enjoyed booze and hunting, just as it’s true that L. Ron Hubbard wrote science fiction. But such labels are also misleading because they only touch upon a minute fraction of the writer’s life; and L. Ron Hubbard wrote more westerns than he did science fiction. When Galaxy Press began reprinting Hubbard’s fiction in 2008 I had read many of Hubbard’s books, and they were predominantly science fiction or fantasy. Works like Ole Doc Methuselah, To the Stars, The Slaves of Sleep and The Master’s of Sleep. These books are now acknowledged classics of the genre. Since that time the demand for classic pulp fiction has grown exponentially, and for the first time since their publication, Hubbard’s westerns are available again. The evidence of Hubbard’s enormous talent is visible in King of the Gunmen, a 1938 story from the pages of Western Yarns. Kit Gordon, who is know by various nicknames such as “Suicide,” “Smoke” or “Sudden Death,” changes his identity after being falsely accused of murder. Teaming up with sheriff Rainbow Jackson under an assumed name, Kit joins Jackson in the sheriff’s attempt at ridding Yancy County of bad-asses like Kettle-Belly Plummer who had framed Kit Gordon to begin with. The best pulp writers always found a way to create memorable images with a few, terse words and Hubbard was no exception. Kit Gordon isn’t just fast with a gun; Hubbard makes him nearly superhuman: “No man had seen Gordon’s hands move. But the guns were there, smoke drooling from their muzzles.” (p.53) King of the Gunmen is a brisk and fun story to read. This volume includes a bonus story, The No-Gun Gunhawk, equally as entertaining and presented in the same short but swift style, and with a dash of homespun romance. All of this paperback pulp entertainment cost me a mere $9.95! L. Ron Hubbard wrote some great science fiction, but his westerns are great too! Saddle up with these joyful western romps from the Golden Age of pulp fiction.

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