The Long Past and Other Stories by Ginn Hale (2017)

LongPastCover blurb

1858 – Warring mages open up a vast inland sea that splits the United States in two. With the floodwaters come creatures from a long distant past. What seems like the End Times forges a new era of heroes and heroines who challenge tradition, law, and even death as they transform the old west into a new world.

* In the heart of dinosaur country a laconic trapper and a veteran mage risk treason to undertake a secret mission.

* A brilliant magician and her beautiful assistant light up stages with the latest automaton, but the secrets both of them are hiding test their trust in each other and pit them against one of the most powerful men in the world.

* At the wild edge of the Inland Sea, amidst crocodiles and triceratops, an impoverished young man and a Pinkerton Detective must join forces to outmaneuver a corrupt judge and his gunmen.

My thoughts

The Long Past and Other Stories is a collection of three stories best described as Weird West or gaslight fantasy. The setting is a very different 19th century United States from the one we know, filled with magic and the obligatory parallel universe airships. Dinosaurs are also common because of the misuse of the mystical arts. The anthology was written by Ginn Hale and released by Blind Eye Books, a small publisher specializing in genre fiction featuring LGBT protagonists. The Long Past probably won’t get as much publicity as some of the mainstream works I’ve reviewed here, and that would be a shame because it’s a fun read.

The title story opens in 1858, a few years after a magical war between Western powers and imperial China ripped open the fabric of time, causing prehistoric oceans to flood the present world. Much of the southern U.S. has been lost to the rising waters and an inland sea separates the eastern and western halves of the North American continent. The world is in shambles, but the disaster has had the dual benefits of ending African American slavery and stopping the persecution of Native Americans. Grover is a black trapper living in the Rocky Mountains just as the Eastern U.S. is re-establishing contact with the Western states following the floods. (You will be forgiven if you keep picturing the Sesame Street character, as I did.) Unfortunately some people in the still-functioning U.S. government want to resume killing Indians and re-enslave the black population, so Grover teams up with his former lover to stop their plans.

“The Long Past” is the longest story in the collection and the one most prominently featuring dinosaurs. The two other stories are set roughly 35 years after the first. “The Hollow History of Professor Perfectus” is the shortest tale and concerns the search for a missing woman during the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago. “Get Lucky” is about a young man who is reunited with his bounty hunter lover as a group of villains chase them along the shores of the inland sea.

“The Long Past” is the strongest story, in part because its length gives Hale more time to fully develop the backstory and characters. Readers also get to tour much of the transmogrified American West, which grows stranger and more prehistoric the closer the protagonists draw to their destination. “The Hollow History of Professor Perfectus” is fine, but I think the story would have worked better as a straight-up mystery rather than the revenge tale it becomes. “Get Lucky” is a good adventure story, but Hale adds a prologue and epilogue that were not needed.

I could go on nitpicking, but the fact is I was pleasantly surprised by The Long Past and Other Stories. I usually wade into small-press titles with trepidation given I’ve read some truly terrible works over the years. I’m happy to report that is not the case here, with Hale creating an interesting setting to stage fantasy adventures. The story collection may not satisfy people wanting dinosaurs to be front and center as the prehistoric animals are mainly just background elements in a larger world, but if that isn’t a sticking point and you’re in the mood for enjoyable escapist fiction, give the book a try.

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