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bear by san

March 2017

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criminal minds gideon and morgan gun

could you be, could you be, squeaky clean? and smash any hope of democracy.

"They met at Charleston and took an oath over blood drawn from the arm of John Ringo, the leader, that they would kill us."

--U.S. Deputy Marshal Virgil Earp

Book Report # 73: Emma Bull, Territory

I honestly think Em is one of the best (if not the best) fantasy writers working in English today, and this book is worthy of her. It's soft-spoken and subtle and relentlessly well-written and well-characterized, replete with some starling and beautiful use of language without ever losing the tone of the times. (Of course, any book with John Henry Holiday, DDS, in it is likely to win my heart as long as he's handled well, as those of you who have read the excerpt from One-Eyed Jack and the Suicide King up at Subterranean have probably figured out by now.**)

Territory is not a book about the Gunfight Down The Block from the O.K. Corral***.

What it is is a painstakingly well-researched historical fantasy that explores many aspects of the American West without foolish romanticization. It manages not to demonize the McLaurys or the Clantons, or hagiographize or demonize the Earps. (Well, okay, Wyatt takes it in the face, but really, it's not undeserved.) Also, Bull gets Doc Holliday in ways I'm not used to seeing in fiction. I got to write the legendary Doc, when I did it. This is the real thing. 

Territory touches on town politics, ranch politics, the uneasy balance between the whites and colored folk and Chinese, the place of women who came West and found (in contravention of modern Libertarian fantasies about what happens to women in frontier societies) that they were freer and more respected for their abilities than they ever had been in the "civilized" east. Bull gives the sentence "You come West to be whoever you say you are,"* to Tombstone Nugget publisher Harry Woods, and that forms a thematic core around which the book revolves.

Because Territory is a book about boundaries, about lines drawn, about owning what you are and what you choose, and about how what you are and what you choose owns you. And its protagonists--Mrs. David Benjamin, Mr. Jesse Fox, and Dr. John Holliday--are all people who are choosing where they will stand and what they will defend, and facing up to what it's going to cost them.

Man, this is good.

I have two quibbles. One is that I have a feeling this is yet another untelegraphed first-half-of-the-story such as publishers currently love to inflict upon us poor easily frustrated readers, as the conclusion of the book (and it does have a conclusion, or at least a hesitating place) drawns of rather short of resolution, so it feels like the end of the first half of a play rather than the complete story. (Having emailed the author and made big eyes at her, I can that my suspicion is correct, and there is more to come.) The other quibble is that it feels as if there are a couple of narrative chunks missing towards the end of this volume--specifically, I wanted two more scenes between Doc and Kate Holliday (best Kate Elder in the history of fiction, by the way); and one more scene with Mrs. Benjamin.

However, I suspect I am not going to read a better novel this year.


*I am paraphrasing, because I did not make note of the page the comment was on

**I am also very fond of a certain short story by Em's husband, Will Shetterly, entitled "Taken He Cannot Be," which involved Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, John Ringo, and a unicorn.

Yep, you read that right the first time.

*** A pretty good levelheaded writeup on the Gunfight here. and Some forensics here.

Comments

I honestly think Em is one of the best (if not the best) fantasy writers working in English today, and this book is worthy of her.

I'm with you all the way.
Unicorn? Any shotguns involved? :)


I will admit to having read the odd book about Doc Holliday, so this sounds a bit intriguing.
Not as such. Bit of Ulysses, though.

It's charming as heck. It's in the Peter Beagle edited "Immortal Unicorn" anthology.

Thanks. :)
Will's had the story online for a while now.

http://shetterly.blogspot.com/2004/09/taken-he-cannot-be.html
Excellent! Thank you.

I have a tendency to corner people and make them read that one.
Yeah, even better! :)

Re: I'm your huckleberry

Oh heck yeah.

Re: I'm your huckleberry

Fine story.

Thanks for always being there Doc.

I still wonder about Unicorn liver.
I have the book on request at the Library. I am really anxious to read it.
Oh, would that it were cool enough for me to be able to read anything more complex than the label on the jar of bath salts!
Because this book is sitting my pile of new books, taunting me with Emma Bull's take on the Matter of Tombstone, and yet I cannot muster the brain cells to read it.

I'd sit and cry out "Waly, waly!" and so on, but it's too hot.
*pets*

Everybody's hot in the book, too, if that helps.
Clearly I'll have to wait until the weather breaks, then. Unless I can find a meat locker to read this in.



It's because you wrote a helluva book, ma'am.
She also described the book I wanted to write, and have so far failed twice to write. But maybe if I read Territory, then go away and become a better writer for another five or ten years, I'll be able to make my book work like yours.
(To clarify, I meant that on a thematic level. Mine has nothing to do with that history.)
Hey, if it helps, it was exactly the book I needed to read. I had to choose between buying it and paying my phonebill, and though I intended to just read it in Barnes & Noble in their exceedingly comfy chairs, well. I'm expecting an angry letter from the phone company any day.
Yeah, the second article is not so great, but it does at least take a crack at showing various versions of the story.
*g* As a Brahe Apologist, I find myself painfully familiar with historical smear campaigns....
One of the Amazon reviews also states that this book is the first of two. But what's there *is* mighty damned fine.
I completely agree. Territory is so incredibly smart, affecting and just good.
Ack, sorry - that wasn't supposed to be a reply.

I was really pleased to hear that it was the first of two, though.
I honestly think Em is one of the best (if not the best) fantasy writers working in English today

Been right there with you since I first picked up Bone Dance.

However, I suspect I am not going to read a better novel this year.

Yeah. Budget being what it is, I have to wait for it to appear in paperback before I can own (and reread) it; am so pleased that the local library had it, though.

And Emma, singing "The Lily of the West" at the signing here? oh. my.
I am ebear's passing moment of extreme envy.