Once again I listen to a genre I never thought I would even look for, Westerns. These audiobooks by Galaxy Audio have a little extra oomph that keep me coming back. Galaxy Audio have been re-releasing the early works of L. Ron Hubbard, specifically his stories that were originally published in the pulp fiction magazines of the mid-20th century. Galaxy Press and Galaxy Audio have taken extra care to keep that pulp fiction feel of these stories. Many of the short stories fit 2 or 3 per audio book but some are short novellas that fill a Galaxy Press pulp or a Galaxy Audio audio pulp. With the audio books you feel as though you are listening to an old radio drama from around the same time period.
This book contains two stories from the pulps by Hubbard; “The Baron of Coyote River,” originally published published in “All Western” in September 1936 and “The Reign of the Gila Monster,” originally published in “Western Aces” in September 1937. Both of these stories are fun westerns that contain the little Hubbard twists that keep the listener / reader on the edge of their seats or anxious to turn the page to find out what happens next.
What gives these audio books the radio drama sound is a combination of the excellent voice acting, the realistic sound effects and exclusively written music. During the stampede scene in the first story you feel as though you have been thrown on a horse and thrown in the middle of the story, the sound effects were very well done. The casts for all these stories always create characters that are fun to hear and Jim Meskimen narrates the stories with such professionalism the listener just slides into the story. In the second story of this book the narrator is not Meskimen but they have placed in his place (hard shoes to fill) the actor Bruce Boxleitner (Babylon 5, The Scarecrow & Mrs. King). Boxleitner does a superb job as guest narrator, giving the listener the feel of sitting around a campfire hearing the tale.
Before I get into the separate stories I feel I need to express something. Many people’s first response when seeing Hubbard’s name is to immediately have some remark about Scientology. But what needs to be remembered or learned is that before that Hubbard was a master storyteller. These Golden Age stories prove that point in that they are all fantastic and fun short stories that within just a few pages create such enthralling characters and settings. So before you have anything to say about the religion aspect of Hubbard’s life, put that out of your mind and just listen to or read a great story.
The first story is the title story, “The Baron of Coyote River.” Lance Gordon is an outlaw that is wanted for killing a deputy marshall, but when he arrives in Santos in the territory of Arizona, he ends up working for the other side of the law. It is well known around Santos, that the Baron is a cattle thief and that he hires only the best gunmen to protect his ill gotten cattle. Even the cavalry won’t ride into his territory. A local gunman and former cattleman rescues Lance as the sheriff attempts to haul him off to jail. The reason being is the stranger sees in Lance a chance to get his beloved cows back. At this point I have to tell you Hubbard can throw humor into a story that will surprise you. In this story the humor comes from the strangers affection toward his cows, each time he would describe his stolen cows I found myself laughing out loud, yep, I LOL’d. Anyway, back to the story. The stranger and Lance infiltrate the Baron’s land and set out to stop this man who is making a mockery of the Territory of Arizona and keeping it from becoming a state. All the way to the very end you will keep trying to guess what will happen next but the end will still surprise you.
The second story, “The Reign of the Gila Monster,” is a very funny western story in which Howdy Johnson has set out to create the roughest, toughest town in the west, Powderville. As he gets the town rolling, he leaves to recruit the cowboys that are herding their stock to Chicago to stop in Powderville, thus giving the cowboys a rest on the way and creating an economic boon for the town. While he is a way a man named Gilman (the Gila Monster) comes to town and seems to be rougher and tougher than the town itself, makes himself the Marshall and imposes taxes on everything possible and even the impossible. When Howdy hears of this he has to return to the town to take back what is his. This story has so many funny moments and great dialogue that it should be read over and over to catch it all. Some of the funniest lines are in the description of Gilman, “His hat … looked bigger than an umbrella.” “He had once stepped on [a] hound dog, and … not even an inch of the animal’s tail was visible.” “He could take a bottle of whiskey in his hand, close his finger, and say, ‘Which one have I got it in?'”
Both great stories that will keep you entertained and help escape whatever you need to escape.