Friday, November 29, 2013

FFB: WILD RIDERS by Lee Hoffman (Signet, 1969)

Shirley "Lee" Hoffman first made a public name for herself as one of the wittier and more multiply-engaged (with other aspects of the world) science-fiction fans who published fanzines in the early 1950s, those whose interests strayed from exclusive attention to the fiction (and related matter) to various subjects including the self-conscious fannish community itself...her magazines Quandry and Science Fiction Five-Yearly, particularly the former, were among the first "faanzines" (as one's interests drifted further away from fantastic fiction, one added more As to the variations on faannish activity...out of such ferment, the first comics, rock/punk, and some other sorts of fanzines were born, not least Hoffman's own folk-music fanzines Caravan and then Gardyloo, in the latter 1950s). Leading up to and during her marriage to editor Larry Shaw, she served as assistant editor of Infinity Science Fiction and its stablemate, Science Fiction Adventures. But when she began writing professionally in the latter '60s, the field she found herself contributing to most plentifully (along with writing some fantasy, sf and [under a pseudonym] romance fiction) was the field of westerns. Her fourth published western novel, The Valdez Horses, won the Western Writers of America Golden Spur for best novel of 1967, and was filmed in Spain under direction of John Sturges (and released under several titles, including the novel's and Chino). Today's book is her eighth western novel, Wild Riders, which, while good, is still the weakest of the Hoffman
Lee Hoffman & fellow writer Wilson Tucker, 1950s
westerns I've read and shows some haste in composition that says to me she didn't get a chance to write the next draft she meant to...at least one phrase is repeated verbatim, in describing the relation of two brothers, about twenty pages apart, and Thog comes to mind a bit in the early sentence: 


"Brade," she said slowly.

Even given that Hoffman is writing of Missourians and is herself from the deep South, there are only so many ways one syllable can be slowed down, as opposed to spoken with apparent hesitation or reluctance. Brade is our protagonist, a former "bushwhacker" in Missouri and more bloodily in Kansas during the Civil War, one of Quantrill's Raiders, who finds himself chafing at the restrictions he and other Secesh veterans and sympathizers are facing in the postwar, somewhat carpetbagged state. Not long after returning to his small farm, only to find the buildings torched and a noose left hanging in further threat from a tree in the yard, Caudell Bradenton finds himself joining up with a small unit of fellow former Confederates to rob banks in hopes of funding some bribery and campaigns to dislodge the anti-Rebel politicians in the state legislature and at least one of their US Senate seats, and more to the point lift the restrictions on anyone who held any Southern sentiments in the past war. He also discovers that his neighbors' daughter, formerly a child he'd watched out for some in his young adulthood, being nearly twenty years older than she, is approaching legal majority and has her mind set on settling with him. And thus begin his problems, and what turns out to be not only a hardboiled western, somewhat moreso than most of Hoffman's, but also an actual mystery in structure, with questions of purpose and identity held till the closing pages. Also, a formal duel in a western context that might remind one of The Big Country, only with less convenient breakdown of Good Man vs. Bad Man; odd how much of the novel reminded me of, of all things, Ron Scheer's choice of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn for his book this week...some subset of what's dealt with in that landmark is echoed here...though not as profoundly, disappointingly light on the resonance for a Hoffman novel. Though she does slip in no little of her knowledge of the folk music of that era, and even more authentic-reading passages on firearms (and I wonder if the character in the novel named Goforth is a "Tuckerization" of infrequent writer Laura Goforth)...her attention to equine detail also seems more than solid, as Hoffman had famously withdrawn from active fannish/faanish activity in the sf community, at least for a while, by "walking around a horse" and growing very thoroughly involved in equestrian matters (later, she would briefly be on the edge of professionalism in auto racing at about the same time, though not the same place, my parents were, in the early '60s).

Lee Hoffman, 1988
All told, I'd begin with Hoffman's westerns with The Valdez Horses or Trouble Valley or her last western novel, The Land Killer (1978), but you'll have a good time with this one, as well, even if even the shape of it calls out for another draft (the conclusion is simply way too rushed, once arrived at in this slim novel). But, then again, the same was true of Finn...

For more of today's books, please see Patti Abbott's blog.







5 comments:

Bill Crider said...

Great pick. Hoffman wrote some dandy westerns, and it's a shame she's pretty much forgotten. I haven't read any of the SF, but I do have couple. So one of these days, . . .

Todd Mason said...

Thanks, Bill...I still need to read the sf and fantasy novels, and the historical romances, as well, though certainly "Soundless Evening" (Hoffman's short story in AGAIN, DANGEROUS VISIONS) becomes even more memorable as I find myself the keeper for four cats, now....

Ron Scheer said...

Thanks, Todd, for introducing me to this writer. Hoping I can find one of the titles you mention. I want to review more westerns by women writers, who keep slipping under the radar whether writing a half century ago or today.

Todd Mason said...

Your welcome, Ron, and thanks. You shouldn't have any trouble finding at least a few library holdings and inexpensive secondhand copies of the novels, though all of them might be a bit trickier. (Most were pretty well distributed in their various editions, however.)

George said...

I have some Lee Hoffman westerns but haven't read them yet. Nice review!