John Joseph Adams is the series editor of Best American Science Fiction & Fantasy, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. He is also the bestselling editor of many other anthologies, such as The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination, Armored, Brave New Worlds, Wastelands, and The Living Dead. Recent books include The Apocalypse Triptych (consisting of The End is Nigh, The End is Now, and The End Has Come), Robot Uprisings (co-edited with Daniel H. Wilson), and Dead Man’s Hand. He has been nominated for eight Hugo Awards and five World Fantasy Awards, and he has been called “the reigning king of the anthology world” by Barnes & Noble. John is also the editor and publisher of the digital magazines Lightspeed and Nightmare, and is a producer for WIRED’s The Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. Find him on Twitter as @JohnJosephAdams.
His new anthology, DEAD MAN’S HAND: AN ANTHOLOGY OF THE WEIRD WEST, just came out, and he kindly stopped by to chat about it!
Kristin Centorcelli: Congrats on your new collection, DEAD MAN’S HAND! Will you tell us a little about it and what you think sets it apart from other anthologies?
John Joseph Adams: It’s an anthology of “weird western” stories. Not to be confused with “space westerns” like Firefly, weird westerns generally take place right here on Earth, only the world we all know and love is just a little bit different: Like clockwork cowboys roam the frontier. Or 49ers head to California to mine for mana instead of gold. Or airships patrol the skies. In other words: weird westerns are stories of the Old West infused with elements of science fiction, fantasy, or horror, and often with a little counterfactual twist thrown into the mix for good measure.
The phrase “dead man’s hand” refers to the poker hand held by the gunfighter Wild Bill Hickok when, in 1876, he was shot and killed by the coward Jack McCall. There’s little doubt that Hickok was playing cards at the time of his death, but what Wild Bill was actually holding seems to be open to some debate. Legend has it that Hickok’s hand was comprised of black aces and eights (with the fifth card a mystery), but in some accounts it’s jacks and tens, or other variations. I suppose the only way we could ever know for sure would be to ask the man himself by reanimating his corpse or traveling back in time… both of which are the kinds of things that can happen in the “weird western” tale.