Review: Fishing for Dinosaurs by Joe R. Lansdale

cover of Fishing for Dinosaurs by Joe R. LansdaleFishing for Dinosaurs by Joe R. Lansdale
Subterranean Press (November 2020)
378 pages; $40 limited edition hardcover; $6.99 e-book
Reviewed by Blu Gilliand

In his introduction to this, his latest collection, Joe R. Lansdale writes, “It’s no secret that I like to write a variety of stories in a variety of genres, and my favorite of those is the Lansdale genre.”

Lansdale goes on to explain what that genre is, but all you really need to do to understand the “Lansdale genre” is to read the stories that follow the introduction. Reading these stories is like taking a peek into Lansdale’s mind, a one-of-a-kind universe where cowboys fire six-shooters at Tyrannosaurus Rexes; where apes don space helmets and fly to the moon; where one-eyed space aliens tend bar in an old mining town saloon.

(These are not actual scenes from the book, by the way. I don’t want any of you writing angry letters to Joe Lansdale (or to me, for that matter) asking why there were no one-eyed aliens tending saloon bars in Fishing for Dinosaurs. It’s just my attempt to explain that Lansdale does not abide by boundaries when it comes to writing his stories.)

Lansdale writes that this collection contains some of his favorite stories — it contains some of mine, too. For starters, we get a Nat Love story, “Black Hat Jack.” Nat Love is the subject of Landsale’s Western novel Paradise Sky, and if you haven’t read that then read “Black Hat Jack” and you’ll probably want to. This story is about a group of hunters trapped in an Adobe hut by some extremely upset Comanches, and it’s filled with the kind of sharp dialogue, dark humor, and tension that only Lansdale can muster.

Bringing the collection to a close is “Sixty-Eight Barrels on Treasure Lake.” It’s the perfect closer for this collection, because it also encapsulates what “the Lansdale genre” is all about. The story begins as a traditional Western, as some outlaws gather to retrieve some hidden treasure. Distrust is strong in this group of thieves, but the promise of wealth drives them forward. Once they reach their destination — a hidden lake in a lush valley — they proceed with the difficult job of retrieving their treasure. Complications ensue when a group of hairy, hungry creatures descend on the group, forcing them to try and find enough trust to enable them to work together to survive. The shift from “Western outlaw tale” to “horror survivor tale” would be jarring in the hands of most, but Lansdale smoothly blends the tropes into something unique and captivating.

Between the bookends of “Black Hat Jack” and “Sixty-Eight Barrels on Treasure Lake” lie tales of undead criminals, ape men, and shadowy government organizations. As an added bonus, each story is introduced by a Lansdale peer/fan, including David J. Schow, Poppy Z. Brite, and our own Richard Chizmar.

I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing a number of Joe Lansdale books over the years, and Fishing for Dinosaurs sits right up there as a collection that perfectly encapsulates the kind of writer Lansdale is: fresh, original, and always reliable. The “Lansdale genre” is maybe my favorite genre of all, making this collection a must-have. Highly recommended.

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