Friday, November 20, 2009

Six-Gun Caballero by L. Ron Hubbard (unabridged Western audio book)

L. Ron Hubbard is probably best known as the founder of Scientology and creator of Dianetics, but his fiction has been popular for decades. His science-fiction epic Battlefield Earth was a worldwide bestseller, as were all ten volumes of his Mission Earth series.

These days, however, his name is largely connected with the antics of the some of the more (shall we say?) "outspoken" members of the religion, overshadowing the fact that the man really knew how to tell an entertaining story. Now Galaxy Press, founded to promote Hubbard's fictional output, are focusing on the author's early work for the pulp magazines of the 1930s and '40s, reprinting all 150 of the stories he wrote during those years.

Pulp fiction fans rejoice, because there's a "new" voice on the block that deserves to be noticed. I'm a big fan of Westerns and audiobooks, but sadly, Western audiobooks are increasingly hard to come by these days. Plus, when you can find them, they're expensive. So, when I learned that the Stories from the Golden Age series was simultaneously being released in paperback and audio — with both versions at the same price — I knew I would have to try them out, despite any preconceived notions I had about the author.

The recordings I've tried so far are just terrific. They are a professionally produced combination of traditional narrated audiobooks (with narration deftly handled by R.F. Daley) and old-time radio, with actors playing the characters (often multiple roles) and genre-specific music and sound effects rounding out the experience.

Six-Gun Caballero was originally published in Western Story Magazine's March 12, 1938, issue. Michael Patrick Obañon inherited 100,000 acres of land from his father, Irishman Tim Obañ. Recently, the Gadsden Purchase has turned this Mexican property over to U.S. ownership, and all such property has been deemed open for settlement.

Tim's old friend, Judge Klarner, attempts to advice don Michael to refile his claim with the U.S. government, but he gets there just before the arrival of a gang set on taking the land and everything on it. When they mistake Don Michael for a "greaser" ranchhand and offer him new employment, he accepts and takes the opportunity to infiltrate. Because Michael Patrick Obañon is not about to let the renegados commandeer his father's legacy, but he'd rather use his wits than his silver-inlaid pistol any day; it's more fun that way.

Director Jim Meskimen's performance as don Michael grounds the whole cast's performance with its subtlety. He embraces the charm and humor of the character, adding more than could be projected merely on the printed page. Meskimen's relatively low-key acting leaves Shaun Duke free to chew up and spit out the microphone in his wonderfully over-the-top, villainous turn as Charlie Pearson. The rest of the cast, R.F. Daley and Tait Ruppert, is equally talented. (All the roles are played by just four people, and you'd never know it.)

Hubbard uses the traditional Western form to tell a challenging and unpredictable story, where the hero outwits his attackers instead of merely having to outshoot them. In doing so, he also puts the spotlight on the consequences of a well-known historical event: one seen as positive on the one side but obviously not fair to everyone involved. But Six-Gun Caballero is so intelligent and suspenseful that you'll not really notice the historical subtext until it's over.

I'm really excited about sampling more of the Stories from the Golden Age series of pulp tales. I think you'd agree that anything that gets somebody actually excited about fiction these days is worth a look. And Six-Gun Caballero is a great place to start: it's not only an exciting story, but it also takes a nontraditional approach to the hero, something that is even today a pleasant surprise in Western fiction.


David Cranmer said...

I read a L. Ron western a few months back and enjoyed it a great deal. And the quality of these re-issues are superb. Of course, we are probably supporting a certain church.

Evan Lewis said...

Sounds like a great project. I get what western audiobooks I can from the library or InterLibrary Loan, but way too few are being produced.

KentAllard said...

Before he went either bonkers or mendacious (depending on your POV), Hubbard could indeed tell a story.

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