I first encountered Lou Antonelli at ConDFW in 2009. He either moderated or participated in the more excellent panels that I attended that year. He struck me as a very practical-minded writer who was passionate about what he was doing. His descriptions of some his published stories intrigued me: steam-powered rockets in the Republic of Texas, alternate universes where witches resided in Waxahachie, and the rebuilding of East Texas after a nuclear incident.
Fantastic Texas collects the best of these tales. All are set in Texas and display a unique brand of native Texas charm and sci-fi “weirdness”; which is ironic as Mr. Antonelli is a transplant from Massachusetts. Nevertheless, his stories demonstrate that if he wasn’t born here then he’s definitely assimilated Lone Star culture.
Most of the stories are told in either first-person or in monologue which brings a personal touch to the stories and gives them an immediacy that I enjoyed. These stories are also inherently optimistic; there are dastardly deeds done to be sure, but there is a thread of that can-do Texas determination woven into the fabric of each tale that reassures the reader that no matter what happens the characters will keep moving forward and striving for a better life.
The best demonstration of this quality is the story “Avatar”. in which the residents of the Republic of East Texas have rebuilt as best they can after a nuclear apocalypse and may have discovered a way to resist the sickness caused by fallout–as well as uncovering the tragic secret of an ancient race. This is not the post-apocalyptic world of Mad Max or Gamma World (though I love those works dearly). It is a world where some people have descended into barbarism, but where many have simply picked up what was left and made the best of it. This is as true a picture of human nature as any punk-future setting and just as entertaining.
Like any anthology, its strength and its weakness is variety. Some stories are stronger than others, but there’s not a bad story in the bunch. I particularly enjoyed the aforementioned “Avatar”, “Professor Malakoff’s Amazing Ethereal Telegraph”, and “Body by Fisher”. The former is a nice piece of western steampunk about a carpetbagger with a broken telegraph who encounters a little too much local color. The latter is set in a near future where the staff of a small news outfit deals with a nuclear accident. In “Fisher” Antonelli best captures characters who deal admirably with an adverse situation.
Antonelli is an experienced journalist and is currently the managing editor at the Mt. Pleasant Daily Tribune. This background enhances his writing; the prose is lean and the dialog rings true. The “real” East Texas shines through each and every one of these stories. Anyone looking for weird tales with a decidedly Texan twist should pick up Fantastic Texas.