REVIEW: “Salamander Six-Guns” by Martin Cahill

Review of Martin Cahill, “Salamander Six-Guns”, Shimmer 38: Read online. Reviewed by Sarah Grace Liu.

What do you say when a story’s not really your jam, but it’s so well written? In “Salamander Six-Guns” Cahill presents a detailed world, where creatures of the marshes and swamps have received a sentient boost from Momma Scales, a lizard lord (at least, I think that’s how some of the biologics of this world work—humans can also be turned to scale-folk through a bite or an injury). The scale-folk comprise croc-folk, gator-kin, pyth-people, snake-touched, “iggies,” and more. As the Scaled Nation, they are slowly encroaching on the dry lands. The story opens in “Sunblooder’s Stand…the last living border town abutting the Scaled Nation.”

The greatest part of the story is some of the beauty of the lines. Cahill is clearly a writer who is as much in love with the sound of language as the story it tells.

For example:

How does a body run as slow as it can?

Or, the pop, pop, pop of the meter in this line:

We pulled out our pikes and our steel and our guns.

Or the beauty of the opening line:

He descended on the town like a saint sent from Dark Heaven.

What pulled me out of the story, however, was not the overall masterful construct or the lyrical narrative, but the lingo (dark heaven, bright hell, sunblooders, new dark) and the dialogue: “Even Momma didn’t have such a title and you all looked to her like she was Shadow Matron come High Dark to bless!” It felt…disingenuous, affected. It felt channeled, like some syntax and diction patched together from various colorful pockets of culture. It felt a little bit like appropriation. I find it hard to describe the fact that I felt a little wrong reading this.

Then again, it’s no small feat to create a completely new culture with their own slang and their own way of speaking, and yet give it a feel of familiarity, the feel of a shootout in the west. To that end, Cahill accomplished a lot. I’m just not the person for this story. I’m sure all of these atmospheric touches and details make the story great romping fun for the right reader. There are some GREAT lines in here, and despite myself, I did become thoroughly engrossed in the story.