Earlier this month I realized I hadn’t heard from David B. Riley in a while, and after seeing that his most recent blog post was from December 26 of last year, I searched around to see if he was OK. That’s when I discovered he passed away in January.
I reached out to Julie Campbell, who worked with David on several projects including the magazine Steampunk Trails. She told me that David succumbed to long-running health issues on January 3. His body was cremated and his ashes scattered in the desert. She didn’t know much more. Julie spoke to David shortly before his death and he didn’t mention any illness, so whatever happened occurred suddenly and, let’s hope, without pain.
David was a prolific writer but I knew him best as an editor and anthologist. He was, above all, a champion of weird westerns. He worked almost exclusively in the genre, with some dips into sci-fi.
I’m not sure how he felt about straightforward historical westerns but David could certainly tell you the difference between a sheriff and a marshal. At the same time, he really wanted the weird in weird west. Speculative-fiction markets these days either publish bespoke literature or, more often, have pretensions to do so. David wasn’t so snobby. He loved westerns mashed up with aliens and dinosaurs and lizard people. The more incongruous the ideas, the better.
David published three of my works. The first was a pretty mediocre early effort called “Glorieta Pass;” and the last was an experimental epistolary piece called “Red River,” set in the aftermath of The War of the Worlds. Both appeared in his magazine, Science Fiction Trails.
He also published the horror western “Realgar” in the anthology Low Noon. It’s a favorite of mine and I know it was a favorite of David’s. When he posted a review of my collection The Dead Ride Fast on Amazon, he called out “Realgar” specifically by name. I’ll be forever grateful for his publication and endorsement of that story.
David could be a little ornery — do you expect anything less of a western writer? — but I’ll miss his gonzo energy. The weird west has never had a more enthusiastic contributor and advocate.