Young People Read Old SFF

Hong's Bluff

William F. Wu

Young People Read Old SFF

2 May, 2023

This month’s Young People Read Old Hugo Finalists story is William F. Wu’s Hugo and Nebula-nominated Hong’s Bluff”. Wu has had a long career—the 50th anniversary of his first sale is only three years off — with a respectable collection of nominations and accolades. However, honesty requires me to admit this is the first Wu story I have ever read. It was certainly… energetic. Wu is now on my acquire list.

I recommend people purchase the version Wu offers on Smashwords, which includes the amusing story behind this story’s creation and sale. 


This story is definitely not for me. I have very little interest in westerns, so a western with cyborg people didn’t do a lot to keep my interest. I can imagine this might be enjoyable for people who like the genre, but I was just glad that it was fairly short.


Well howdy there, pardner! This was a rootin’ tootin’ good time, even though it’s mighty short. Three pages in Omni, so maybe six or seven book pages. Wu imagines a future town way out west that seems to have wrapped around to the Wild West of the 19th century, only now the gamblers, gunslingers, and cowboys of yore are outfitted with all manner of metallic doohickeys. Fellas got robot eyes and wires in their necks. Some even have their own two feet replaced with tank treads.

(spits gum) Why yessir, this is a Western with cyborgs, and it also so happens to involve that game which brings out the best and worst in men: poker. Now see, this is entertaining, but I do have to ask myself the question of what the purpose of all this is. What makes this story science-fictional? We got some things that stick out. The narrator and his cousin Hong are Chinese, which in the 80s would’ve been sadly rare for SF writing. There’s gotta be a point to the cyborg business, how these mean players almost see themselves as expendable, like a bunch of metal junk to be abused, only I can’t quite put my finger on it. Wu adds a lot of flavor in for so short a span, but still it’s a short-short that comes and goes like a gust of wind.

I have a soft spot for Westerns and this happens to be one, and it sure ain’t boring.


For once me and Brian agree (I know I am just as shocked), this is a fun little tale. It probably could be done just as well as a straight science fiction story, but like Star Trek’s The Balance of Terror, I am glad it exists in SF. It just adds an extra texture to the story. It stylistically still feels like it is being told as a hoary old Western tale, but Wu manages to make it feel fresh and quickly established a world you could imagine a hundred other tales taking place in without it feeling like so many other SF Westerns (e.g. Wild Wild West, Westworld, Cowboys vs. Aliens).

It also works a bit like a good heist or a magic trick in its structure. There is the standard direction, the misdirection and twist in the tale at the end. At first we think the titular bluff is Hong’s history with cards, then we think it is his guns but it turns out he was being honest the whole time, just also making sure no one was paying attention to what his cousin was doing at the same moment.

All in all, a great example of how to do a vignette very effectively.One curiosity I noticed is that in the same issue of Omni there is also a story called Minor Surgery and Poker”. Coincidence or theme?