Subgenre Study: Space Western

I can hear you now saying, “Kit, now you are just making up subgenres.”  Am I?  Am I?

Possibly, but let’s face it.  Science fiction and westerns go together like mint and chocolate.  Peanut butter and jelly.  Cream soda and Red Vines.  (Mmmm.)  Whatever combination you like.  They were meant to be.

Don’t believe me?  Let’s look at examples.  Star Trek.  Cowboy Bebop.  And, to be frightfully obvious – Firefly.

A straight western tends to take place in the American West – the frontier.  Settlements are spread-out, occasionally lawless, and in between there lurks numerous dangers – Indians, snakes, extreme weather, etc.  You see where I’m going.  Space – the final frontier.  People leaving their home planets and colonizing others, beating harsh worlds into submission or at least getting by.

Science fiction and westerns already share many conventions, so it’s easy to combine the two.

While we’re at it, let’s also discuss the science fiction western, which is slightly different.  Space westerns transpose aspects of the western into a science fiction environment; science fiction westerns transpose aspects of science fiction onto a western environment, ala the movie coming out next week, Cowboys and Aliens. (I am extremely excited.)  Stephen King’s Dark Tower series can also be considered to fall into this subgenre (though it can be considered fantasy – once again demonstrating the eternal fuzzy line between scifi and fantasy).

Science fiction westerns can occasionally blend with steampunk because both subgenres tend to involve technology that is much more advanced than actually existed in that time period.

How do you feel about space and/or science fiction westerns, Squiders?  Any books you recommend?

2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Christopher on 2011/07/22 at 6:31 PM

    I think that maybe some of Robert A. Heinlein’s juvenile science fiction novels qualified. “Farmer in the Sky” is pretty obvious, I guess, but “Time for the Stars” sneaks in under the bar, in my opinion.

    I don’t really care much for “straight westerns” (my father tried to force them on me when I was a kid, so I really don’t care for them), so I’m at a disadvantage, here. But one more Heinlein comes to mind, a favorite of mine: Starman Jones. I think it combines the best of the “growing up fast” and the “space western.”

    If you haven’t read that one, I recommend it for its own merits, as well as because it fits in with your theme!

    (Do forgive the chauvinistic overtones– it was published in 1953!)


  2. […] fiction, so ala Firefly space westerns feel very natural. (You can read more about this subgenre here.) Connie Willis writes this first person, which generally I am not hugely fond of, but I love the […]


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