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Getting Weird…But It Always Has Been April 2, 2017

Posted by bobv451 in history, robot rights, science fiction, serial fiction, steampunk, westerns, Wild West, writing.

I am talking about weird westerns, of course. Writing has taken me on a curving path the past couple years, but weird westerns have always been there along the way. Awhile back I looked into the history of WW and found, to my surprise, that they have been around almost as long as western fiction and, more than once, have saved the traditional western from extinction.

Back in 1860 Beadle’s Dime Novels ran a story, “Captives of the Frontier” by Seth Jones. Straight ahead western–and it sold 400,000 copies. The appeal of the frontier, the Wild West, the freedom offered by endless vistas (and the dangers, such as being kidnapped by ferocious savages) proved to be a big hit with Eastern audiences starving in rat-infested tenements. But even such derring-do and fraught-with-danger tales can pale. In 1868 Edward Sylvester Ellis perked up the field with what is likely the first WW: “The Huge Hunter or The Steam Man of the Prairies.”
Even better (for me) it’s got a robot in it!

Tale tales in the West (or anywhere else) are hardly unique. Paul Bunyon and Pecos Bill and La Llorona and…lots. Creepy and funny, outrageous and maybe hinting at what it was like to be an explorer, the stories were told around the campfire. But the Dime Novels gave a new dimension–the printed word. As the western rose, WWs languished, but as the traditional western fell out of favor, WWs flourished in many forms. Today the traditional western (published in NYC) is on the wane. Indie publishers are taking up the slack but WWs are proliferating (and along with them steampunk stories set in the Wild West). A forthcoming WW anthology has some of the best sf writers around in it but very few western writers–that’s good for cross-pollination. It’s hard these days to find such an anthology of only traditional western writers (and if you know of a new one, let me know. I missed it.)


1. D Gary Grady - April 3, 2017

I have a copy of The Steam Man of the Prairies around somewhere as part of a Dover collection of dime novels. I’m sure you know of far more examples than I do, but I remember the television series The Wild Wild West and The Adventures of Brisco County Jr., and of course movies in which cowboys dealt with Dracula, dinosaurs, and aliens, though probably not all at once. It would be interesting to see a crossover between westerns and high fantasy, perhaps with a giant wall of ice stretching across the northern border from the coast to the Great lakes to seal off the menace from Canada.

Good to see you blogging again!

bobv451 - April 4, 2017

Been almost exclusively writing steampunk this year (except for a couple westerns). The Wild Wild West is the granddaddy of the TV steampunk (and I’d have to say Gene Autrey’s Phantom Empire is it for the movies–still love the idea of robots, the lost continent of Mu, the Radio Ranch and radium thieves!) Epic western would appeal only to fantasy readers. I don’t think the demographic is right for western readers to ever pick up anything like that.

Am going to try to keep blogging regularly. What little I have done over the last couple years all went onto the sf website on a pretty much weekly basis. For some reason keeping up the pace of 6 books a year, plus short stories, mentoring at ASU and all the rest became harder and harder. ASU is likely in the rearview mirror, not doing much in the way of freelance book doctoring/editing right now–frees up time for blogging. And the steampunk magazine.

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