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A commercial for an upcoming movie got me thinking about works in which the genres of science fiction and western are combined. I've done some preliminary searching online, and it appears that while there are numerous examples of comics and television shows and movies that combine elements of science fiction and westerns, there are relatively few books. The wikipedia page for Science fiction Western lists only three, the earliest being Stephen King's Dark Tower series (which I have not read).

I was surprised that the first listed novel dates back only to 1982. Are there any other, earlier novels that combine science fiction with the elements that most of us associate with westerns: dusty, frontier towns, saloons, gunslingers, etc?

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    Would that be Cowboys vs Aliens? – morganpdx Feb 7 '11 at 23:14
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    Not an answer, as it is later than you ask, but very surprised not to see Firefly en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Firefly_(TV_series) on that page! – johnc Feb 7 '11 at 23:44
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    Yes, the commercial was for Cowboys & Aliens. I didn't mention it specifically in my question so as to not make it sound like a "plug". But that sort of cross-genre world or universe, which johnc correctly points out is also evident in Firefly, is exactly the sort of merging I have in mind. – Mark42 Feb 8 '11 at 0:00
  • Not a novel, but the movie "WestWorld" was probably the first movie to do so. – Teknophilia Feb 15 '11 at 1:49
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    In a backwards way, The Wild Wild West was a TV show that might qualify; it took place in the late 1800s, with futuristic (read: 1960s) technology showing up. And, of course, the high concept pitch for Star Trek was supposedly "'Wagon Train' in space". – RDFozz Jan 25 at 22:15
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What about Edgar Rice Burroughs' Princess of Mars (from 1917)?

  • I'm familiar with the general premise of "A Princess of Mars", but I've not read it. I hadn't thought that this work had any significant western-genre elements, but after reading a bit about it on Wikipedia, it seems that perhaps this answer is on to something. Would anyone, including Indoril, who's maybe more familiar with "A Princess Of Mars" than I am care to comment on the extent of western motifs? – Mark42 Feb 10 '11 at 23:24
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    I have to say Princess of Mars was the first thought that came to mind, but I don't think the analogy really fits. No real western tropes, more the gentleman soldier of the civil war. – Strangeland Jan 12 '12 at 18:26
  • –1 What about ERB's Princess of Mars? – Lexible Jul 6 at 15:37
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Gene Autry's 1935 serial The Phantom Empire is classified as a Science Fiction Western; so I am guessing there are fiction titles, probably short stories, that had already made the connection by the time it was released.

  • That would definitely be about the right time period... during the old B&W movie serials time frame. You're probably pretty close. Not sure if I remember any books, but I'd be willing to bet there were several western/sci-fi comics written. – Rodger Cooley Feb 8 '11 at 3:16
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Like Dan, I'm offering a non-answer answer. More a justification. But also a literal answer later on.

The trouble with western-style sci-fi is that most SF was forward-thinking. The idea that the future might not be a world made civil by technology was a hard sell for a long time. The iconic 'future' of the 50s was all polished and, well, futuristic.

You'd have to look for themes that are western, of which there are LOADS. As old as sci-fi is. Older, probably, than the Old West itself.

However, if you want the most literal. I offer this: Time Enough for Love by Robert Heinlein from 1973 features a section where Lazarus Long lives a lifetime in an early old-west analogous settlement on another planet. It is quite literally the old west with a needle-gun and talking donkeys.

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On a related note, Leigh Brackett's The Long Tomorrow is set in a world which has reverted to 1840s lifestyle after a nuclear war.

The characters travel by riverboat and other means in search of the last atomic scientists.

Her Western Follow the Free Wind is not Science Fiction at all, but gives I think the flip side of her thinking there. You can read them together (:

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Extraterrestrial colonies with a lower overall technology level that what it takes to go through space is a common enough theme, and some stories have Western-like technology levels (slow communications, riding animals, personal firearms) and social atmosphere (sparse population, lawlessness).

An example that comes to mind is André Norton's Beast Master series, starting with The Beast Master (1959). I make no claim that this is the earliest novel in this particular subgenre, just the earliest I can think of right now.

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Orson Scott Card's "Alvin Maker" series is more fantasy than Sci-Fi but it does have a Western feel to it.

It's an alternative history, which is very interesting.

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The short story "Night of the Cooters" by Howard Waldrop features a retelling of War of the Worlds from the perspective of a Texas Sheriff.

David Gemmell's Jon Shannow novels (The Jerusalem Man series):

  1. Wolf in Shadow (1987)

  2. The Last Guardian (1989)

  3. Bloodstone (1994)

feature a Western themed post-apocalytic world where blood stones allow people to perform "magic".

Tim Powers' early novel Dinner at Deviant's Palace (1985) featured another post-apocalyptic western themed setting and an alien psychic vampire.

Another is Westworld by Michael Crichton, has a novelization dating from 1974.

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