Today I have the pleasure of sharing with you a guest post from R.S. Belcher, author of a 2013 favorite, The Six-Gun Tarot! Check it out!
Steampunk and Six-Guns:
What Makes Westerns Fertile Ground for Steampunk Fantasy?
Since my novel, the Six-Gun Tarot started to get some attention from reviewers, I began to hear the word “Steampunk” more and more often. While I didn’t set out, when writing Six-Gun, to step into the realm of Steampunk, I did. This is especially embodied in my book by the character of Clay Turlough — my odd little town of Golgotha’s would-be taxidermist, stable owner, dishonored medical scholar, Mary Shelley fan-boy and over all mad-scientist.
I’ve thought a bit about how I came to include Clay in my story without realizing how steampunk he actually was and I think I’ve figured it out.
The western genre over its long history has been mixed with other genres. Gene Autry challenged the futuristic science fiction machinations of the Phantom Empire in the 1935 movie serial (so that’s where Lucas got the title) and there have been numerous mash-ups of the western with other types of films over the decades, from “Battle Beyond the Stars” and the “Magnificent Seven”, both being western, and space opera western takes on Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai. Star Trek was pitched as “Wagon Train in Space”, and the character of Han Solo in Star Wars clearly owes his origins to the ubiquitous gunslinger of a multitude of western tropes. Ambrose Bierce married Poe’s and Lovecraft’s alienated horror esthetic to a gritty western sensibility that gave him a very unique voice in horror fiction. Westerns seem to work well in a wide range of other influences. In the realm of steampunk married to western, I can look back and see where Clay Turlough was born.
I recall as a kid loving “The Wild, Wild West” TV show. I spent hours playing at being the show’s hero — Jim West. For those who don’t recall this show, it was a western fantasy cashing in on the super spy-James Bond craze of the early-mid 60’s. It was also very, very steampunk with its wild gadgets and baroque villains.
Then there was a show that if you blinked you most likely missed, called “The Adventures of Brisco County Jr.” This show was on Fox in the early 90’s on Friday nights just before this creepy-cool new show called “The X-Files” and starred the greatest actor of the 20th and 21st centuries, nay, of all time — Bruce Campbell. Brisco County was a mix of wild western stereotypes, humor and steampunk ascetic.
So looking back I can see why in my mind I associate westerns with many of the conventions found in steampunk, however it poses a larger question — why does the western mythology blend so well with it? I think the answer lies in what the two genres represent to many people on a basic level: Freedom.
The frontier has always been the fantasy of a people too burdened by the trappings of civilization, a place “further out” where rules and regulations, lawyers and politicians, kings and governments, records and history haven’t caught up yet. A place where anything was possible, where each person made their own destiny, hewn out of determination and imagination. That was the legendary, mythological promise of the west.
In Steampunk we see the same themes explored — a world where every scrap of knowledge, every discipline of science (or “Science!” if you prefer), every inch on the map, hasn’t been codified, analyzed and defined. The steampunk and western esthetics share this love of freedom, of exploration, self-reliance and, most of all, the human yearning for a world, a time, in which there are no limits on the individual save those imposed by the individual themselves.
This self-imposed moral compass leads us to the mythological codes of Victorian chivalry often seen in steampunk, and the equally mythological codes of the cowboy and gunslinger in the mythological Wild West. These, like the bushido code of the samurai and the chivalric code of the medieval knight, are imprinted on the human imagination to a greater degree than they ever were historically. But that’s a discussion for another day.
Thanks for letting me prattle on. It was great fun and I hope you will invite me back sometime soon. I enjoy feedback. I can be reached at my website: www.sixguntarot.com or by email at sixguntarot at gmail.com and on Facebook at Author R.S. Belcher and The Six-Gun Tarot.
Y’know, while I didn’t grow up here, I did manage to watch my fair share of westerns — specifically the Clint Eastwood spaghetti westerns. Even from halfway around the world, I loved the “fantasy” that the wild west presented, but I’ve never thought to articulate the “why”. And now I don’t have to, because Rod Belcher has captured it. Thanks, Rod!
If you haven’t already, check out my review of Rod’s The Six-Gun Tarot — and enter to win your own copy!