Your kind host has asked me to introduce you to the wonderful world of the Weird West (and in doing so, to the unassailably awesome aesthetics of the alliteration!). If you like steampunk or alternate history, you might like Weird West stories. That Wild Wild West movie that came out a decade or two ago could be held up as an example of either subgenre: steampunk because of the machinery and Weird West because of the setting and the machinery. There’s a bit of overlap with steampunk and Weird West because the time of the American West is pretty much the upper limit of the steampunk time period; that is, before the Industrial Revolution kicked into high gear in the United States and made steampunk-type technology not quite as farfetched anymore. But I digress.
The untamed American West of the 1830s to 1920s is rife with possibilities for writers and readers of speculative fiction. You have an entire half-continent or so that’s just beginning to become habitable by Western European standards, you have unknown Native American tribes and people of Mexican descent with cultures, gods and rituals that no one understands and you have a sense of lawlessness that can’t quite be captured as thouroughly in any other milieu. You have people
traveling west because they love to take risks, because they’re on the run from a shady past, because they’re greedy; all of which are excellent motivations for characters. Even better, you have lots of guns.
So what separates the Weird West from a Louis L’Amour novel, you might be wondering. After all, most of the stuff I talked about in the above paragraph sounds like good material, but not exactly weird. This is where you extrapolate. The machines from Wild Wild West are Weird West material because robots in the Old West are pretty strange and even impossible, right? That’s the Weird West. Those indigenous tribes, with their strange gods and practices; what if they practice magic? What if they can raise the dead? What happens if you send a mysterious risk-taker and a greedy outlaw into a situation like that? Hell, you could even have a dead civilization story or disappearing colony a’la Roanoke; a society with technology at or below that of the Wild West could disappear without a trace in the matter of a couple hundred years, and there’s a lot of unexplored territory out there, pardner.
It’s a setting that can breathe new life into old tropes; sure, you’ve read lots of books about wizards, but how many wizard vs. cowboy stories can you think of? The zombie apocalypse seems inescapable when depicted in modern times when people have kevlar and automatic weapons; how much worse would it be in a society that doesn’t even have penicillin? The Old West was a far more uncertain time than any era any living have survived yet, and writers can use this tension to create high-impact stories that readers will enjoy and found unique.
How do I know all this, you might be wondering. The answer is my latest book, WILD, available starting this month from Damnation Books. A mysterious problem solver, a slippery outlaw, a dutiful deputy and a former Mexican Army medic find themselves in over their heads when they investigate the mysterious disappearance of a former war hero, legislator, prosecutor and tax collector. My would-be heroes find themselves face to face with the spellcraft of an unknown culture and face down the forces of darkness in their own little corner of the world. I even did a bit of that extrapolation stuff I preached a couple paragraphs ago; the whole shebang is loosely based on the real-life unsolved disappearance of a southwestern war hero, legislator, prosecutor and tax collector. So far, the result has earned some pretty good reviews.
My book is available anywhere you could possibly want to buy it, and if you’d like to take your Weird West foray a bit farther, I suggest the Jonah Hex comics, the Dark Tower novel series by Stephen King and just about anything by Joe Lansdale, for starters.
Thanks for reading!
Lincoln Crisler’s debut novella, WILD, is due in March from Damnation Books. He has also authored a pair of short story collections, Magick & Misery (2009, Black Bed Sheet) and Despairs & Delights (2008, Arctic Wolf). A United States Army combat veteran and non-commissioned officer, Lincoln lives in Augusta, Georgia with his wife and two of his three children. You can visit his website at www.lincolncrisler.info.