by Penny Hilton
Think about how hard it would be to address a supernatural or alien event in our modern lives. Now imagine you don’t have a car to flee in, just a horse to ride and a long-barreled shotgun that is notorious for sending bullets a foot left-of-center. This is the essence of the Weird West.
Thanks to television shows like Westworld and Preacher, the Weird West genre has gained notoriety in pop culture. Although I’ve never been a fan of westerns, I distinctly remember loving the movie Cowboys vs. Aliens because of how they pitted the rugged, battle-hardened cowboys against an unimaginable threat on a background of dusty saloons and general stores. So, I checked out all the Weird Westerns we have at RCLS to learn what this newly popularized genre was all about.
Weird Westerns are stories set in 19th-century America that feature elements from a variety of other genres including sci-fi/fantasy, steampunk, mystery, and horror (bestfantasybooks.com). There can be a range of options, like an alternate universe where hippos replace horses or a dusty southwest city where monsters, cyborgs, and cannibals are kept at bay thanks only to magic wards. Like other time-centered fantasy works, there is a healthy bit of world building in each book that helps the story develop and provide alternate history as needed.
Stylistically Weird Westerns are varied. Some throw you right into the heart of the weirdness, like the graphic novel The Sixth Gun by Cullen Bunn that features a foreboding conversation between a gunslinger and grisly tree of souls within the first ten pages. Others begin with an unremarkable western character that encounters a supernatural element such as an alien with a gold-seeking gun or a man who can genetically modify plants by breathing in their pollen (Dead Man’s Hand: an Anthology of the Weird West, John Joseph Adams).
While I’ve only mentioned the briefest of what this genre has to offer, below I have listed some of the Weird Westerns we have at the library. Stop by your local branch to check them out!
River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey
Dead Man’s Hand edited by John Joseph Adams
The Gunslinger (Dark Tower Series) by Stephen King
The Half-Made World by Felix Gilman
Six-Gun Tarot by R. S. Belcher
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/WeirdWest http://bestfantasybooks.com/weird-west-fantasy.html https://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-joseph-adams/totally-bizarre-takes-on-_b_5432732.html