Mankind has been fascinated with exploring outer space for decades and also with the idea of one day, actually living on another planet.
Countless books, movies, TV shows, and games have been created to explore what life would be like for humanity in space. Oftentimes humanity is depicted as colonizing planets, meeting intelligent aliens, and discovering the secrets of the Universe – all from the comfort of advanced spaceships with sparkling white exteriors. Civilization and peace spread throughout the Universe, everyone dons a spandex uniform, and humanity is elevated to an even higher level of technological and intellectual understanding. Basically, mix a London Gentlemen’s club with lasers and green women, and you have a popular version of humanity’s potential future in space.
But what if that wasn’t entirely the case? What if life in space wasn’t glamorous and enlightening? What if, on the planets furthest from civilization, humanity was reduced to a pioneer existence, forced to eke a meager living amongst a harsh and unforgiving landscape? Well, that is what the sub-genre of science fiction known as Space Westerns, chooses to examine.
The sci fi sub-genre has its early origins with comics and books from the 1920’s, such as with Buck Rogers in the 25th Century A.D. or Flash Gordon. The protagonists in these stories were tough men guided by strong morals, who rode into towns (or in this case planets) on their rockets, to help the simple townsfolk fight off corrupt and evil men.
Many films use the concept of the Space Western, such as Alien (lone miners surviving in the bleakness of space), Battlestar Galactica, and even Star Wars. The anti-hero rogue, overbearing militant bureaucracy, the untamed wildernesses, and of course, the plethora of gun-toting bounty hunters are popular themes throughout the Star Wars Universe.
Many books also use life on the “Final Frontier” as a backdrop as well, such as Northwest Smith by C. L. Moore (a story about a smuggler and his experiences on unexplored planets), or Santiago: A Myth of the Far Future by Mike Resnick (a collection of western-style tall tales set in outer space). Michael Rubens’s The Sheriff of Yrnameer is a more recent example, as it follows the exploits of the misguided bandit Cole as he searches for the last “unsponsored planet” – a planet that is free from corporations and pesky brain implanted advertisements.
The ideal of the Space Western points out that even at our most technologically advanced state, we are still susceptible to the emotions that make us truly human. The problems and dangers that we experienced in the Old West can still hamper us even on far away planets in the distant future, no matter how advanced we believe we can become. The frontier never dies, it just moves, and it will always epitomize the best and worst that humanity can offer.