Posts Tagged ‘Firefly’

 “Man walks down the street in a hat like that, you know he’s not afraid of anything … ” – Mal, Firefly

Straight up westerns aren’t all that popular these days. Despite the success of the magnificently dark Deadwood and Hell on Wheels there are very few on television, and even fewer in the cinema. Yet in sf+f we’re seeing western elements find their own growing niche. Not since Clint Eastwood sang his way through Paint Your Wagon have western mash-ups been so popular.


Science fiction westerns

It all seems to have started with the science fiction westerns. Star Trek was famously sold as Wagon Train in space, and while it may not have had many western trappings it certainly dealt with many of the key themes – wild frontiers; manly men in the rugged outdoors; civilisation transformed in the face of the other.

More recently Joss Whedon put the western elements front and centre in Firefly, possibly the most mourned show ever to face early cancellation. Again he explored themes of civilisation and borderland living, along with outlaws and the lingering divisions that follow civil war. But this time there were cowboys, shootouts and even a train robbery – yeehaw!

Steampunk westerns

In many ways steampunk’s a great fit with westerns. You’ve got the nineteenth century technology, outfits and attitudes. You’ve got frontier living again, combining technological and geographical frontiers. You’ve got dreams of a greater future twisted round with dark consequences. OK, so all of this was pre-empted by Wild Wild West, but now that steampunk’s properly emerged as a genre you can see the two being combined to good effect. That’s why the likes of Josh Stanton are scribbling away at steampunk westerns. Even I’ve had some success in that area.

Fantasy westerns

Now we’re seeing fantasy influenced by westerns as well. Of course Stephen King’s Dark Tower has been kicking around for a while, and is something of a favourite work for King himself. But Joe Abercrombie‘s also done it with Red Country, stripping away the technology of the western but keeping its tension and drama, from the grand conflicts between settlers and governments back home to the intimate brutality of the pre-shoot-out stand-off. It’s the social side of the old west, the behaviours and the social structures, rather than the technology and fashion, and it’s utterly compelling.

Back to the beginning

It’s great to see all these mashups. I love westerns and I love to see them combined with other genres in this way. It’s why I’ve written things like A Sheriff In The Deep and The Cast Iron Kid. But you can still never go wrong by going back to the classics. So if you’ve enjoyed any of the stories I’ve mentioned above then do yourself a favour and go watch some Clint Eastwood too. Pick up Pale Rider or The Outlaw Josey Wales. They’re exciting, evocative films, and worth every moment.


Did you ever watch The 4400? How about Space Above and Beyond? I expect most people reading this watched Firefly, right?


Television is increasingly seen as the home of deep visual story telling. HBO and its imitators have created shows with the depth and passion of a great novel, things like The Wire, Deadwood and Damages. Even science fiction and fantasy are having a resurgence and upping their game, with Game of Thrones being compared to the non-genre greats and new arrivals like Helix offering up the promise of something a bit different. Sure it’s not all brilliant – I didn’t get past the first episode of Falling Skies – but it’s fair to say that TV can now do deep, credible fiction on a par with novels.

But television does something that novels don’t. It gets cancelled.

I never found out why the 4400 were really sent back. I never knew which of the Wildcards made it through the war. And the fate of Serenity, while resolved in the film, still left much tantalising potential untapped. Whereas authors, barring death or distraction, will make it to the end.

So hooray for novels. And hooray for television. And hooray for the fact that at least one of them regularly offers us closure.

And if you haven’t seen it then try to get hold of ‘Who Monitors The Birds?’, Space Above And Beyond’s twelfth episode. That show might have had some bum notes, but that one episode made it all worthwhile.