Sunday, October 8, 2017

THE WEIRD WEST GENRE: Steampunk and the Weird Western



   This is one I feel like could just run on and on if I'm not careful so let's lay it out quick. Weird West, to me, is the weirdness beneath the surface. Our own world, rife with the unknown. Magic, devils, the Beyond scrapin' claws at the curtain-type things.
   At the end of the Weird Western story, you don't revert to your status quo like an X-Files or something. The case is solved, but the world at large is none the wiser. No. Weird West is a whole universe you have with the principles of magic running around making the rules. The frontier decides.
Weird West, you have soft spots in the space and time and things come through. If the world gets a glimpse, maybe they speak on it, maybe not. Maybe they're just so used to it, they couldn't give a shit.
Trick is, checking that force, that weirdness enough that we don't end up with something so far beyond our grasp it ceases to be the frontier anymore. Ceases to maintain that struggle a man has to have against not just the unknown spooky of the weird west, but the here and now 'dirt-under-his-boots, gun-in-his-hand' that gives us the 'west' of that weird west.
   So there that is.
   Now, Steampunk (and I mention these two because I see Steampunk classified Weird Western and I see Weird Westerns with Steampunk in 'em go by the name Weird Western) Steampunk to me, way I see it is like I said being unchecked. Steampunk is a whole world with new rules. Not a world with some visitations of spectral or alien things for strangeness but a place where things went a little different than they did here. A place that will keep going that way to who knows where.
    First one I remember (not Steampunk but it did a popular thing Steampunk uses here and there) was a comic called What If and the cover up there says it all. (Man, I love that thing, wish I had a poster of it. What a hoot.)
    Anyway, in it, they say Leonardo DaVinci did more with his inventions than in our own timeline and the Renaissance happened early as a result, or lasted longer or we had atom bombs in the 1800's, I don't recall. The timeline change is the point, here. Steampunk uses that device a lot and so the Victorian Era (the setting of choice) is advanced enough for zeppelins and goofy goggles and whatnot. And leather bustiers, for some reason. Any rate, in this case, the universe is changed and now more advanced and scientific (and knowable) and that's not something that's part of the Weird West genre.
Weird West is uncivilized, not knowable and not knowing a thing hurts a man like hell. Steampunk relies on civilization and the civilizing force. A man stands before the frontier of the Weird West and him alone. Nothin' in front and he's turned away from what's behind. Steampunk's got no fear of that frontier and desperately wants to expand it. It imagines what it can put down out there, what it can make. And stood right behind it is a need to name and thus solve, any problem it might find.
   So Steampunk brings its devices and theories and whatnot into the fore. The TV show Wild Wild West went that route and Jim and Artie had access to things that seemed to operate on contemporary 19th century principles but solved problems or introduced new ones, far ahead of their time. Loveless too, because what's a good hero-type show without a great villain? What it come down to was such heroism and villainy and using science to fight science and further understand and ultimately tame, the world. The frontier.
    Weird Western see, wants horror. Other dimensions, magic rocks, meteors from space with goo in 'em. Werewolves and mummies and those classics. Some science too, but the inexplicable kind. If aliens arrive you don't get a full picture of their plans or they maybe just want to invade or snatch someone up and move on. There's no discussion of scientific principles with any such villain. No one cares how the mad scientist's Transfogomator Ray works. No one wonders aloud what kind of warp drive a UFO has.
    Steampunk though, is all about a fixed principle. The world is a sane, agreeable place, however they happen to arrive there. Airships, strange power sources, water heater robots. And I've found those stories often hopeful and they paint a fine picture of progress and enlightenment. The good ones, anyway. And yeah, their stuff is plenty weird and can take place smack in the Old West, but it ain't Weird Western.
   That mean we can't have zombie cowboys flying a zeppelin to the moon to fight aliens? It certainly does not. I may write that myself, in fact. But not a damn one of those undead fools is gonna have a pair of goggles on.

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