Monday, December 26, 2016

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.
   I think at the end of the Weird Western story, you revert to your status quo like an X-Files or something. The case is solved, but the world at large is none the wiser. It's not a whole universe you have with the principles of magic running around making the rules. Weird West, you have soft spots in the space and time and okay, things come through. If the world gets a glimpse, it's just a few folks and anyone with a mind to talk about it isn't believed or don't believe it themselves, after a time.
   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 above. A whole world with new rules. Not Our World with some visitations of spectral or alien things but Another World where things went a little different than they did here.
    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 that's not something that's part of the Weird West genre.
   Sometimes though, Steampunk just has certain devices and things available. The TV show Wild Wild West went that route and James and Artie had access to things that seemed to operate on contemporary 19th century principles. It wasn't that the universe was changed so much as Artie was ahead of his time. Loveless too, but what's a good hero-type show without a great villain? So that's the other side of the Steampunk approach but still, it's not Weird Western.
    Weird Western 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.
    See, Steampunk is all about the science. How the whole world has changed or is changing. 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. And not a damn one of those undead fools is gonna have a pair of goggles on.

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