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Archive for the ‘Science fiction’ Category

In a post on the Oghma Creative Media blog about genre, I told you why I like science fiction and related types of stories. I went on at length, but the short answer is that I love the world of Faerie, the world that the author gets to build. In that way, speculative storytelling is a lot like the myths that shape our culture.

But what about westerns?

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Gene Roddenberry did say that Star Trek was a wagon train to the stars, so there’s a connection, but this genre is typically defined as stories set west of the Mississippi River between the end of the Civil War and the death of Queen Victoria (points if you know that last reference). Yes, Lewis and Clark fan fiction could be a western, as could a tale about the doings to the left of the Allegheny Mountains in 1782, but the general idea is easy to understand.

So what is it that I like about westerns?

1. Research

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As I’ve said before, research is an essential part of good writing. That’s especially true if you’re going to dive into a genre that is known and defined. Yes, John Wayne schlepped a Colt Single Action Army revolver and a Winchester 1892 rifle in movies set well before those tools were available, but today, we’re less forgiving. Writers of westerns need to know the period. And that’s the thing: I love that time and place. Learning about it is fun, and I can immerse myself for hours in digging through books and websites. Of course, that can be a way to avoid writing, but we all have our weaknesses.

2. Ethos

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Remember in Lawrence of Arabia when the reporter asks our hero what attracts him to the desert? Lawrence answers, “It’s clean.” That may seem like a strange reply, given all the sweat and blood that he spills in that story, but what he meant was that the choices in a harsh environment are simple and stark. You fight with every ounce of your being to win against the odds and perhaps die anyway, or you die for sure. You survive by being worthy to meet that land and by joining in common cause with other good people. Sometimes, particularly if Clint Eastwood is the star, the morality tale becomes ambiguous, but the principle remains. A western is about good vs. evil, played out in a world that rewards the skillful.

3. Epic

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Westerns are the American genre. At the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, Frederick Jackson Turner gave a speech titled, The Significance of the Frontier in American History. His thesis was that our nation is defined by the concept of a frontier, a boundless horizon over which we can always journey. The fact that our frontiers are now closed, at least until we get serious again about pushing into the final frontier, only sharpens our desire for stories about staking our claim in the freedom of the wilderness. The fact that westerns also deal with that stake being driven through the heart of those who were in that wilderness before us is a good corrective to our unrestrained impulses. More than stories about our founding, more than the woes of slavery and the Civil War, more than the fight against fascism and communism, the western is a tale of who we are.

That’s my answer to why I like westerns. I even write them, if I may promote myself. If I didn’t love this kind of story, I wouldn’t read them, watch them, or write them. For the genre to survive, I need more of you to join me. Hit the trail, pilgrim, and I’ll see you out there.

Crossposted at Oghma Creative Media.

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My fellow Star Trek enthusiasts are surely familiar with the various iterations of the phaser. There’s the version found in the original series:

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The infamous dustbuster of the Next Generation:

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that was later modified to a sleaker form:

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and the phase pistol of Enterprise:

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Notice anything about all of those? I see no sights on any of them. When fired, Starfleet personnel and others typically use a one-handed duelist stance or some variation on hip shooting.

There’s a reason for this. Gene Roddenberry was writing long before Jeff Cooper and the Modern Pistol Technique became well known. The version of the future that Roddenberry and his successors remembered for us (J. J. Abrams, you may stick your version somewhere dark and smelly–oh, wait, you already did that) came before a better future was invented, at least with regard to small arms technique.

Why does this matter? Those of us who write science fiction, and I include myself in that list, have to bear in mind that what we are writing is an imagined future, subject to all the limitations that our imaginations come with. The writing of such futures is really about us. That being said, we owe it to ourselves to know as much as we can and to explore as far as we can. Having done that, we then must write, hoping that people who come afterward will forgive us our limitations.

Crossposted on Greg Camp’s Weblog.

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