“Science fiction western” sounds like an oxymoron, but space travelers and cowboys have plenty of similarities: they’re often portrayed as hardy individuals traveling through hostile landscapes, visiting isolated colonies of civilization where things are rarely as they seem, and the natives often have their own agendas.
There aren’t a ton of sci-fi western novels out there, so this list includes several short story collections.
This collection of stories replaces unruly horses and cattle with much more lethal dragons that cowpokes must tame (the dragons are native lifeforms on a planet called Terul, so it’s technically science fiction). There are dragon drives, roundups, and rodeos.
Unlike most science fiction authors, Wyatt McLaren has actually been a rodeo rider and spends time in Oklahoma fishing for crappie, which is apparently a real fish name and not a joke.
First line from the title story: “Sheriff Lindley was asleep on the toilet in the Pachuco County courthouse when someone started pounding on the door.”
Later, the Martians invade and find their own Alamo.
Night of the Cooters is a short story collection from Nebula Award-winning author Howard Waldrop. Other stories involve Sherlock Holmes, Jack the Ripper, Herbert Hoover, and aging hippies. Good for a smart, bizarre, and well-written laugh.
An intergalactic marshal crash-lands near a small settlement called Seneca 6, and he’s not alone. He’s got a murderous gang member in his custody. Time is running out, because the rest of the gang is on their way, and they’re going to kill every living thing they find when they get there.
Lucky for him, Seneca 6 has a few interesting residents who won’t go down without a fight.
“Outlaws, savages, aliens, and a town under martial law: This is not the Wild West as you know it, and author Bernard Schaffer wouldn’t have it any other way…A cast of strong characters that are so distinguishable and well-crafted that you could almost label any of them as the ‘main’ character.”
When Nick Walker arrives on Sirius 1 to take over the United Federation Marshal’s office at Kline Corners, his first priority is to find out who murdered the man he is replacing, Ron Gates. Kline Corners is like no place he has ever seen—it looks like an old West cow town, complete with sheriff and saloon.
But things are not what they seem. Nick soon discovers an epidemic of missing girls, talk of racial oppression, and outright human slavery. If he can get to the bottom of all those issues, maybe he’ll learn who murdered Ron Gates.
Buckle up. This is a strange one.
The Wild West Show travels by Zeppelin to perform before a Shogun, soon to be emperor of Japan, only to discover the Frankenstein monster is being whittled down slowly and ground into aphrodisiacs by the would-be ruler. Buffalo Bill, who, due to a recent accident, exists only as a battery powered head in a jar of liquid manufactured from the best that modern science and pig urine has to offer, along with Wild Bill Hickok, Annie Oakley, Sitting Bull, and a cast of historical as well as literary characters, rescue the monster, only to be shot down over the Pacific, where they are saved from sharks by Captain Nemo and his intellectual seal, Ned.
And then things get weird.
“Irrepressible, irreverent and unpredictable, this hilarious fantasy with nostalgic touches of yesterday’s SF shows off the narrative skills of an inventive author altogether comfortable in his métier.”
Daisy Kutter’s bandit days are behind her. She and partner Tom have gone legit, and now she is a respectable small-town citizen, owner of the local general store—and bored out of her mind. Frustration with the tedium of normal life and her own discontents gets her into trouble after she loses the store in a poker game. Mr. Winters, the security mogul who won it, offers a proposition she can’t refuse: to test the new security robots on his train, and he is willing to pay. In a fit of recklessness, Daisy takes the job.
Daisy Kutter: The Last Train is a graphic novel with an intriguing hybrid of anime and American art styles.
As much surreal as sci-fi, this “gothic western” takes place in 1902 as a pair of morally flexible gunmen chase their quarry. They get sidetracked to a house in Oregon where reality calls in sick and lets insanity run the shop for a while.
Author Brautigan can be something of an acquired taste (meaning, a fair number of people hate his writing style), but The Hawkline Monster is a unique journey you won’t find with any other writer.
Left homeless by the war that reduced Terra to a radioactive cinder, Hosteen Storm – Navaho commando and master of beasts – is drawn to the planet Arzor, to kill a man he has never met. On that dangerous frontier world, aliens and human colonists share the land in an uneasy truce. But something is upsetting the balance, and Storm is caught in the middle.
Andre Norton is the pen name for Alice Mary Norton, the first woman to be Gandalf Grand Master of Fantasy, first to be SFWA Grand Master, and first inducted by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame.
“Miss Norton endows this story of a homeless, revenge-driven man with her own inimitable touch. The result is a compelling and compassionate tale.”
– The New York Times Book Review
This goofy collection of sci-fi and fantasy stories involves an alien race known as the Hokas, who resemble teddy bears. The story “The Sheriff of Canyon Gulch” is the most western of the bunch, though other genres are gleefully lampooned.
An alien sent to warn Earth of an invasion lands in Tombstone, Arizona, in 1881—right in the middle of the OK Corral gunfight. The alien soon has two bounty hunters on his tail and war about to break out in this frontier town.
“First-novelist/actor Boxleitner (the Babylon 5 series, etc.) gives this oft-exploited scenario an organized, crisply delivered, and well-informed workout. Expect sequels.”
– Kirkus Reviews
New Texas: its citizens figure that name about says it all. The Solar League ambassador to the Lone Star Planet has the unenviable task of convincing New Texans that a s’Srauff attack is imminent, and dangerous. Unfortunately it’s common knowledge that the s’Srauff are evolved from canine ancestors—and not a Texan alive is about to be scared of a talking dog! But unless he can get them to act, and fast, there won’t be a Texan alive, scared or otherwise.
Worst. Cattle drive. Ever.
It’s 100 years after WWIII, and to replace extinct farm livestock, the country’s sole source of meat is genetically altered humans, without intelligence or speech. Wretched circumstances force Howie Ryder to join a big meat drive with an outlaw who’s running guns for both sides in a civil war.
“Barrett’s SF rendering of this latter-day civil war comes complete with a version of slavery, cavalry charges and a young boy representing the country’s coming of age.”
– Publishers Weekly
Santiago is the most notorious criminal in the galaxy, but no one has ever seen his face or dealt with him directly in his many years of looting and pillaging. This doesn’t, of course, keep every bounty hunter on the galactic rim from trying to hunt him down.
“Resnick was gutsy enough to set out to create myth, and as far as I’m concerned, he succeeds on a grand scale.”
– Orson Scott Card
At the age of thirteen, Pella Marsh loses her mother and her home on the scorched husk that is planet Earth. Her sorrowing family emigrates to the Planet of the Archbuilders, whose mysterious inhabitants have names like Lonely Dumptruck and Hiding Kneel—and a civilization that frightens their human visitors.
On this new world, independent Pella becomes an uneasy envoy between two species. At the same time, she is drawn to a violent loner who embodies all the paranoid machismo of the frontier ethic.
“A surrealistic bildungsroman about a teenage girl unfolds among the ruins and frontier violence of a distant planet in Lethem’s latest genre-bending exploration of science, landscape and the metaphysics of love and loss.”
– Publishers Weekly