ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Space Westerns

Updated on November 25, 2010

What is a Space Western?

As both a published author and an avid reader, the Space Western is, without a doubt, one of my favorite sub-genres of science fiction. Bringing the frontier of the American west to the frontier of space, Space Westerns often feature a number of elements which might otherwise seem more at home in the 1880's– colonies and villages, small towns of brick and wood, horses, train robberies, six shooters and showdowns. Unlike the more ordinary mainstream forms of science-fiction like Star Trek (military SF,) Battlestar Galactica, (space opera) or Inherit The Stars (hard SF) Space Westerns operate typically from a base of more traditional and romantic elements, often projecting rim colony societies of simple families, well to-do gentlemen, drunken cowboys and fly-by-night spacemen into a universe of vast and unknown possibility that lingers at the edges of the mind like the old untamed wildernesses of the American west. Space itself becomes less important than the people and the planets that inhabit it, and the vast void of the unknown becomes instead an endless wilderness which hangs at the edge of everything, a frontier into which few people have ever dared to journey– and even fewer have returned from.

What Is Not A Space Western?

The elements which typically compose a Space Western are at times shared by other genres and sub-genres, most notably those which utilize elements from the American west (Historical Fiction, Weird West, Horror Westerns and Steampunk.) The most critical difference between Space Westerns and the contributions to these other sub-genres however is that, while all of the aforementioned other genres typically take place in the old west (or time periods associated with or chronologically near to it, like the industrial revolution) the Space Western takes the elements of the American west and places them against a futuristic, science fiction backdrop. Instead of aliens abducting cowboys (Weird West), or cowboys fighting steampowered monstrosities (Steampunk), Space Westerns place cowboys on other planets and mix them with the kind of high technology that they used to get there (i.e. spacecraft.)

Examples From Popular Culture:

Flying at the forefront of the Space Western sub-genre is an awesome little series known as Firefly. Clocking in at 14 episodes, this contribution by the masterful Joss Whedon originally aired in 2002, but has since achieved a sort of cult status among sci-fi fans and steampunkers, rising enough in popularity to give birth to a series of graphic novels and even a full length motion picture film. As far as Space Westerns go, Firefly is perhaps the most direct, featuring elements like saloons and covered wagons side-by-side with futuristic weaponry and spaceships in nearly every episode. It’s also a fabulous contribution to the whole of science fiction as well, and definitely worth checking out.

Cowboy Bebop is another powerful contribution to the Space Western sub-genre, bringing viewers into the adventures of a single ship of bounty hunters kicking around from one corrupted dust ball to another in a solar system that has been almost wholly colonized. As a Space Western, it mixes elements traditionally associated with the old west (like bounty hunters, poker games and saloon women all too eager to roll drunks for their money) into a futuristic backdrop that is thoroughly sci-fi.

Though different in some fundamental respects to other contributions, Westworld (1973) can be seen as another classic example of the Space Western sub-genre. Set at a resort colony where the guests can live out an idealized version of the American west without the danger (or the dysentery,) Westworld ultimately turns out to be a death trap haunted by robotic cowboys intent on murdering the men and women they were built to serve.

Rounding out the videogame contributions to the Space Western sub-genre are two incredible works of interactive art known as Gunman Chronicles and the ever popular Starcraft. Both feature an American Civil War (or post-American Civil War) themed setting rich in cowboy-attitudes and the drawls of the south. While more classical elements (like horse-drawn wagons, train robberies and six-gun shootouts) don’t figure into either of these games, the outfits, uniforms, attitudes and accents are straight out of the American West.

Other less prominent examples of the Space Western sub-genre and its place within our culture often include Star Wars, (most notably for the appearance and mannerisms of characters like Han Solo and Boba Fett,) and the original Star Trek (which was pitched by Gene Roddenberry as a Space Western, or “Wagon Train to the stars.”


As a whole, the Space Western sub-genre is both creative and full of unimaginable potential. Though it has been targeted as anachronistic and as a genre that merely recycles elements and requires no inherent creativity to write, it is clear that rather the opposite is true. Space Westerns offer a chance to explore the future in a way that revisits the past and, quite possibly, projects a vision of the future that just might come to pass, should poverty, ingenuity, practicality and the pioneering spirit which was so powerful in the American west, follow humanity when we do eventually carve our way into the depths of the stars.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • meow48 profile image


      7 years ago from usa

      i really liked this hub. absolutely loved cowboy bebop. thanks for sharing this. and i felt like outland fell more in the line of a detective genre... has a sam spade quality. oops, sorry, i just aged myself, huh? take care.

    • Earl S. Wynn profile imageAUTHOR

      Earl S. Wynn 

      8 years ago from California

      I thought about including that one too, but the Western elements in that film aren't as pronounced in other works (like say, Firefly.)

    • jycmba profile image


      8 years ago from Los Angeles CA

      what about Outland with Sean Connery?? :)

    • Earl S. Wynn profile imageAUTHOR

      Earl S. Wynn 

      8 years ago from California

      Generally a generic term for a type of character, though in Firefly, there is some cattle driving and rustling that goes on. :D

    • Lady Wordsmith profile image

      Linda Rawlinson 

      8 years ago from Lancaster, UK

      I'm intrigued. I have never seen or read a Space Western, and now I want to. What I want to know is what the cowboy element actually is in this genre - are there cows? Or does the 'cowboy' have something alien-yet-cowlike to herd? Or is cowboy a generic term for a type of character?


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)