The best books set in the Weird Wild West

Who am I?

I love a good story that crosses genres; seeing where they mesh together, playing with where they differ, and letting the various parts spark into a whole that’s greater still. Though my writing usually takes place in the “real” everyday world, I often introduce supernatural elements. Partly because, while I’m an atheist, I still believe there are more things in the universe and on earth than we yet know. And partly because these elements, whether real or imagined on the part of the character, can act as splendid metaphors – or help to understand a state of mind. 

I wrote...

Writ in Blood

By Julie Bozza, Magdalena Kulbicka (illustrator),

Book cover of Writ in Blood

What is my book about?

Back in the day, I was intrigued by Johnny Ringo, Doc Holliday, and Wyatt Earp in the film Tombstone (1993) and was soon determined to write a novel based on the people and events of the Tombstone, AZ story. I’ve followed a long, challenging trail since then! 

I took the research very seriously, and hope that Western aficionados will find interesting use of the historical records in my fictional account. However, I also brought genre elements into the novel, with Johnny Ringo’s demons being all too real, his ability to see people’s souls undermining his gunslinging reputation, and his homosexuality emphasizing his outsider status. This “Queer Weird West” subgenre is relatively new – but the “Weird West” has been with us for some while!

The books I picked & why

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The Thousand Crimes of Ming Tsu

By Tom Lin,

Book cover of The Thousand Crimes of Ming Tsu

Why this book?

A new Western novel that already feels classic in its ready use of all the key elements of the genre. Interestingly, the eponymous main character is Chinese, proving that our Western heroes and antiheroes are perfectly open to diversity. Intriguing fantasy elements are found in Ming’s Chinese guide, The Prophet, and in the circus performers with whom Ming travels across the harsh Western landscape. A wonderful read! 

The Buntline Special

By Mike Resnick,

Book cover of The Buntline Special

Why this book?

This short novel is heaps of fun! It’s another take on the Tombstone story, told from Doc Holliday’s point of view with great wry wit. This Doc is an engaging and unexpectedly kind character, with little or no hint of his reputed “mean disposition”. Weird elements include steampunk – with Thomas Edison living in Tombstone and bringing not only electric light but cyborg sex workers – as well as an undead Johnny Ringo, and supernatural justice wielded by the Native American shamans. It’s delightful!

The Weird Wild West

By Faith Hunter, Jonathan Maberry, Gail Z. Martin

Book cover of The Weird Wild West

Why this book?

This anthology “blends western grit with the magical and mysterious unknown that waits beyond the next horizon” and includes both a great range of stories and some delightful illustrations. “Abishag Mary” by Frances Rowat brings sea-based imagery deep into the landlocked deserts. “Frank and Earnest” by Tonia Brown features some cracking dialogue, not to mention a villain who seems entirely out of place and mostly baffles the two heroes. Other stories venture beyond the Old West, including "Fifteen Seconds" by Scott Hungerford featuring an alien invasion of a different kind in a more recent West. An excellent collection!

Dead Man's Hand: An Anthology of the Weird West

By John Joseph Adams,

Book cover of Dead Man's Hand: An Anthology of the Weird West

Why this book?

This anthology is a bit less consistent in quality or interest, but some of the stories surpass all expectations. My favorite is "The Golden Age" by Walter Jon Williams, a superb and substantial tale of superheroes and supervillains set in the Californian Goldfields. The characters are regular folk who have taken on these larger-than-life personas as well as causes for which to fight. Their costumes, technology, and methods are true to the time, and seem completely ramshackle to us today; it’s safe to say there are no actual superpowers involved! This is a brilliant story and takes a few significant twists and turns. It’s well worth the price of admission alone. 

Weird Westerns: Race, Gender, Genre

By Kerry Fine (editor), Michael K. Johnson (editor), Rebecca M. Lush (editor)

Book cover of Weird Westerns: Race, Gender, Genre

Why this book?

These fourteen essays explore the hybrid “weird west” genre, examining a range of texts including some by Native American authors, as well as TV series, films, fiction, roleplaying games, and comic books. It makes for an interesting read – and is thought-provoking in its conclusion that despite weird westerns challenging and destabilizing many of the old cliches, they have yet to “imagine an existence outside of colonial frameworks”. This has given me much food for thought, as it seems to me that frontiers (wherever found) are an intrinsic part of the western genre, and frontiers tend to imply conflict between the inhabitants and the invaders, between the new and the established. Maybe I’m wrong! In any case, this proves that we still have a long way to go before we’re done exploring all the possibilities of this intriguing genre! 

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