As crazy and unlikely as this may sound, there was a time when I believed that books free of vampires existed. Ah the naiveté of youth! Of course now I realize that authors are required by writ of habeas corpus to include at least three supernatural characters (one or more being vampires) for each book equaling or exceeding 45,000 words. But this fangoriffic craze is certain to fade out one of these days, and it’s interesting to ponder what will come along in its place.
Westerns were once as popular as vampire books are today, but like the great cattle drives that long ago terrorized sheep and prairie dogs alike, that time has passed. However, the formula of good guys and bad guys vying for dominance continues to prosper in many genres.
In fact, Westerns have never entirely left us, and many sci-fi books over the years have provided the same elements as a good western: untamed frontiers, men with no names looking for anonymous places in which to disappear, and lawmen or villains seeking these men. Michael D. Resnick is one of the masters of this style
My favorite new take on Westerns comes in the form of steampunk. This genre is not particularly new, but it does seem to be growing in the world of fashion and art. Perhaps steampunk is the new vampire.
Steampunk novels are frequently set in either Victorian England or in the Wild West, sometime after the Industrial Revolution has commenced but before the use of electricity has become widespread. The genre is actually a type of historical fiction where technology that did not really exist in a given time period, i.e. computers in the post-Civil War years, is built with materials/technology that really did exist in that time period, i.e. steam power. Happily, the stories are filled with unique gadgetry, adventure, and very often authentic historical individuals.
Wild West Steampunk
The Buntline Special: A Weird West Tale by Michael D. Resnick
A United States that ends at the Mississippi River, Indian nations led by men with powerful magic, and the convergence of Thomas Edison, the Earp Brothers, Doc Holliday and a zombie Bat Masterson (among others) in Tombstone, Arizona. How can such a premise not by entertaining? The U.S. government wants to expand its territories with the aid of Edison’s steampunk inventions. But Geronimo, the Clanton gang, and famous gunfighter The Thing That Was Once Johnny Ringo are not about to allow the expansion to proceed easily. Resnick recently followed up this tale with The Doctor and the Kid: A Weird West Tale.
Dreadnought by Cherie Priest
Loosely related to Priest’s Boneshaker, Dreadnought is the story of a Civil War nurse who needs to travel from Richmond, Virginia to Tacoma and find out why her estranged father wishes to see her. The trip is filled with harrowing dirigible rides (one of the genre’s favorite modes of travel), attacks from both Yanks and Rebs, steampunk military technology (including a terrifying steam engine called the Dreadnought), bandits, and, of course, zombies. The result is a no-holds-barred free-for-all certain to leave you mentally dodging the undead and panting for more. Clementine by Cherie Priest is another book that is loosely linked to Dreadnought.
In the meantime, if you have a hankering for related movies or graphic novels, you might want to try the following titles: