Kim Harrison Explains Why Westerns And The Fantastical Go Together

Illustration for article titled Kim Harrison Explains Why Westerns And The Fantastical Go Together

Just what is the link between westerns and science fiction and fantasy? Kim Harrison, author of The Hollows series, explains just how — and why — she blends features of old westerns into her books.


In a Q&A with the io9 book club, a sharp-eyed reader pointed out that many of her titles seemed to reference old Clint Eastwood movies. The connection was, indeed, deliberate, as Harrison explains:

Jamie Keller

I LOVE the naming convention and thought the "westerns" naming trope was handled beautifully by you. It seemed to fit without being too silly or wedged into the story line.

Bu then I had to go look up Hereafter (for Ever After) and found it was Clint Eastwood movies more than westerns. What led you down the Eastwood path?

Kim Harrison

Ha! The titles evolved between my editor and I. I had originally wanted to stick with westerns, but narrowing it to only Clint Eastwood suited me just fine because I love the movies he played in, especially the westerns and the Dirty Harry films. If you think about it, Rachel is a little like that—able to walk into a town and solve their issues in a just, but not necessary legal way. Maybe if Clint had a pixy instead of a horse . . . Ah, never mind.

Pale Rider is one of my favorites of his.

Of course, there are other science fiction and fantasy favorites that blend the tropes of classic westerns into their stories — Firefly, for instance springs to mind. What are some of your other favorites? Tell us about them — and why they work — in the comments now.

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Well, these are the two fundamentally American literary genres. Exploration, colonization, and the occasional genocide are in our cultural DNA and are inherent to both westerns and sci-fi. When you're sick of the dirty, crowded slums and overweaning bureaucracies and dreary fatalism of the old world, you ride off into the sunset in search of new opportunities. You go off to find a place where it feels like you're the first person to look upon this canyon or binary star system (even if that's highly unlikely due to the existence of Indians and aliens), and where everything feels like it's new.

As to the feel of it, well. When you're settling a new planet, do you think it's cheaper to ship enough manufacturing base to build everyone the electric tractors they'll need to get things moving, or cryosleep a few mares and several thousand horse embryos? I hate to break it to those of you who grew up on futures where the only two options are crystal-and-steel placidity vs. industrial grit and urban poverty, but when we start settling exoplanets and terraforming Mars and Venus, we're gonna do it the way our ancestors did, with horses and dogs and sheep and cattle and goats and pigs. The decadent Lagrange habitats and lunar cities will be the vacation spots of the elite, and absolutely out of reach financially for the common asteroid miner, let alone most planet-dwellers. The high-tech warp-setting interstellar tourism economy and/or massive wars between rival star empires absolutely will be preceded by several hundred years of rednecks trying to keep hydralisks and targs out of their sheep enclosures, and bandersnatchi away from their cornfields.