Speculative Wests

Speculative Wests

Popular Representations of a Region and Genre

Michael K. Johnson

“Michael K. Johnson’s Speculative Wests has a unique feel in its cogent analysis of the western motif in recent speculative fiction written by BIPOC authors between 2016 and 2020. He reinvigorates frontier mythology with politically charged genre critiques regarding time travel, alternate history, and future wars linked to the American West and its history.”—Isiah Lavender III, author of Race in American Science Fiction and Afrofuturism Rising: The Literary Prehistory of a Movement

“A timely and astute study that enlarges our understanding of U.S. ethnic futurisms through conceptualizing ‘speculative westerns’: new hybridized forms suturing the western and speculative genres. Through incisive close readings, Michael K. Johnson charts alternative spatial and temporal trajectories of the American West and U.S.-Mexico borderlands.”—Cathryn Josefina Merla-Watson, coeditor of Altermundos: Latin@ Speculative Literature, Film, and Popular Culture

Looking across the cultural landscape of the twenty-first century, its literature, film, television, comic books, and other media, we can see multiple examples of what Shelley S. Rees calls a “changeling western,” what others have called “weird westerns,” and what Michael K. Johnson refers to as “speculative westerns”—that is, hybrid western forms created by merging the western with one or more speculative genres or subgenres, including science fiction, fantasy, horror, and alternate history.

Speculative Wests investigates both speculative westerns and other speculative texts that feature western settings. Just as “western” refers both to a genre and a region, Johnson’s narrative involves a study of both genre and place, a study of the “speculative Wests” that have begun to emerge in contemporary texts such as the zombie-threatened California of Justina Ireland’s Deathless Divide (2020), the reimagined future Navajo nation of Rebecca Roanhorse’s Sixth World series (2018–19), and the complex temporal and geographic borderlands of Alfredo Véa’s time travel novel The Mexican Flyboy(2016). Focusing on literature, film, and television from 2016 to 2020, Speculative Wests creates new visions of the American West.

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