Speculative Wests


Speculative Wests

Popular Representations of a Region and Genre

Michael K. Johnson

Postwestern Horizons Series

286 pages


March 2023


$99.00 Add to Cart

March 2023


$30.00 Add to Cart
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March 2023


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eBook (EPUB)
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March 2023


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About the Book

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.

Author Bio

Michael K. Johnson is a professor of American literature at the University of Maine–Farmington. He is the author of several books, including Hoo-Doo Cowboys and Bronze Buckaroos: Conceptions of the African American West, Black Masculinity and the Frontier Myth in American Literature, and A Black Woman’s West: The Life of Rose B. Gordon.


"Speculative Wests projects two very convincing points. The first is the most intuitive: the western is a productive playground for storytellers from surprisingly disparate genres. The second is the more revelatory: "speculative" westerns and other intersecting genres provide a new discerning lens through which to view western history and the contemporary West. They offer surprising insights, and Johnson's analysis demonstrates that cultural historians are not the only ones who should be engaging with them."—Brenden W. Rensink, Western Historical Quarterly

"This book will be of interest to readers from genre studies and beyond, notably those from ecocriticism, migration studies, Black studies, Indigenous studies, and even trauma studies."—Adrianna Michell, H-Environment

"Johnson manages to give form, and conceptual cohesion to what most current criticism has only examined in studies with a narrower focus. For this, scholars and readers of westerns, science fiction, and speculative fiction, owe him a debt of gratitude."—Christopher Conway, Journal of Popular Culture

"Johnson's book is eye-opening and could be useful for writers or readers who want to be challenged by perspectives on Western fiction that they might not have previously considered."—Jeffrey J. Mariotte, Roundup Magazine

"Speculative Wests should strongly appeal to graduate students and professional scholars studying the West or race and ethnicity in popular culture more generally—and, in doing so, it will provide them with a wealth of primary and secondary sources to pursue."—Travis Franks, Montana: The Magazine of Western History

“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 J. Merla-Watson, coeditor of Altermundos: Latin@ Speculative Literature, Film, and Popular Culture

“The deft analysis of race as it intersects with and challenges genre traditions—the western and speculative fiction—makes this an extremely timely and important book.”—Sara L. Spurgeon, author of Exploding the Western: Myths of Empire on the Postmodern Frontier

“By looking at speculative wests that ‘disrupt’ authenticity and truth claims latent in the mythos of the western, this book provides another example of the contemporary relevance of the western as part of a hybrid genre that enables meditations on past, present, and future.”—Rebecca M. Lush, professor of literature and writing studies at California State University–San Marcos

Table of Contents

1. Race, Time Travel, and the Western
2. Trauma, Time Travel, and Legacies of Violence
3. Alternate Cartographies of the West(ern) in Indigenous Futurist Works
4. Speculative Borderlands I: Mestizaje, Temporality, and History
5. Speculative Borderlands II: Time Travel and Cartographies of Trauma
6. Speculative Slave Narrative Westerns

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