Space Western is a subgenre of science fiction, primarily grounded in film and television programming, that transposes themes of American Western books and film (such as cowboys) to a backdrop of futuristic space frontiers; it is the complement of the science fiction Western, which transposes science fiction themes onto an American Western setting.
A space Western may emphasize space exploration as "the final frontier". These Western themes may be explicit, such as cowboys in outer space, or they can be a more subtle influence in space opera. Gene Roddenberry described Star Trek: The Original Series as a space Western. Firefly and its cinematic follow-up Serenity literalized the Western aspects of the genre popularized by Star Trek: it used frontier towns, horses, and the styling of classic John Ford Westerns.
Westerns influenced early science fiction pulp magazines. Writers would submit stories in both genres, and science fiction magazines sometimes mimicked Western cover art to showcase parallels. C. L. Moore created one of the first space Western heroes, Northwest Smith. After superhero comics declined in popularity in 1940s America, Western comics and horror comics supplanted them. When horror comics became untenable with the Comics Code Authority in the mid-1950s, science fiction themes took hold, and space Westerns became more popular.
This frontier view of the future is only one of many ways to look at space exploration, and not one embraced by all science fiction writers. The Turkey City Lexicon, a document produced by the Turkey City science fiction writers' workshop, condemns the space Western as the "most pernicious" form of a pre-established background that avoids the necessity of creating a fresh world. Galaxy Science Fiction ran an advertisement on its back cover, "You'll never see it in Galaxy", which gave the beginnings of make-believe parallel Western and science fiction stories featuring a character named Bat Durston. Such scathing attacks on the sub-genre, along with further attacks on space operas, caused a perception that the space Westerns were by definition hack writing and not "true" science fiction. Although the underlying themes remained influential, pure space Westerns did not become popular again in America until the 1980s, when children's cartoons, such as Bravestarr and The Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers used explicit themes of cowboys in space.
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