By Sheila Addison: Labor Day Weekend, I had the opportunity to visit the Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin, TX. The museum is hosting a special exhibit, “COWBOYS IN SPACE AND FANTASTIC WORLDS: A journey through the history of Westerns in Science Fiction,” through December 1, 2019. The museum’s exhibit blurb reads:
From Jules Verne’s 1868 book, Trip to the Moon, Gene Autry’s 1935 Phantom Empire, Star Trek, Star Wars, and on to a galaxy full of contemporary science fiction, visitors discover how the cowboy went from herding cattle on the Texas plains to flying spaceships around distant planets and fantastic worlds.
The exhibit does a fantastic job of connecting themes and tropes from classic Westerns to the use of those same tropes in Sci-Fi movies, books, and comics, digging deep into the history of genre entertainment to draw connections between the two. Check out this Italian poster for Star Wars” which deliberately evokes Spaghetti Westerns:
One of the more interesting pieces in the exhibit is a video presentation of scenes from movie and TV westerns, put side by side with similar moments in SF, some of which could almost be shot-for-shot recreations. I can’t effectively include that here, but I can share the wonderful “Jukebox” they created to play versions of the ultimate crossover song, “Space Cowboy”:
Perhaps of interest to the 770 crowd, there are a number of books and comics on display, including a first edition of a Jules Verne with a gorgeously designed cover:
There’s a good many toys on display as well, and naturally material from Firefly, the ultimate modern “space western.”
There was a section on women in “western” SF, featuring of course Zoe Washburn but also Wilma Deering and Judge J.B. McBride.
I particularly appreciated the final section which looked at how SF aliens are often presented using the same tropes that authors & directors of Westerns apply to Native Americans. The exhibit also commented on SF’s use of slavery as a cause of conflict, in a genre which often completely ignored actual Black people’s existence.
The exhibit ended with a nod to “indigenous futurism,” though this section reflected more art than narrative.
Since the exhibit runs for another month, perhaps some 770 readers can still check it out in person.