From its opening pages, Grace Curtis’s debut Frontier is unashamedly a post-apocalyptic space western. Three ne’er do wells go after a piece of salvage – an escape pod that has crash landed nearby. The three do not necessarily see eye to eye about how the spoils should be shared. From there, Curtis runs through a bunch of classic Western tropes, characters and sub-genres while building up to an extended flashback, a bunch of revelations and, of course, a showdown.
A Stranger rides into town. This Stranger is carrying what is possibly a forbidden weapon and is looking to find some equally forbidden tech. Before long she is causing havoc and moving on her way becoming, along the way, a series of other western archetypes – Traveller, Stowaway, Gun-for-Hire – before her history, her name and her mission are revealed. The landscape she travels across is a post climate-change affected Earth. Most of humanity had abandoned the planet years before with those left or who chose to stay behind subscribing to a new Gaian religion that eschews new technologies. Being a post-apocalyptic society, the people live under the dystopian shadow of the High Sherriff and his violent deputy Seawall, who is actively hunting the Stranger.
While Frontier is full of Western tropes – gunslingers, horses, railways and preachers – Curtis manages to put a little twist on each one. When the protagonist takes on a courier job, her cargo is not what she expected. When she agrees to help retrieve a valuable artefact it also turns out not to be gold or jewellery. These minor twists sit within a narrative that itself upends the expectations that the reader might have been building up about the world and the motives of its major players.
Frontier has some serious things to say but never takes itself too seriously. And all of its disparate elements come together to make Frontier the post-apocalyptic, sapphic, dystopian future-western with great action and an engaging sense of fun that many readers might not have expected or thought they were looking for.