Uncharted Territory is a highly original and amusing combination of the Western and science fiction. Willis evokes the Western through the desertlike setting of Boohte and the explorers’ use of alien creatures that resemble ponies. Finriddy and Carson have an amiable male-bonding relationship that evokes the friendship of cowboys on the trail. C. J. fulfills the role of the female cook/housekeeper by staying at the base and pestering the “boys.” Evelyn, their visitor, fills the role of greenhorn, trying hard to be like the explorers but failing. Bult is the native guide who has his (or her) own agenda but who does care for the explorers. The government pretends to protect and care for the natives, but the explorers are the ones who truly love and appreciate the land.
The novel is science fiction because the stock characters and plot all take place on an alien planet, in the future. Willis draws on science fiction to create an alien life-form whose sexual identity is unclear. The novel contains technical innovations, such as “gates” that allow people to travel from planet to planet with ease and “pop-ups,” three-dimensional videos that are easily portable. The thrill of charting new territory is moved from the West to space, in which there are planets still unknown to humanity.
Like science-fiction writers such as H. G. Wells in The War of the Worlds (1898), Willis uses science fiction to criticize the way that humans exploit resources and people. Finriddy and Carson are well aware that as soon as they discover a valuable resource, the planet will be opened to commercial exploitation and the natives will lose control of their world.
Although Willis draws on the form of Western to create her science-fiction novel, she also...
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