The Buntline Special, by Mike Resnick
Posted December 25, 2010on:
First things first, I adore Doc Holliday.
Second things second, Mike Resnick’s The Buntline Special just might be the most fun I’ve had all year. Equal parts clever, crazy, snarky and suspensful, if you are looking for a good time here’s a book you can’t go wrong with.
In an alternate history style reminiscent of Tim Powers, Resnick takes what we know happened (or at least what probably happened), and adds in that magical, wonderful science fiction question of “what if”. His answer includes cyborg women, assassins brought back from the dead, Native American magic, horseless carriages, inventors with too much time on their hands and all the fun you can have in the Wild Wild West. It’s not the deepest book I’ve ever read, but sometimes girls just wanna have fun.
In thing only slighty alternate history 1880′s, Thomas Edison has a rockin’ steampunk prosthetic arm and works with Ned Buntline in the town of Tombstone to create horseless carriages, fancy weaponry, brass body armor, cyborgs, and all sorts of other wacky inventions. What Tom thinks up, Ned creates. They’ve brought the electricity revolution to Tombstone. Secretly the inventors have been funded by the US Government to find a scientific way of counteracting the medicine men of the tribes, whose magic has kept the white men from expanding their country past the Mississippi river.
With the inventors in mortal danger from the medicine men and outlaw gangs, Wyatt Earp and his brothers are brought in as protection. The Earps bring in some friends as well. Enter Bat Masterson, and my new favorite literary character, Doc Holliday. While investigating what all the trouble is about in Tombstone (and when isn’t there trouble in Tombstone?), Holliday finds his old flame, Kate Elder back at her madam business, only this time a handful of her girls are part or all metal, thanks to Ned’s brass inventions. There’s a hint of a dialogue regarding these metal women near the beginning that I wish Resnick had expanded, but it was more curiosity on my part than a need of any major or minor plotline. Holliday and Kate’s on again/off again relationship provides some of the snarkiest and most enjoyable dialogue I’ve read in a long time.
But Holliday and Wyatt Earp will have to protect Edison and Buntline from more than just a few outlaw gangs of horse thieves. Thanks to the magic of a tribal medicine man, the famous gunslinger John Ringo has been brought back from the dead on a mission to kill Thomas Edison. Ringo might be undead, but he isn’t stupid: he knows as soon as he gets rid of Edison it’s back to the grave with him. But to get to Edison, Ringo has to go through Holliday first, and as the only two college educated gunmen around, they’d rather sit around and talk philosophy than try to kill each other. The relationship between Holliday and Ringo was just wonderful, with the both of them just biding their time until the inevitable arrives. Resnick passionately develops them as men who have nothing left to lose, and you’ll want to be paying special attention to these two.
Fast paced plot, and addictive characters and witty dialogue aside, can I tell you how much I’m in love with the presentation of The Buntline Special? A handful of illustrations that gave me a giddy urge to grab my colored pencils, fictional and actual newspaper articles headed in a font I’ve only dreamed about, along with a few other artistic touches here and there. The publisher, Pyr, was under no obligation to make this book physically alluring, they made a stylistic choice to do so. If this was Iron Chef, I’d be awarding extra points for presentation.
Until now I was never big on westerns. I sat through the 1993 version of Tombstone just for Val Kilmer. But thanks to Mike Resnick, that movie along with anything else under “Western” is getting added to my Netflix queue.