When does a Western stop being a Western and start being something… else? Mike Resnick poses this question and others in his first foray into steampunk with The Buntline Special, a brilliant and humorously told tale about the Gunfight at the O. K. Corral.
When Doc Holliday is called to the town of Tombstone in the Arizona Territory he expects to find more people who need to be killed. That’s his skill set and he is a man who is somewhat comfortable wearing that skin. But the times have changed, and though Doc Holliday is still a dentist turned gunslinger, the rest of Resnick’s Wild (Weird) West is vastly different. For in that America, the United States stops at the Mississippi River. Beyond that is the domain of the Indian nations, who are ruled by magic-wielding shaman and chieftains Hook Nose and Geronimo.
Holliday is actually brought to Tombstone to protect one Thomas Alva Edison and his partner, Ned Buntline, who are in Tombstone to try and stop the Indian’s powerful magic with their own special brand of technology. However, this is not the Edison we know who later becomes embroiled in a bitter dispute with Nikolai Tesla. This Edison has a mechanical arm in place of the one which was shot off months before by a mysterious assailant, who is more than happy to be working with an engineer as brilliant as Ned Buntline.
In Tombstone, though, the historical steps continue down the winding path as things get weird in a hurry. “Bat” Masterson is cursed by Geronimo and, at night, turns into a full-fledged bat. Meanwhile, Doc Holliday’s only true rival in the west, Johnny Ringo, is resurrected from the grave and the undead John Ringo goes out hunting for one Doc Holliday. However, neither man really wants to kill each other because Holliday knows that he can’t kill the undead, while Ringo really just wants to talk classics and literature before he has to eventually kill Doc Holliday. To say it’s a confusing relationship is like saying you can cause a paradox by taping the buttered side of a piece of toast up on the back of a cat.
In between relieving the curse on “Bat”, Holliday must also deal with the cantankerous and amorous relationship with “Big Nose” Katie, his lady friend from back in Dodge City. Now a madam with humans, cyborgs and full bots as whores working for her, Katie is caught in the middle of the quasi-friendship of Ringo and Holliday.
This book is just plain fun. Resnick does an excellent job with keeping things original and fresh, and despite the mental image of Kurt Russell-led movie Tombstone playing in my head, I was easily carried into this “Weird” Western recreation of the OK Corral. I especially enjoyed “Bat” Masterson’s character just before they ready to complete the deal to relieve the curse upon him. To say “soulless bastard” is an understatement!
I loved this book, though the ending had a bit of foreshadowing at the end. But with the amount of fun I had here, I could easily go for seconds. Highly recommended!
–Review by Jason