The Buntline Special by Mike Resnick

Rating 8.8/10
A lively and humorous take on an alternate Wild West.

The year is 1881. The United States of America ends at the Mississippi River. Beyond lies the Indian nations, where the magic of powerful Medicine Men has halted the advance of the Americans east of the river.

An American government desperate to expand its territory sends Thomas Alva Edison out West to the town of Tombstone, Arizona, on a mission to discover a scientific means of counteracting magic. Hired to protect this great genius, Wyatt Earp and his brothers.

But there are plenty who would like to see the Earps and Edison dead. Riding to their aid are old friends Doc Holliday and Bat Masterson. Against them stand the Apache wizard Geronimo and the Clanton gang. Battle lines are drawn, and the Clanton gang, which has its own reasons for wanting Edison dead, sends for Johnny Ringo, the one man who might be Doc Holliday's equal in a gunfight. But what shows up instead is The Thing That Was Once Johnny Ringo, returned from the dead and come to Tombstone looking for a fight.

The Buntline Special is the first of a series of books in the Weird West Tales by Mike Resnick. Resnick has 5 Hugo awards and a Nebula award to his name as well as various other awards. With The Buntline Special he explores a new wild west, combining steampunk with alternate history and does not shy away from other (un)lively introductions. Welcome to a Weird Wild West!

When I first got to know about The Buntline Special I thought it would be very much like the movie Wild Wild West which also combines steampunk in a western setting. But after finishing The Buntline Special, reading through the appendix and searching on the internet, I found that there was much more to The Buntline Special. It is set in an alternate version of the Wild West in the town of Tombstone. Resnick's research into the characters and the events was extensive and this is shown in the storyline. This rearrangement of past historical events, rewriting it in his own style was done neatly and led to a very funny story.

The Buntline is a short read that owes its great pacing to the witty dialogues, enjoyable characters and great writing style. You are placed from one scene into the other but the reading does not feel rushed, the chapters flow into each other nicely. I first thought that this story would focus on both Edison and Buntline, however they both have supporting roles. The main focus is on Doc Holliday, who has been called into action by his friend Wyatt Earp. Edison was called to Tombstone to find a means to counteract the magic of the Indian wizards, but with more lingering threats appearing, protection is needed for both Edison and Buntline and this is where Holliday and his friend Masterson come into play. Their appearance in Tombstone sets of a chain reaction and things soon go from bad to worse with a humorous undercurrent to it all.

Like I mentioned, the main character of The Buntline Special is Doc Holliday, who is an amusing and entertaining character. He is very nonchalant towards certain subjects, like his disease and his take on dying in a possible gunfight. But on another take he is passionate about other endeavours, which he tries to pursue with Johnny Ringo, his arch enemy. His character shines in this duology in discarding big things but being passionate about little things. Of course the dialogues that Doc has with the other cast of the characters are engaging and joking to say the least. Two other characters that were nice to read about were Edison and Buntline, both scientists; where Edison imagines and Buntline executes the ideas. Having introduced electricity to Tombstone and many other pleasurable ideas gives a great setting to the steampunk aspect in The Buntline Special. And then there is Johnny Ringo, animated, everything is possible with magic in the weird west. But how do you defeat the animated version of Johnny Ringo? This is where Edison and Buntline have their job cut out for them. It was good to read that they did not invent a solution on the fly but that it was incorporated into one of the chapters during a previous encounter. Last but not least there is Bat Masterson, which he becomes literally after a curse is cast on him, again this appearance is followed up with jokingly dialogues. All the characters were great to read about, some more shallow than the others but then again it is impossible to let everyone shine.

The events that actually lead up the plot line in The Buntline Special are the actions of the Apache Indians. I did find that several action could have been motivated a bit better, in casting the curses and helping Doc Holliday. What I did find fruitful was the small cliffhanger that was introduced in the last page. There were actually three Indian tribes, two fighting against Edison and the other occupants of Tombstone. Having both failed, they are now sitting down... this could prove quite the hassle and adventure for the upcoming books in the weird west.

It should be said that The Buntline Special is a humorous take on an alternate Wild West and with this Mike Resnick has proved to be successful. The rewriting of the original events and characters produced a lively tale. This Wild Weird West invites for more exploration.

A thanks to Pyr for kindly providing me with the review copy.

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