Title: The Buntline Special
Author: Mike Resnick
May Contain Spoilers
Steampunk is a new genre to me, and is it one that I am starting to enjoy. A lot. I thought The Greyfriar was a fun romp with vampires, air machines, and lots of action, so when I received The Buntline Special, I could hardly wait to dig into it. The book is an attractive little number, with interior graphics that got my manga loving side all excited. The big draw of the book for me, though, are the characters. Most of the cool-cat gunfighters from the wild west are wandering the dusty streets of Tombstone, trying to keep one step ahead of each other. To ensure that things don’t ever get boring, there is even a zombie wandering around town, to complicate matters for everyone.
In this reimagining of the Wild West, Thomas Edison is a new resident of Tombstone, but he has more than his share of enemies. The cattle rustlers and horse thieves don’t like him because his inventions threaten to put them out of business, and the Apache and Cheyenne want him dead. They are afraid that he will discover a way to counteract their magic, which has successfully kept the dreams of western expansion firmly east of the Mississippi. The Earps, Doc Holliday, and Bat Masterson are recruited by the U.S. government to protect Tom and ensure that he lives long enough to discover the secret behind the magic of Geronimo and Hook Nose. Once all of the gun-slingers hit town, the bad guys come crawling out of the woodwork.
The central character is Doc Holliday, and I really liked his portrayal here. He already has one foot in the grave and he knows that he is dying, slowly and painfully, of consumption, so he has no fears of death. He would welcome end to his suffering. Just walking down the street winds him, and his coughing fits leave him gasping for breath. His diet is mainly comprised of whiskey, which doesn’t help, but I guess when you make a habit of pissing off ruffians and thieves, watching what you eat is the least of your concerns. Holliday lives on the edge, and his main pursuits are drinking, gambling, and never backing down from a challenge. The only person who can hold her own against him is Kate Elder, and their volatile relationship is always entertaining.
I enjoyed this character-driven, alternate version of Tombstone, and was only disappointed with the final showdown between Johnny Ringo and Holliday. It was very anticlimactic, and was the biggest letdown for me. After getting all hyped up for the battle between them for almost 300 pages, I was just expecting more from their final confrontation. Likewise, the plot brings the characters together a bit too conveniently, and at times felt very thin. I did enjoy the characters, and loved Doc Holliday’s dry sense of humor. I thought this was a fun read, with clever dialog and characters I wanted to know more about.
Review copy provided by publisher