Ray Gun Reviews
SF/F reviews — and ray guns!

The Buntline Special by Mike Resnick

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The Buntline Special by Mike Resnick
Pyr, 2010, 321pp.

This book can be summed up in three words: Arizona, 1881, steampunk. Now, anyone who is a Wild West history buff should immediately know where in Arizona the story takes place, who the central characters are, and what the story is about, but for those who may not have grown up in Arizona (as I did), here’s a hint: the OK Corral. Now do you understand?

Steampunk as a genre doesn’t seem to be losing any steam. Instead, it is giving both new and established authors a lot of fertile ground to explore, so it was only a matter of time before someone hit on the idea of taking steampunk out West to Tombstone, Arizona, and who better to do it than multiple-award-winning author Mike Resnick?

In Mr Resnick’s more than capable hands, the story of the OK Corral takes on a new twist. In this alternate universe of steampunk machines, inventor Tom Edison has gone out west, ostensibly to set up shop with fellow inventor Ned Buntline, but in reality at the behest of the U.S. government, which wants Edison to determine what magic the natives have performed that is keeping the U.S. from expanding west of the Mississippi.

Edison and Buntline make a perfect team: Edison comes up with the ideas and Buntline executes them, transforming Tombstone into more than a mining town. But the U.S. government is worried that the Indian leaders Geronimo and Hook Nose are going to try to kill Edison, so they hire local marshall Virgil Earp to keep Edison safe. Earp and his two brothers, Morgan and Wyatt, take the job but also bring in their friends John Henry “Doc” Holliday and Bat Masterson to help them out.

It doesn’t take long before Holliday, Masterson, and the Earps learn that the local gang of cattle and horse rustlers, the ‘Cowboys,’ was hired to take out Edison. In the course of their investigation, though, Masterson is cursed to live his evenings after his namesake. Additionally, gunslinger Johnny Ringo is sent to kill Edison. The fact that he died earlier in the year doesn’t seem to be stopping him — actually, very little seems to be stopping his zombie.

Toss into this already heady mix brass armor, zany inventions (including robotic gear-laden whores), and more, and you get one heck of a fun read. Resnick’s crisp, clean style works perfectly with a huge cast of historical characters that he deftly brings to life. I read the book in about a 36-hour time frame, which is a relative speed reading for me these days. The story is fun and rollicking, never giving the reader much of a chance to catch his breath. Even after the shootout takes place, the pace doesn’t slacken until all the threads have been neatly taken care of.

But that doesn’t mean this is a stand-alone novel. Resnick makes it clear at the end that this is only the beginning of a series of his Weird West. And I, for one, am glad.

One Response to “The Buntline Special by Mike Resnick”

  1. I read the Kindle version of this on my handheld device, and really liked it. Resnick has a fluid, easy style, and he effortlessly paints a new angle on the Doc Holliday / Johnny Ringo legend. Recommended.

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