Mike Resnick’s The Buntline Special is an action-packed, shoot-em-up Steampunk version of the infamous events at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Arizona. It has were-bats and zombies, bulletproof brass and an electric stagecoach, Thomas Edison and Wyatt Earp. It is a fantastically inventive adventure.
Which is why it’s a shame that the entire first chapter doesn’t need to exist. It consists of nothing but dialogue for expository purposes between Wyatt Earp, who is never again a viewpoint character, and a shadowy conspiracy figure who does not reappear. Mr. Resnick’s skill is certainly superior to this clumsy blunder of a beginning! Ignore it and go on to enjoy the rest of the novel.
In this envisioning of the West, the United States stops at the Mississippi River, though there are settlements throughout the western half of the continent. The magic of various tribes’ medicine men keeps the land-hungry states at bay. Thomas Edison has moved out to Tombstone in order to find a mechanical way of counteracting this magic. Understandably, the medicine men are not pleased. Wyatt Earp and his brothers are commissioned to protect Mr. Edison from the inevitable assassination attempts. It is for this reason that Wyatt Earp brings in Doc Holliday.
I have always found the emaciated, sardonic gunslinger charming, and Mr. Resnick’s Doc Holliday certainly charmed me. He is a compelling central character with depth exceeding that of every other person in the book. I wish there was a little more to some of the characters, especially Thomas Edison, who spends the entire book being angelic and inquisitive. The most intriguing character, I would have to say, is the Thing That Was Once Johnny Ringo. Raised from the dead in order to measure his gun-wielding talent against Holliday, he elects to have intellectual conversations with him instead. I do love an unusual zombie.
Let me speak of the gadgetry. The gadgetry was fantastic! An inventor named Ned Buntline (yes, this is where the title of the book comes from) invented a bulletproof form of brass, which he welds into body armor, electric stagecoaches (the Bunt Line), protective siding for saloons, and robotic ladies of the evening. Oh, and guns. The titular special is a gun. All sorts of artillery springs forth from the fertile minds of Mr. Edison and Mr. Buntline, with, of course, the aid of the author himself. The only Steampunk gadget missing is an airship.
I recommend this book. It’s fun. If you enjoy tales of the Old West, this is the novel for you. I give it three and a half gears out of five.
Your Correspondent from the Bookstore,
Penny J. Merriweather