The Buntline Special: A Weird West Tale
by Mike Resnick
Cover Artist: Seamus Gallagher
Review by Drew Bittner
Pyr Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9781616142490
Date: December 2010 List Price $16.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Thomas Edison and Ned Buntline have transformed the town of Tombstone (Arizona territory) into a technological wonder, with electric lights and self-powered vehicles clad in impenetrable brass. Not everyone is thrilled with change, though, and so Wyatt Earp has to call for reinforcements. But in a world of steampunk inventions and weird Native American magic, can a humble six-shooter prevail? Or will someone need to take up--the Buntline Special?
Mike Resnick's The Buntline Special is a madcap mashup of steampunk, Old West dime novels, and alternate history, blended through a sly and witty perspective. In his version of Tombstone, Edison and Buntline are performing miracles--but Edison has already paid for it with his right arm (taken by an assassin's bullet), and now he and Buntline live in fortified, booby-trapped bunkers.
Earp calls in Bat Masterson and his secret weapon, Doc Holliday. Holliday is the central figure of the tale, coming to Tombstone and seeing its marvels for himself, as well as learning the ropes of the town itself. The corrupt sheriff is on the payroll of the horse-stealing Clantons (who stand to lose their livelihood if Edison's horseless carriages are mass produced); Earp's brother Virgil is the marshal and the only counter to the sheriff. The Earps own a saloon, the Oriental, which gives them a base of operations and a stake in the town's future.
That future is an uncertain thing. Arizona remains a territory because the Native Americans possess magic that holds the Union army at bay along the Mississippi River. White settlers are tolerated by Geronimo (who is a shaman as well as a mighty war chief) and Hook Nose in small numbers, but a full-on settling of the West has been thwarted. Edison and Buntline could change all that.
Holliday renews a stormy relationship with Kate Elder, proprietress of the town's best bordello (featuring all-natural, cyborged, and all-mechanical whores) and makes himself known to the Clantons in a violent fashion. Since the Clantons are under the protection of the shaman Hook Nose, this invites retribution--and the dead gunslinger Johnny Ringo is reanimated to take on Holliday and kill Edison.
Suffice it to say that nothing goes according to plan, and the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral takes a very different turn in this world. As Edison races to unlock the key to Hook Nose's magic, Bat Masterson contends with a remarkable curse of his own while Holliday staves off his inevitable demise from tuberculosis with gallows humor and an unmatched skill with a gun. Problem is, even the best bullet won't put down a zombie like Ringo--so he needs something more.
Will it be Edison's fantastic technology that saves the day, or will Tombstone's defenders go down with guns a-blazing?
Buntline Special is a terrific and very fast-paced read, full of engaging characters and outlandish situations. Holliday in particular is a great character, and I hope Resnick returns to him at some point; the groundwork is laid for a sequel or two, which we can all hope happens sooner rather than later.
Spending time in Resnick's Tombstone is well worth any reader's time.