Book Review: The Buntline Special by Mike Resnick
This review is in the current issue of Bull Spec Magazine, Issue #5. Go buy it. Now. 🙂
Any reader of Steampunk fiction is used to the traditional setting – Victorian London. However, while this familiarity makes it easy for many writers to pen fiction in the genre, it does lend itself to being rather humdrum and predictable. However, in The Buntline Special, Mike Resnick moves away from jolly old England, and instead places it in the Weird West (notice, I didn’t say the Wild West). Pulling in well known American Western heroes like the Earps and Doc Holliday, he paints a picture of a Tombstone Arizona that might have been, and a past that never was.
Fans of the venerable heroes may take offense to the book in that their lives are painted in such a different light. I can say without a doubt that Resnick worked hard to maintain the individual characters. They are only slightly different since the setting isn’t exactly their normal stomping grounds. Additionally, Thomas Edison has been sent to Tombstone to work on his inventions (and to find a way to stop American Indian magic). Working with Edison is Ned Buntline, not just a dime novelist, but a craftsman and inventor like Edison.
The story builds up, holding onto many events leading up to the famed gunfight at the O.K. Corral. In attendance is Johnny Ringo (now a zombie) and Bat Masterson (cursed by Geronimo to, well, turn into a bat). When the Earps (and Holliday) and the Cowboys clash in the alley in Tombstone, the full force of the setting comes to life when crazy weapons and lightweight brass armor come into play. These strange technologies do not alter the events too much from our real world stories, though, keeping a sense of the familiar in play.
I found the entire book extremely fun to read, and I plowed through its pages in just under a few days. The characterization was overall light, relying on the reader to know who these people were before they opened the book, but still helped someone unfamiliar with the characters get an idea of what they were about. Also, while knowledge of the story revolving around the Earps and the Cowboys in Tombstone helps the reader establish themselves early, it isn’t a requirement to enjoy this book.
My biggest gripe comes in the quick ending. It’s true that in the days of the old west that many disputes were solved quickly and fatally at high noon with pistols, and that is definitely how this book wraps up its final dispute. However, with the amount of tension built up between the two characters, I would have preferred it to be a little more exciting. Sure, we know that Ringo and Holliday will be squaring off at some point to determine who is the best gunslinger. I would’ve preferred it to drag out at least a few more pages and not end so suddenly.
Buntline Special is a fun and fast read, one I recommend to anyone who is a fan of Steampunk, the old west, or just wants to read a vastly different take on the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. The change of setting makes for something original and different for people who think they’ve read all that Steampunk has to offer.