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REVIEW: 'The Buntline Special' by Mike Resnick

   The United States of America ends at the Mississippi River. Beyond lies the Indian nations, where the magic of powerful Medicine Men has halted the advance of the Americans east of the river.

An American government desperate to expand its territory sends Thomas Alva Edison out West to the town of Tombstone, Arizona, on a mission to discover a scientific means of counteracting magic. Hired to protect this great genius, Wyatt Earp and his brothers.

But there are plenty who would like to see the Earps and Edison dead. Riding to their aid are old friends Doc Holliday and Bat Masterson. Against them stand the Apache wizard Geronimo and the Clanton gang. Battle lines are drawn, and the Clanton gang, which has its own reasons for wanting Edison dead, sends for Johnny Ringo, the one man who might be Doc Holliday's equal in a gunfight. But what shows up instead is The Thing That Was Once Johnny Ringo, returned from the dead and come to Tombstone looking for a fight.

Welcome to a West like you've never seen before, where "Bat Masterson" hails from the ranks of the undead, where electric lights shine down on the streets of Tombstone, while horseless stagecoaches carry passengers to and fro, and where death is no obstacle to The Thing That Was Once Johnny Ringo. Think you know the story of the O.K. Corral? Thing again, as five-time Hugo-winner Mike Resnick takes on his first steampunk western tale, and the West will never be the same.


The cover blurb gives a pretty good idea of what this book is about, but I can't say it painted the perfect picture for me. I was expecting something a bit larger in scope after the talk of Edison and America's lack of expansion due to the Medicine Men of the Indian Nation. What I got was something that focuses pretty much only on the O.K. Corral fight and the build to it with Edison and Buntline focused on supplying Doc and the Earps with fancy gadgets to help them solve problems. The only other large story element was "Bat" Masterson being turned into a (part-time) giant bat by Geronimo after what felt like a random incident.

The book itself was a fun and easy read. I would almost say it read like a young adult book except for some of the language and use of that western staple: whores. The characters are instantly familiar if you have ever watched the movie Tombstone. Even some dialogue match up, though being based on historical re-tellings I suppose it could have simply come from the same source material. In the end, it just made the book and characters easy to get right into.

I found the book to be a bit dialogue heavy. Normally I like the use of dialogue to move scenes and stories along in absence of action, but it often seemed like the characters were talking around in circles just to talk. At times it felt like the writer was trying to fluff what could have been an interesting short story into a full book. But it was all paced well enough that you didn't feel like you ever got stuck in a rut in the story.

Bottom Line:

If you are a fan of steampunk or the old west and want to give something with a different twist a try, this might be a fun book for you. It wasn't as strong a story as I expected, but was still enjoyable.

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