Mike Resnick: The Buntline Special: A Weird West Tale

Whee, that was a fun read!

Ever hear the story of the gunfight at OK Corral? I’m sure you have, as it’s well-known aspect of American culture, to the point that there as even a Star Trek — The Original Series episode, ‘Spectre Of The Gun’, in which Kirk and company are all transported to a planet where they are trapped in a re-creation of 1881 Tombstone and mistaken for the Clanton brothers, unwilling participants in the infamous gunfight at the OK Corral. There’s also a Doctor Who serial called ‘The Gunfighters’ (1966) which is set there, and Emma Bull’s last novel, Territory, was a lovely take on what happened in Tombstone in that year.

The publicity folks at Pyr were kind enough to send a PDF of this forthcoming novel via e-mail that I loaded on the iPad. Four or so hours later on a rather stormy evening, I had finished it in one long read — a very rare experience as, outside of a Glen Cook or a Simon R. Green novel, I rarely read anything in one sitting.

Though billed as steampunk, The Buntline Special: A Weird West Tale is far more original than most of the that genre, as it is tightly focused on a small set of characters and what they will do over a fairly short period of time, so the technology never overwhelms the characters in this tale.

It is 1881 in a reality where the America ends at the Mississippi River, as the Indian nations have used the magic of their ever-so-powerful medicine men to halt the advance of the Americans. It is worth noting that this America is technologically generations behind the America of our reality, with only Tombstone having the inventions noted in the next paragraph.

An American government that is rather pissed by not being able to conquer this vast territory has sent Thomas Edison to Tombstone on a mission to discover a scientific means of overcoming that magic, but mainly he imagines strange but useful inventions that Ned Buntline actually builds, such as horseless stage coaches, electric street lighting, and android whores. Of course, the government has hired to protect him Wyatt Earp, his brothers, Bat Masterson, and Doc Holliday.

Oh, the subtitle of “A Weird West Tale” is quite accurate. We will, in the course of the novel, encounter a zombie gunfighter, a vampire, shapeshifters of various sorts, very weird inventions, and even a few things I wasn’t expecting even though I read the press one-sheeter on it. It was an absolutely original read that neither slowed down nor felt incomplete. Resnick obviously knew exactly what he wanted to tell for a story and did so.

It is worth noting the cover art and interior illustrations are by J. Seamas Gallagher and they are a perfect complement to the text — they are weird depictions of the characters and inventions here. Think Gahan Wilson as a comparative look and feel.

So how great is The Buntline Special? Let’s just say that I look forward to adding it to my library and will definitely reread it again, as it’s that good.

(Pyr, 2010)

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