Mike Resnick, as I’m sure I’ve stated before somewhere – probably here – is one of those writers who should not need an introduction. He’s one of most prolific – and versatile – writers in science fiction, and one of the most awarded, having won five Hugos and been nominated thirty-seven other times. If you need to know more, do a search on this site under his name.
The Doctor and the Rough Rider is the latest installment in Resnick’s series on the Weird West, the alternate universe in which the westward expansion of the United States has been stopped at the Mississippi River by the combined magic of the shamans of the Indian tribes of the West. Included among the cast of quite colorful characters have been Doc Holliday, Thomas Alva Edison, Ned Buntline, Geronimo, and in this volume, Theodore Roosevelt.
The action takes place in and around Tombstone, in the Arizona Territory. Geronimo has decided, based on his vision of the inevitable, not to stand in the way of America’s westward expansion. He contacts Doc Holliday (and Geronimo has his own methods of getting the attention of those he wants to speak to – let’s just say that you’re never quite sure if the bird perched on your window sill is a sparrow or a shaman) with express instructions: he wants to talk to Theodore Roosevelt. There are negotiations to be made. And strangely enough, Roosevelt is on his way west.
Four other medicine men are aware of Geronimo’s plans, and band together to create a super-warrior, War Bonnet, a magical creature designed to kill Geronimo and Roosevelt. But there’s a flaw in their plans, and it’s Edison, Buntline, and Holliday to the rescue – along with a hastily assembled group of “shootists” who form Roosevelt’s first Rough Riders.
Resnick obviously has a lot of fun with these stories, and he’s done his research, as evidenced by the list of appendices at the end of the book – including a list of references from an “alternate history” in which the westward march of the white man was not impeded. They have been, however, fairly talky, and this one is no exception. The conversations are not quite as lively as in past volumes – there’s a lot of exposition and personal history built in – but they do offer a wealth of information, and Resnick’s style is engaging enough that they maintain the reader’s interest. But if you’re looking for a lot of action, this is not the series to read. The interest is rather Resnick’s ability to make historical personages come alive in a story that is entirely fictional.