Mike Resnick’s The Buntline Special is a steampunk-injected re-telling of the gunfight at the OK Corral. Many of the classic characters, including Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp, are present, making for a fun adventure.
The steampunk elements of The Buntline Special are introduced at the very beginning as Doc Holiday rides an electric bulletproof stagecoach into Tombstone. Resnick doesn’t tell us much about what happened to make magic work or the how the alternative technologies came to be — they just are, and it works for the most part.
Aside from Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp, Resnick introduces two characters that really make the story work. Thomas Edison and Ned Buntline are the brilliant inventor duo responsible for the steampunk technology. Edison is already well-known for his many contributions to science and technology, but Resnick takes some artistic liberties with Buntline and fashions him into a sort of mad builder who takes what Edison dreams up and makes it into practical inventions.
At the heart of the story is a conflict between the United States and the Indian Nations. In The Buntline Special, the Indian Nations have magic to call upon and have effectively stopped the expansion of the USA at the Mississippi river. Edison and Buntline, living in Tombstone, are working on developing technology and tools that will counteract this magic while the Earps and Doc Holliday have been contracted to protect them after an assassination attempt has cost Edison an arm.
There are moments of humor in The Buntline Special and Resnick paints a good picture of what Tombstone is like with silver miners trying to get rich, others trying to profit off them, and all the supporting characters including a whorehouse madam. But the middle section of the book was just day after day of Doc Holliday waking up, getting drunk, going gambling, sleeping with a prostitute, and starting over again the next day. At times I was just waiting and waiting for the climax to finally arrive.
If you like steampunk and westerns then you will probably enjoy their combination in The Buntline Special. It’s not one of those books that is going to hold a permanent place on your top 10 list, but it’s interesting and original.
Weird West Tales — (2010-2013) Publisher: Welcome to a West like you’ve never seen before, 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? Think again, as five-time Hugo winner Mike Resnick takes on his first steampunk western tale, and the West will never be the same.