The latest book by the prolific Mike Resnick is The Buntline Special, a standalone novel that gifts the events leading up to the gunfight at the O.K. Corral with a steampunk treatment. In this fantasy world—depictions of which are supplied by the talented illustrator, J. Seamas Gallagher—the United States cannot expand beyond the Mississippi River due to the magic-wielding Medicine Men of the Apache Indians, led by Geronimo. Thomas Edison, inventor extraordinaire, is dispatched to Tombstone to discover scientific methods to counter the Indians’ magic, and Doc Holliday and the Wyatt Earp crew are tasked with protecting Edison.
Sparse with descriptions and overflowing with witty banter, The Buntline Special delivers dialogue to die for. When zombie Johnny Ringo observes that the consumptively ill Doc Holliday looked as if a strong wind might blow him away, Doc replies, “A strong wind might…But a dead gunslinger won’t.” Credit the dialogue for propelling the novel forward at such a spine-bending pace.
Historical figures reimagined
Though there may be little proof that the real Big Nose Kate ran a brothel, what’s a western without a kickass madam? For that matter, what’s a steampunk western without robot prostitutes and the gentlemen who love them? The whole Earp crew is present, as is the Clanton gang, not to mention Johnny Ringo, who has been brought back from the dead to make life difficult for our protagonist, Doc Holliday. And perhaps because Nikola Tesla has been done to death in steampunk fiction (or that Tesla’s only 25 years old in 1881), as mentioned above, Resnick chooses instead to feature the bright-eyed Edison, with mechanical arm enhancements, of course.
Then there’s batty Bat Masterson and the talented Ned Buntline, the manufacturer who realizes all of Edison’s funky ideas and crafts the titular Buntline Special that resolves the climactic gunfight. Even if you don’t already know these folks (or can’t be bothered to Google them), Resnick provides a handy appendix with short biographies of the real life counterparts.
Why should you read this book?
Do you love rollicking adventures? Appreciate the wry gunslinging attitude? If you don’t mind a book that reads like a movie script, The Buntline Special is vying for a space on your book shelf.