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The Buntline Special

Posted by Dan Smyth On Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Wild West. Dusty towns. Empty streets. Tumbleweed rollin’ ‘cross the prairie. Tombstone, Arizona. Ain’t nothin that better describes it. But this ain’t no normal town. No. It’s got electric cars. Magic Indians. Undead and vicious monsters alike. Read em all and weep, people, cause Resnick’s come to town.

THE BUNTLINE SPECIAL is a weird Wild West tale stripped out of the historical annals of the region and twisted to decent effect by the master of science fiction, Mike Resnick. Think “electro-punk western” and you won’t be far off.

The plot is pretty straightforward. The American Indians have kept at bay the expansionist dreams of the United States with their magical powers and somebody’s upset about it. So they send Thomas Edison out to Tombstone to figure out a scientific way to negate the magic of the Indians. A few of the chiefs don’t take too kindly to it and so Tom is soon in a heap of mortal trouble. So the local sheriff, one Wyatt Earp, calls in a couple of his buddies, Bat Masterson and Doc Holliday, to help him and the brothers Earp protect the scientist. Then, of course, it’s the Indian’s turn, so one of them resurrects Doc Holliday’s only rival when it comes to shooting: Johnny Ringo. And at long last, the stage is set.

The story itself revolves around Doc Holliday, a veritable dentist, who drinks enough whiskey each day to drown an elephant and is slowly dying of consumption. Despite this fact, he’s still the quickest draw in the west and there’s not a soul that doesn’t know just what ol’ Doc will do to 'em if they get on his bad side. He flashes his guns, grumbles at his girl (the proprietor of the town’s only whore house), and talks literature whenever given the chance.

The style of Buntline reminded me a whole lot of STALKING THE DRAGON, the most recent book that I've read by Resnick. After ripping through two chapters and seeing that about 85% of the text was dialogue, a few things became fairly obvious. One, this book was going to move fast; two, I probably wasn’t going to get a whole lot of characterization; three, atmosphere was going to be minimal, sure shootin’; and four, I better not expect a whole lot of action either. That’s essentially what I got.

All the characters are pertty much the same (and no that’s not a spelling error--think dialect): Old West hard cores that’ll shoot you in the head before you can so much as sneeze at them. They talk hard, have short tempers, and are ready to go for their guns at the drop of a hat. Lots o’ drinking and gambling and whoring to be had. Surprisingly though, there was also a lot of respect for the law when it came to killing people. Funny, that.

I had to laugh when I got to the end and realized that the chick that is apparently on the front cover barely even makes a proper showing. Ain’t nothing like a bit (bundle) of cleavage front and center though to make the masses check it out. The book, people. Sheesh. What did you think I was talking about?

Overall, there was too much talking (surprise, surprise) and not enough action for me. Additionally, one of the subplots totally overtook the book, leading to the climax (which only got two pages as it was) feeling fairly lackluster and without impact. It was decent though. Fast, interesting, and infrequently funny, this book is something that you could easily pick up between, say, two Malazan novels and totally blow through with a respectable amount of enjoyment to be had.

In the end, it was fun, but really quite superficial. Right on the edge of "Like" and "Mediocre."

Recommended age: 16 plus
Language: Some fairly strong language
Violence: Animal mutilations, people getting shot
Sex: Talk concerning the whore house, a couple short scenes without detail, and a picture of a robot whore (yes, they're in the book, and don't ask, because I have no idea)

Mike Resnick’s Website


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