Jimm Wetherbee's Reviews > The Buntline Special

The Buntline Special by Mike Resnick
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Sep 26, 2011

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Classifying The Buntline Special is something of a challenge. At first one might be inclined to file it under steampunk. It is set in the late nineteenth century (Tombstone, Arizona, 1881) and the internal combustion is no where insight. However, the reason that no such engines exist is because it would appear that it is going to be bypassed altogether in favor of electricity. Besides, in many ways the Tombstone of The Buntline Special is like the the Tombstone of the Old West. There are no pretensions of it being a dystopia, just a place that had but a nodding acquaintance with civil order. Perhaps the alternative history genre? After all, what can one say about a story set in Tombstone, where the United States ends at the Mississippi? Perhaps, but alternative history is normally based on some rather mundane event turning out differently. In this case, the United States does not extend further west because the Indian Nations have some very powerful medicine men who held the most powerful nation in the western hemisphere at bay by, well, magic, Geronimo being the most prominent practitioner, Resnick also introduces us to undead creatures (anachronistically called zombies to fit the current zeitgeist) and someone who is somewhere between a vampire and a werewolf. So maybe we are back to steampunk and specters spawned by the Victorian age.

What we don’t have here is a Western. Even though this is Tombstone, even if we Doc Holliday, the Earps, the Clantons, and the gunfight at the OK Corral, there isn’t a lot of actions or tension leading up to what action there is. There really isn’t that much science fiction either. Yes, it features Thomas Edison in Tombstone working feverishly on a technological way to counter the Indian magic. Yes, Tombstone has electric street lamps (which no other municipality can boast) and electric vehicles, but it provides no explanation of how Tombstone is generating all this electricity and it boasts something featured as super strong (bullet proof, in fact) super-light brass. Moreover, there is barely a clue as to how Edison is suppose to counter Geronimo and his ilk.

What there is, is dialog. Lots of it, wry, witty, understated, and just plain fun. As one might expect, Resnick gives Holliday the best lines, making almost everyone else a foil for his repartee. That all the living characters (and I dare say a fair number of readers) are clearly out of their depth without their even realizing it when confronting Holliday makes his wit all the more savory. The art nouvelleque illustrations by Seamas Gallagher also add a hint of mischief. For that reason, I am not even going to give a synopsis of the plot, because while the plot makes sense and is well woven together, what really matters the characters that history (for the most part) and Resnick brought together for what is an enjoyable and diversionary read.
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