Book Review: The Weird West series, by Mike Resnick

The Buntline Special and The Doctor and the Kid
A variation on the Cyber Punk genre, but set in the 19th Century and so may be described as “Steam Punk”, these books are also set in the Wild West of America, to add an interesting theme. So, a historic setting, with the characters (many historical) reflecting the attitudes, customs and conversation of the 19th Century Old West, plus high technology, and also the addition of magic and the supernatural. This all makes for an interesting mix.
The technology comes from Thomas Alva Edison, who invents multiple gadgets, varying from steam powered horse-less stage coaches, to sophisticated weapons and robot “fancy” ladies. He also sports a mechanical right arm, due to an assassination attempt. These inventions are further innovated and developed by Ned Buntline. The historical Ned Buntline was one of the best known promoters of the original Wild West through dime novels (mostly using his imagination). Why Resnick chose to make him a major character and technical innovator in these stories is a mystery. Perhaps because of the imagination he used in his stories about the Wild West, or for an insider joke.
The magic comes from the Indians. They have not been conquered by the white men in this world, but have stopped the United States at the Mississippi River, by using their great magic. Geronimo is one of the powerful Indian medicine men featured in these stories. Edison and Buntline have been charged by the U.S. government to counteract the Indian magic using their new technology, and so enable the U.S. to expand westward.
However, some famous western towns, like Tombstone, Dodge, Wichita and Denver, are allowed to exist by the Indians, because they don’t worry about the mines that support them. Or cows, evidently, because there are also cowboys. In fact, everything that existed in the Old West seems to exist in this world, except the U.S. government. Also, the Indians still own the place.
This explains why Tom Edison and Ned Buntline are working together in Tombstone Arizona in the first book. So add Doc Holliday (who is the main character of the stories), Wyatt Earp and his brothers,  Bat Masterson, plus the Clanton gang and Johnny Ringo, and the scene is right for real western shoot out action. Plus vampires and zombies.
Resnick tries to keep historical accuracy with most of his “real” characters, in description and lifestyle. Also some of the events of the 1880’s. A bit difficult considering the story line, but he seems to do a good job. The reader may confirm this, even if they are not knowledgeable about the Wild West, because of the notes on the historic characters that Resnick provides in Appendices at the end of the books.  A fair bit of name dropping is done, with historical characters coming in and out of the story to add period colour.
In the first book, the climax at the O.K. Corral, and the violent aftermath follow the historical events very closely. Or as closely as Indian magic, vampires and zombies will allow.
In the second book Doc Holliday finds himself low on funds and so must return to Tombstone from Denver, this time in search of dangerous young gunfighter William Bonney, aka Billy the Kid. Again, Indian magic plays a big part in the story, working for and against the “Doc”. So, Tom Edison and Ned Buntline are again involved to try to counteract the magic to help Doc Holliday, and also to start the expansion of the U.S. into the West.
The second book is a little short on action as the story builds. The first book has the shoot-out action leading up to the climax at O.K. Corral to keep it moving. The second book climax is the death of Billy the Kid, and the descriptions of this alternate Wild West and the characters aren’t so engrossing that they can carry the whole story. So the second book goes a little slowly.
There are also big holes in story background. Particularly how the Wild West could exist without the history of American westward expansion which led to the concept of the “Wild West” in the first place. Also, there are railways going everywhere, keeping with the 19th Century tradition, but going across supposedly sovereign Indian country. But to question all, as they say, there lies madness. So it is best to accept the background as is. After all, it is Steam Punk.
Resnick, however, is easy to read, and the stories flow well, with light humour throughout. The action sequences are sharp and quick. Our gunfighters are crack shots and have lightning reflexes.
Both books contain illustrations by J. Seamas Gallagher, which give an impression of what some of the characters would look like in this strange Wild West. Readers will have to decide if they think the robot “fancy” ladies are as attractive as the characters in the book find them.
Glenn Hogue