The Buntline Special

The Buntline Special

A Weird West Tale

Book - 2010
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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.
Publisher: Amherst, N.Y. : Pyr, c2010.
ISBN: 9781616142490
Characteristics: 321 p. : ill. ; 23 cm.


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Apr 26, 2016

So, apparently, me and “steampunk” have really not been getting along that well. This novel is no different; a boring account of the Gunfight at the OK Corral spruced up with superfluous fantasy elements that have no real effect on the story in an alternate history setting that falls apart under the least scrutiny. Really pretty bad, it can’t even rise to the level of dumb fun. I don’t think I can think of anything that really worked, from the absurd premise to the ridiculous puns drawing on historical figures names (i.e., the Bunt Line, (view spoiler)), and certainly not the boring story telling and lackluster writing.

The Buntline Special has a typically goofy, standard steampunk premise. It’s the Weird West and science and magic coexist in a gumbo of weird genre mashing and retells the old story of Tombstone (Arizona? “Tombstone Territory?” Who knows) with gatling pistols and werebats. However, these elements are mixed so poorly you might well break a tooth on all the contradictory elements. Why was Tombstone chosen as this hotbed of mad science by Edison and Ned Buntline (a two bit hack rather than a captain of industry as presented)- there is no reason. The familiar events of the OK Corral are clumsily shoehorned into this bizarre world of robot prostitutes, “Indian curses,” and zombies, along with historic figures far less interesting than their wikipedia entries, even if they have robot arms now.

The alternate history premise is so patently nonsensical and lazy, I could not suspend my belief for an instant, let alone an entire book. So, apparently, indigenous Americans can use magic and fought European invaders to stalemate, leaving them in control of all territory west of the Mississippi. Fair enough. However, the historical connotations of this major change are all but ignored and the setting, as presented, makes not a lick of sense; why, if capable of power strong enough to check “Manifest Destiny,” did they draw the line at the Mississippi River, what about the eastern peoples? Why was Tombstone founded in the same place with the same name with the same people in this wildly different world? How are things so practically similar in an America without, say, the Louisiana Purchase, the California Gold Rush, or the Missouri Compromise? The Civil War, Texas, and the “Mexican border” are casually referenced, leading me to think that the history is basically unchanged and that Mexico exists as normal, an absurd notion if the US could not expand past the Mississippi river. It’s almost as if the author himself forgets his own premise half of the time. Maybe I’m being picky,* but if the book fails to render any feeling other than bewilderment, something is lacking.

At the very least, atmosphere should be drawn in this iconic Western setting, but the writing is so unappealing and bland, it does not even manage that. Aside from all this set dressing, the familiar story brings nothing new in the telling. Finally, the frankly appalling treatment of women and minorities detract even further. In spite of possessing magical power sufficient to beat back the western powers, like turning into giant snakes or cursing people, the Apache are depicted as shiftless inscrutable primitives who apparently like to throw their lives away for no reason. The less said about the steam powered prostitutes, the better. Don’t bother. There’s got to be better.

*but it really does bug me! According to the book, the Mexican border is described as a few dozen miles south of Tombstone, as in real life- if the US has a treaty with the native tribes to stay east of the Mississippi, how could this border, which was created by the 1853 Gadsden Purchase, exist? Why would the US government purchase territory from Mexico in land that they apparently cannot occupy? Was there still a war with Mexico? Why? Were the Mexicans/the Spanish also kept from expanding north due to native magic? Why keep the same border?

Sep 26, 2015

Great read!

csmo Nov 06, 2012

excellent steam punk fiction

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