June 2, 2020

Review: The Buntline Special by Mike Resnick.

This week, steam punk goes west in our review of The Buntline Special by Mike Resnick. Out last month from Pyr Books, Buntline takes us to the environs of Tombstone, Arizona in the 1880’s in a weird west tale that melds alternate history with fantasy. Fans of this space will remember Mr. Resnick as he of the Starship Rebel series fame.

Like many Steampunk novels, Buntline follows a cast of true to life historical characters. Doc Holiday, Johnny Ringo, and the brothers Earp can all be found within in a saga leading up to a high tech showdown at the OK Corral. We know, the shoot out actually occurred in the alleyway leading up to the coral; an appendix within the book points out this little known fact. In the book, tireless inventor Thomas Edison has set up shop in Tombstone, and is largely responsible for the innovations found in the dusty town.  Electric lights, horseless coaches, and even mechanical prostitutes (!) can all be found about town. Edison himself would be a good subject for a Steampunk novel… has this been done yet?

The wizard Geronimo and the transformation of Bat Masterson as a minion of the undead works in the fantasy angle with the ever popular vampire crowd. In the world of Buntline, the magic of sorcerers such as Geronimo has held US expansion to the east of the Mississippi river. The high tech gadgetry of Edison threatens to undo that, and therein, as they say, lies the conflict.

While engaging, one wonders what spurred this growth of technology and robotics in this alternate west. Most Steampunk tales such as The Difference Engine and the Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack involve a catalyst, a seed that sprouts an alternate time line. If this facet is present in Buntline, it’s safely in the background. The name Buntline Special is derived from the 12” barrel revolver reputedly designed by Ned Buntline for Wyatt Earp, which has been thoroughly incorporated into the legend.

Is Steampunk reaching its logical conclusion as a genre? We have yet to have a full fledged Steampunk TV series, although Warehouse 13 does have fringes of retro. This summer, Cowboys and Aliens might just bring Steampunk to the big screen, and then the Summer of Love might well be over. Science Fiction historical pieces are a challenge to the writer because of the additional tier of research involved. Certainly, Resnick spins a good yarn, and The Buntline Special will take the tale of the shoot out at the OK Corral and move it into the realm of the Weird West. Few that are buried on Boot Hill in the 1880’s died of natural causes, and The Buntline Special promises action, intrigue, and cyber-brothels galore!

Next week, we hit the hard science with a look at that big gig known as the cosmos as we review Paul Weintraub’s How Old is the Universe?


  1. [...] continues to lead the way in all things science fiction this season: notables started off with The Buntline Special, Mike Resnick’s Wild West/Steampunk offering of the year. In the cyber-thriller realm, we also [...]

  2. [...] West has never been weirder… This week, we look at the Steampunk sequel to The Buntline Special with The Doctor & the Kid by Mike Resnick out from Pyr Books. Fans of this series will remember [...]

  3. [...] It’s interesting to note that many alternate retro-tales such as Mike Resnick’s Weird West Buntline Special saga seem to now do away with the pretext for having steam-powered tech centuries early altogether. [...]

  4. [...] alt-history steampunk universe. Fans of the saga and this space will remember our reviews of The Buntline Special, The Doctor and the Kid, and The Doctor and the Rough [...]

Speak Your Mind