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Review: The Buntline Special by Mike Resnick

>>Monday, March 21, 2011

Title: The Buntline Special
Author: Mike Resnick
Format: ARC
Pages: 321
Genre: Steampunk
Publication Date: December 2nd, 2010
Publisher: Pyr
Rating: C-

I first discovered The Buntline Special months ago after seeing the cover on various blogs. I was interested in the idea of a steampunk/wild west story. When I found out I could review it for Dreams and Speculation, I jumped at the chance.

The premise of the book is simple: Thomas Edison and Ned Buntline have joined forces; Edison with his genius ideas and Buntline with his expert engineering skill. Together they have created multiple inventions such as carriages that need no horses, automatons, special guns and other steampunk gadgets. Their success has made them a target and so the US government whisks them away to Tombstone, to work on their technologies in hiding. While there, the Earps take the responsibility for protecting them, especially after Edison gets his arm shot off and then replaced with a mechanical arm. They enlist the help of the best in the business, Doc Holliday and Bat Masterson. The tale centres on Holliday and his experience in Tombstone; his encounters with the magic-using Native Americans, the Cowboys, and Kate Elder, who owns the local brothel.

Unfortunately, the book did not work for me. It seems that it has the recipe right for a great action adventure story, but the execution failed. The writing is quick, smooth and overall easy to read, however, it is focused too much on dialogue. Often the dialogue between characters became bogged down by really cheesy statements. You might expect that from a western movie, but when reading a novel, it can get old really quickly. While you might also expect some great action, most of the book’s scenes take place in the saloon while characters ate breakfast or drank. I didn’t understand why there was so much time dedicated to these scenes. Even the big showdown at the end was disappointingly over in a page or two.

Adding to that, there were many subplots integrated into the story to the point that the main plot was often pushed to the side. I found that this didn’t help the pacing since I often wondered where the story was going.

Lastly, I thought that while some characters were interesting (Holliday, Geronimo), others were found lacking. One example is Kate Elder, the only female character of the book. I really wished she either had more development or there were other females. A lot of the females were the whores in Kate’s brothel, and even then, they were automatons! There was too much attention paid to the mechanical prostitutes rather than real human women. It made me wonder, who is that woman on the cover? Kate? I don’t think she ever left her brothel.

Overall, I would say that Resnick missed the mark with The Buntline Special. If you’re a die hard western fan, I’d say try it, but don’t expect a lot of action.

ARC was provided by Dreams and Speculation.

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