2011; 323 pages. Book 2 (out of four) of the “Weird West Tales” series. New Author? : Yes. Genres : Steampunk; Western; Alternate History. Overall Rating : 7*/10.
There are so many things that are different in this Alternate History of the Old West. Unfortunately for Doc Holliday, his terminal illness – tuberculosis, or as they called it back then “consumption” – is not one of them. He has a year or so to live, if he’s lucky, and he’d like to spend his final days in peace at a sanitarium in Colorado.
That takes money, something which he doesn’t have much of anymore, thanks to one of his vices, gambling. Ah, but there’s a $10,000 bounty on Billy The Kid, dead or alive, which is more than enough to cover the sanitarium costs. And Doc’s a retired (or so he says) gunslinger.
But Billy The Kid’s mighty fast on the trigger, and some say he can even outdraw Doc. To boot, there are rumors that he’s protected by some medicine man magic that renders all weapons used against him useless.
Maybe it’s time for Doc Holliday to get some magic of his own. And who better to seek out and ask for it than that great inventor, Tom Edison?
What’s To Like...
I liked the world-building. In this alternate timeline, the US Army is prevented from crossing the Mississippi River due to the powerful magic spells laid down by two Native American medicine men, Geronimo and Hook Nose. Some towns apparently are allowed – among them Tombstone, Denver, Leadville (Colorado), and Lincoln (New Mexico). But nary a single soldier can cross over.
Mike Resnick likes to namedrop, and I mean that in a positive way. So in addition to the O.K. Corral boys: Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp, we meet Oscar Wilde, Susan B. Anthony, Billy the Kid, Sheriff Part Garrett, Geronimo, Kate Elder, Ned Buntline, and Thomas “Tom” Edison. Those last two are buddies of our protagonist, Doc Holiday.
This is also a steampunk novel. Think The Wild, Wild West – either the old TV series, or the more-recent movie version. Tom Edison and Ned Buntline supply a bunch of really neat inventions, among which are robotic bartenders, horseless stagecoaches, monorails, robotic cooks, tasers, and last but not least, robotic hookers. I’m not quite sure how the latter work, but customer satisfaction is high.
There are some kewl drawings scattered throughout the book, which I really liked. There is some cussing, which is certainly realistic, but I didn’t think was absolutely necessary. More on that in a moment. There are also five appendices in the back, to wit: a list of “further reading”, movie stars who played played the various characters we meet in the book, some brief, “non-alternate” biographies of the main characters, an account by Pat Garrett concerning Billy the Kid’s escape, and an account by Bat Masterson about his acquaintance with Doc Holliday. Of the five, I liked the biographies one the best.
The ending is okay, but not very twisty. Doc squares off against Billy the Kid; and Geronimo and Hook Nose do the same. This is a standalone novel, as well as part of a series.
“Are you the notorious Doc Holliday?” asked the man.
Holliday checked to make sure the man was unarmed. “I am,” he replied.
The man extended a hand. “I am the notorious Oscar Wilde. I wonder if I might join you?”
Holliday shrugged. “Suit yourself.”
Wilde sat down opposite him. “I didn’t see you at my lecture last night.”
“Good?” repeated Wilde, arching an eyebrow.
“It means you’re not hallucinating.” (loc. 57)
“Let me see if I’ve got this straight,” he said. “All I have to do is destroy men and buildings that are impervious to arrows, bullets, cannonballs and fire, and in exchange for that, a sick, dying man gets to face the greatest killer in the West on even terms, is that your offer?”
“That is my offer.”
“Give me a minute to think about it,” said Holliday, staring down at the ground. (loc. 692)
The Doctor and the Kid sells for $9.99 at Amazon right now. The other three books in the series all go for that price as well. Mike Resnick has been writing Sci-Fi stories for a long time, sometimes alone, sometimes as a co-author, and sometimes as a contributor of short stories for sci-fi anthologies. So there are a slew of e-books at Amazon that bear his name, usually in the $0.99-$9.99 spectrum.
“(T)he next argument I win with a woman will be the first.” (loc. 2487)
The Doctor and the Kid isn’t perfect. There are some annoyingly repetitive themes, such as Doc reminding everybody that he’s terminally ill, everybody wanting to hear him tell about the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, and Billy the Kid mentioning to Doc how much he likes him.
Also, while there’s an adequate amount of action, the plotline itself doesn’t progress much. For most of the book, Doc keeps tabs on Billy, and Edison tries to figure out how to combat the medicine man magic. The “Science vs. Magic” theme may be realistic: keep trying ideas until one of them works, but in a storyline, it makes for a lot of spinning of one’s wheels.
I was confused as to the target audience. The story was simplistic enough to make me think it was aimed at teenage boys, but then why have all the cussing? Finally, for all the kewl appendices, why not also have one with a map of the settings?
7 Stars. Don’t get me wrong, The Doctor and the Kid was still an enjoyable read, and part of my problems with it may be the fact that I didn’t realize it was book 2 of a series. I struggled to understand the details of the alternate history, and perhaps all this was already given in the first book, The Buntline Special. I’ve added that to my TBR shelf (which has a couple hundred other books), and will probably read it in the next few months.