Fiction Reviews

The Doctor and the Rough Rider

(2012) Mike Resnick, Pyr, £15.99 / US$17.95, trdpbk, 305pp, ISBN 978-1-616-14690-6


At first glance this looked like just another cowboy story, another tale of the Wild West. The cover, though, bears the logo 'A Weird West Tale'. It also shows a malevolent spirit creature and a couple of dudes bearing nifty steampunk weapons. Hmmm, this might be interesting.

The story is set in 1884 and history has somewhere taken a different path to our own. The United States has only progressed as far as the Mississippi, being held there by the magic of the Native American medicine men. A few Americans have moved further west and started small towns, but the US itself is held firmly at bay; however, this situation cannot last. The spell cast by the medicine men is being slowly eroded, not the least by the technology (or 'white manís magic') of Thomas Edison and Ned Buntline, who are currently living and working together in Tombstone (which therefore has such advantages as electric street lighting).

Geronimo realises that the best hope for the future lies in allowing the white man to move west but through agreement and understanding, though this will require finding the right white man to deal with. A spirit walk reveals this man to be young Theodore Roosevelt. However, he is alone in this belief. Although Geronimo is the greatest of the medicine men, he knows he cannot stand against the massed ranks of the others and so he will need help in his plan, especially as the others are busy creating a huge, fiery, man-like, magical entity called War Bonnet - creating it especially to kill Roosevelt and Geronimo and impervious to all their weapons and magic.

Meanwhile, Doc Holliday is in Leadville, enjoying the mountain air as much as his consumption (tuberculosis) will allow. He is there because he knows it will soon claim him but at least he can pass on in the relative comfort of their sanatorium. He is somewhat surprised when Geronimo appears, outlines his plan, and appeals for his help in persuading Roosevelt to join him in his endeavours. And join him Roosevelt does, taking on the threat of War Bonnet in order for the US to expand and prosper. Of course, when neither magic nor a six-gun can stop War Bonnet, Edison and Buntline are going to have to come up with something pretty nifty to win the day.

The tale involves many other well known Western names, either directly or merely mentioned, including Bat Masterson, Kate Elder, Wyatt Earp, John Wesley Hardin, Texas Jack Vermillion, and Billy The Kid.

The story is told mostly through conversations and has little in the way of descriptions. The conversations flow well and have a light humour and gentle banter running throughout them, though I wondered how many times a new character could have the situation explained to him without it getting tedious (and fortunately it never quite did). As little actually happens, being much more talk than action, the story flows easily and quickly and this makes the book a light and easy read. That is not a complaint; as light and easy reads go this is well written and enjoyable - just do not expect challenging concepts or to be kept up all night because you just have to know what happens on the next page.

The author has won five Hugos and been nominated for many more, as well as receiving numerous other awards. He is well capable of writing more serious and challenging stories and I have never felt let down by anything of his that I have read. This might be an easy read but it is a good one; I enjoyed it and, indeed, can see myself picking up further 'Weird West Tales' from time to time.

I should also mention that it comes with appendices which I found interesting and worth reading in themselves. We are so used to seeing established movie stars in Westerns that we tend to forget how young many of the real protagonists were - being a cowboy was young manís job and life could be short. Doc Holliday suffered from tuberculosis from his mid-teens and finally succumbed to it at a mere thirty six. He trained as a dentist but circumstances (mostly his constant coughing) forced him to give up dentistry and he turned to card-playing and thus to becoming a shootist - depending on the records, he killed up to twenty seven men. According to Wyatt Earp, he regularly drank two or three quarts of liquor a day and yet never showed signs of intoxication. And as for the real life and adventures of Teddy Roosevelt, well, where do I start?

Peter Tyers

Elsewhere on this site we have a Mike Resnick 'Futures' story: 'A Better Mousetrap'.   We also have other Resnick books reviewed on this site including: The Buntline Special, The Buntline Special (2nd review), Ivory, Stalking the Dragon, Stalking the Vampire, Starship: Flagship, Starship: Mercenary and Starship: Mutiny.

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