Fiction Reviews


The Doctor and the Dinosaurs

(2013) Mike Resnick, Pyr, £10.87 / US$18 / Can$19, trdpbk, 303pp, ISBN 978-1-61614-861-4

 

The Doctor in question is Doc Holliday, the famed gambler and shootist, friend of Wyatt Earp, and survivor of the OK Corral. The Dinosaurs are alive and well and wandering around Wyoming in the late nineteenth century. And this is a tale of the Weird West.

This is the fourth such tale from Mike Resnick, the others being The Buntline Special, The Doctor and the Kid, and The Doctor and the Rough Rider. The Weird West is set in an alternative reality, one with a touch of steampunk where the Native American medicine men have real powers of magic and our heroes have occasional use of energy weapons. Many of the characters existed in our own history, though the timelines are not quite the same. This is the second of these tales I have read and I would have to say it is more of the same; it is a light and easy read and the author tells a simple story well.

It is 1885 and Doc Holliday is in the sanatorium in Leadville, coughing up blood. The consumption (tuberculosis) that he has been suffering from all his adult life has almost claimed him - he is unlikely to see tomorrow's sunset. He is not altogether surprised when the owl sitting on his window sill hops into the room and transforms into Geronimo, the greatest of the medicine men. The Apache has a deal for him - an extra year of life in exchange for taking on a tricky task.

Out in Wyoming, two palaeontologists, Edward Drinker Cope and Othniel Charles Marsh, are busy digging for dinosaur bones. They are not working together; indeed, a state of hatred exists between them and they are in cutthroat competition. Unfortunately the area they have decided explore is in the sacred burial grounds of the Comanche, and the Comanche are not at all happy about this. Rather than risk their braves in a series of fights, the medicine men have a plan - resurrect the ancient monsters and let them drive off or kill the desecrators. Whilst Geronimo cares little for the Comanche, he is very afraid that the dinosaurs will prove uncontrollable and will, in time, spread across the land and threaten his own people. He needs someone to stop the digging before the monsters become a reality, and, based on previous adventures together, Doc Holliday is the man he has chosen.

Figuring that he would rather not die just yet, Doc agrees. It turns out he has not been cured but his medical clock has been turned back; he is still ill but at least he is moving again and has all his faculties and abilities. Before long he has teamed up once more with Theodore Roosevelt, one of his few friends, and the two of them join the digging parties. Unsurprisingly, neither of the professors is prepared to give up the chance of wonderful new finds and resolutely refuse to stop, relying on their hired help, principally Cole Younger and Buffalo Bill Cody, to protect them. Knowing that ordinary guns will not stop a big dinosaur, Doc and Theodore again call on the help of inventors Thomas Edison and Ned Buntline for a weapon that might just do the job (or maybe not).

The story ticks along nicely and quite gently throughout. It is told mostly through the conversations between the characters and there is little in the way of tension - it can easily be put down and left for later. There is humour and gentle banter throughout, especially with Docís cynicism, and this keeps it light and enjoyable. It is especially good for those times when you just want to sit back and enjoy a good yarn without having to work hard to follow it. Having enjoyed two of these Weird West tales, I am tempted to backtrack and read the earlier ones as well.

The book comes with a set of interesting appendices concerning the characters. Cope and Marsh, for example, were highly competitive, really did absolutely hate the sight of each other, thought nothing of sabotaging the otherís work (including dynamiting digs), and the 'Bone Wars', as they were called at the time, ended up bankrupting both them - though between them they advanced American palaeontology by a couple of centuries.

Peter Tyers


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