Every so often in the publishing world, a genre is declared dead and, however brilliantly a book may be written, the publishers will send an automatic rejection. If they want to continue in their careers, authors either turn to another genre or try to combine what they want to write with another that the readership is told that it wants. Except for the very best sellers like Stephen King and James Herbert, horror died. Writers began to produce fantasy with scenes of graphic nastiness or thrillers, describing the depredations of their serial killers with relish. The Western is another genre that no longer has a shelf to itself in the bookshop. To write one these days means edging the story into the historical section, relating tales of the frontier in nineteenth century America. Occasionally, new genres appear. Steampunk builds on a nostalgia for the inventive side of Victorian society within an alternative universe where the laws of physics must be slightly different.
Some writers decide that no boundaries will dampen their creativeness and have fun trying to see how many genres they can combine under one title. Mike Resnick is one of these. ‘The Doctor And The Rough Rider’ is the third in this series of ‘Weird West Tales’. It is an historical novel as the time setting is 1884 and takes place in the frontier towns of America. It is a western. The main character is Doc Holliday, the consumptive dentist who featured alongside the Earp brothers in the renowned ‘Gunfight At The OK Corral’. In fact, the first of the series, ‘The Buntline Special’, related events surrounding that event. Holliday is waiting to die but spends most of the time drinking, gambling and trying to avoid young punks who think their reputations will be made if they can kill him in a shoot-out.
This is an alternative world novel. The magic of the Indian medicine men has held the expansion of the Europeans to the Mississippi. On the Eastern side, this has developed the independent United States like the one we are familiar with. On the Western side, only a few frontier towns – the Wild West – have been permitted by the native population. The government wants the restrictions lifted so that the population can explode over the whole continent and make use of all its resources.
Many writers of historical fiction like to sprinkle known historical figures throughout their narrative. Resnick is no exception. Though the main characters have been the cowboys and sharp-shooters known from the literature of westerns, he has also introduced some less expected figures. From the first volume, Thomas Edison and Ned Buntline have been west of the Mississippi. Their original mission was to find a way to break the magic holding back the expansion but as they are inventors and problem solvers they have developed any number of devices, mostly using electricity so that this novel has bypassed the period of steampunk to a new version of technology that could best be expressed as electro-punk. They have electrified Tombstone, where they live in adjacent houses, providing it with street lighting and, more recently, an electric printing press. Their humanoid robots work at the local brothel and an armoured, horseless carriage carries the mail as it runs the gauntlet of hostile Apaches.
Doc Holliday has had a relationship of mutual trust with Geronimo. The Indian medicine man has decided that it is time to lift the restrictions on American expansion but there is a price. The other Indian sorcerers have gathered together and created a destructive giant called War Bonnet. It is apparently indestructible and has a prime directive, to kill Geronimo. It cannot, however, kill Doc. For that reason, Geronimo wants Doc’s friend, Bat Masterton, to enlist the help of Theodore Roosevelt. If Roosevelt can kill War Bonnet, Geronimo will lift the restriction. To do it, he will need the inventiveness of Edison and Buntline.
The use of technology to achieve an end result could be said to make the novel Science Fiction but the use of magic shunts it back towards the fantasy camp. Whatever your normal taste in reading, you will find elements within that will entertain you. This is a fast-paced, novel that is a lot of fun to read and Resnick has blended so many genres within the whole that it transcends any label. Find, read and enjoy.
(pub: Pyr/Prometheus Books. 302 page enlarged paperback. Price: $17.95 (US), £13.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-61614-690-0)
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