Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Doctor and the Kid - Mike Resnick

About the book

Doc Holliday needs to replenish his bankroll quickly and uses his skill as a shootist to turn bounty hunter. The biggest reward is for the death of Billy the Kid. Doc enlists the aid of both magic (Geronimo) and science (Thomas Edison).

323 pages (paperback)
Published by: Pyr
Author’s website

Thanks to Pyr for sending me a copy of this book to review.

Recently I’ve become rather interested in fantasy renditions of the Wild West. I usually don’t enjoy books that center on cowboys, gunfights and people who ride stagecoaches across Arizona. In fact, I’m so uninterested in that kind of thing that I know virtually nothing about the Wild West. Perhaps that’s why I’m finding books with these themes so interesting and enjoyable right now. I’m learning that something I had no interest in before is actually quite fun, which is something The Doctor and the Kid is packed with.

Before I continue with my review, I should make it clear that this book is the second in a series, and I’ve never read the first, The Buntline Special. This is important for numerous reasons. First, I could follow the events and characters just fine without the first book as a background which shows that The Doctor and the Kid works well as a stand-alone. Secondly, it’s a given that I would have had more attachment to the characters and the events happening if I had read The Buntline Special first. The only place where my lack of background was evident was with descriptions of the Buntline itself. I could never quite picture what exactly it was and I’m sure I wouldn’t have had that problem if I’d read this book in the order it’s meant to be read.   

The Doctor and the Kid is filled with characters that even those unfamiliar with the infamous Gunfight at the OK Corral will recognize at a glance, characters such as Doc Holiday, Billy the Kid, Wyatt Earp and even Thomas Edison. Doc Holiday is dying from consumption and decides to settle in the mountains of Colorado to die. He gambles away the money he had set aside to pay for his sanatorium stay and decides that a good way to earn it back would be as a bounty hunter. The man who has the biggest bounty on his head is Billy the Kid, and with this setup, Doc Holiday goes to New Mexico, and eventually back to the town of Tombstone.

Let me be crystal clear on one point. This book isn’t deep or profound and I don’t think it’s meant to be. It’s a fun filled romp through the Wild West, complete with familiar characters, fast paced action and even magical Indians who work at keeping America from spreading west. The Doctor and the Kid is one of those books that will appeal to readers who want something a bit more popcorn than anything else. That’s not to say this book is bad. I read the whole thing in a day, but it was a day when I needed to ease up and detach from the world, so this book hit the spot. If I had tried to read this on a day where I was more in the mood for Steven Erikson, I probably wouldn’t have enjoyed it quite so much.

Resnick really makes the Doctor shine. He’s a character who has some very unique facets. He’s a killer, a gambler and a chronic drunk, but he also strictly adheres to a code of honor.  His unique viewpoint really adds to the fast paced action of this book. Doc is rather complex, and added to this complexity is his point-blank discussion(s) of his own death, which tends to make others uncomfortable. Furthermore, Billy the Kid, a man who is a rugged outlaw, is also humanized quite a bit. The Kid is a young man who is quite likable until his temper flares. Thus, Resnick gives interesting insight to two larger-than-life historical figures.

As I mentioned before, The Doctor and the Kid is filled with nonstop action and plenty of steampunk flare for fans of that sort of thing. While occasionally the action (especially toward the end) did get a little overly predictable and over-the-top, the rest of the book makes up for it. This book doesn’t focus on the infamous gunfight, but what happens after. This is, perhaps, what allows Resnick to use a bit more imagination. Nearly everyone knows about the gunfight, but how many people really know what happened in the lives of the individuals after? Resnick’s spin is a fun, steampunk spinoff of history.

A small aside, it’s worth the reader’s time to read the historical details Resnick includes in the back of the book.

The Doctor and the Kid was a book I picked up not expecting to enjoy and I ended up finishing within one day. It’s a steampunk adventure through the fabled Wild West. Resnick did a wonderful job humanizing his famous characters. While some of the action can get a bit over-the-top and the ending is a bit too neat and predictable for my taste, the rest of the book makes up for it. While I plan on reading the first book in the series to give me more of a well-rounded approach to The Doctor and the Kid, it also stands alone on it’s own merit.

4/5 stars

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