The Doctor and the Rough Rider (Weird West Tales)
by Mike Resnick
Cover Artist: Seamus Gallagher
Review by Drew Bittner
Pyr Trade Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9781616146900
Date: 04 December 2012 List Price $17.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /
Such is the set-up for The Doctor and the Rough Rider, Mike Resnick's third weird Western about Doc Holliday. Chock a block with magic, strange schemes, historical personalities, and the weight of the future, these stories exemplify the Western tradition of making giants out of men with a talent for trouble and a knack for survival. Resnick has simply taken that extra step of adding magic literally to Manifest Destiny.
Geronimo seeks out Doc as the gunfighter contemplates his final days in a hospital. He says that the barrier he and others raised so long ago may be brought down, but he will only deal with Teddy Roosevelt. Doc is reluctant, realizing he only has a handful of good days left, but he knows that the nation's destiny lies in reaching the Pacific--and if he doesn't help, that destiny may not be achieved for another century. So he heads north, to find where Teddy Roosevelt has taken ownership of two ranches after leaving New York, where he buried his wife and baby daughter.
Intrigued by the prospect of helping America move west, Roosevelt agrees to come meet Geronimo. Problem is, the other medicine men have conjured a great and terrible creature that will seek out and kill Roosevelt; he has a limited amount of time before the creature will reach its full strength and find him, whether he's in Tombstone or elsewhere west of the Mississippi.
Doc and his allies, including Bat Masterson (drawn back into matters due to his friendship with Roosevelt), devise increasingly desperate schemes to stop the monster and cement an alliance between Roosevelt and Geronimo. But even the gathering of a rugged bunch of outlaws into a ragtag fighting unit will only slow down what's fated to be. And Roosevelt had better figure out how to stop a magical monster, or his own destiny might be Boot Hill.
Resnick provides yet another chapter to the fantastical adventures of Doc Holliday, made (unhappily) famous for a gunfight and destined to be the cat's-paw of Geronimo. Doc is a hard drinker, an antisocial and ill-tempered man of violence, and a consumptive with a sense of humor darker than midnight; however, in Resnick's masterful hands, he is a complex, engaging and even sympathetic figure.
Roosevelt is a protean Renaissance man, with broad interests and an obsession for both health and learning that borders on the demented. Not one to back down from a fight, his biggest fear is that he will prove unequal to the challenge set him by Geronimo, and thereby set back America's hopes and opportunities. He's a fellow whose strength lies more in his wits than in his muscles, which makes him a refreshing hero indeed. As characterized by Resnick, he is just as amazing in fiction as he was in real life.
Thomas Edison and Ned Bunting resurface in this volume as well, contributing invaluable technical support (as well as helping solve a terrible problem), but the story is less about them than previously. And Bat Masterson is a welcome walk-on, who admits he enjoys being away from the excitement of the Old West.
Lastly, Geronimo's motives are more clearly explored than in the past, giving readers insight into this inscrutable presence. He sees the writing on the wall more clearly than his brethren and works to mitigate the worst that could happen, rather than fighting what must be a losing battle. He's a proud warrior and a brilliant mage, who's trying to do best what must be done, and he gives the book an otherworldly aspect indeed.
Resnick has a solid winner on his hands with this latest installment. I suppose the only open question is how much longer the dying Doc Holliday can continue to have adventures--with the only answer being "as long as they're this entertaining".