01/06/2012. Contributed by Pauline Morgan
pub: Pyr/Prometheus Books. 322 page enlarged paperback. Price: $16.00 (US), GBP14.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-61614-537-8.
check out website: www.pyrsf.com
When historical fantasy meets alternative time-lines, an author is entitled to have fun with the concepts of both. The biggest problem with historical fantasy is meshing what is recorded with the changes the author wishes to introduce, such as the dragons into Naomi Novik’s ‘ Temeraire’ series set during the Napoleonic Wars or Freda Warrington’s ‘ Court Of The Midnight King’ set in the time of Richard III uses female magic changing the traditional course of events. Sometimes, the fantasy element is used to explain history as we know it as Richard M. Ford does in ‘ The Dragon Waiting’, giving an alternative version of why the princes in the tower had to be killed or the sorcerers in Mary Gentle’s ‘ A Sundial In The Grave’ making sure events happened the way they should to prevent our time-line veering off into a different direction after the Restoration. Chelsea Quinn Yarbro chooses a different approach to her historical fantasy. Her immortal vampire, Saint Germaine, needs to stay undetected in order to survive so he can observe the twists and turns of history without anything having to change.
Much of historical fantasy takes a ‘ what if’ approach and chooses a turning point where things became different. In the Golden Age of Science Fiction, this was known as the Jonbar Hinge, a point where history as we know it takes an alternative direction, resulting in an alternative world and a whole sub-genre of SF.
Mike Resnick plays with history using a mixture of tropes. In this alternative 1882, the colonists of the American continent are largely confined east of the Mississippi. Although there are farmsteads and small towns, the vast majority have to stay put due to the magic of the shamen of the indigenous tribes, one of whom is Geronimo. Ned Buntline and Thomas Edison have been employed by the government to find a way to break the magic and allow the expansion of the fledgling United States. We encountered this unlikely duo in ‘ The Buntline Special’ which was Resnick’s version of the events at the O.K. Corral where they helped Doc Holliday defeat the undead Johnny Ringo. Since then they have electrified the whole of Tombstone and built horseless carriages to carry the populace around their town as well as providing safe transport to neighbouring towns, the local tribes having given up trying to shoot up the metal carriages.
Doc Holliday has retired to Leadville where, once his consumption leaves him too weak to carry on normal life, he plans to retire to a sanatorium. Unfortunately, in a bid to impress Oscar Wilde, he gambles away all his savings. He needs to earn back the money somehow and as he can no longer practice as a dentist, he heads for Tombstone with the intention of collecting the bounty on Billy The Kid. The problem is that the Kid is protected by magic by one of the local shaman. Doc comes to an agreement with Geronimo. If Doc can get rid of the railway station built on sacred land and protected by another shaman’s magic, Geronimo will lift the protection on the Kid. Doc asks his friends, Edison and Buntline, to help.
In this kind of book, one doesn’t ask how the science (or magic) works; just go with the flow. It is light-hearted fun which takes huge liberties with history whilst sticking to some known facts. Don’t worry about it. Just enjoy.
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