The year is 1882. Doc Holliday, consumptive dentist, alcoholic, and famed gunslinger, finds himself on a collision course with Billy the Kid. He needs money to spend his last days in a sanitarium and the best way to get it is to kill the Kid and collect the bounty.
That is the premise of Mike Resnick’s The Doctor and the Kid: A Weird West Tale (Weird West Tales). It sounds like a typical Western. It is filled with authentic people who were in the West in 1882, including Thomas Edison, Susan B. Anthony, Oscar Wilde, and Ned Buntline, and with Holliday’s actual associates like Pat Garrett and Big Nose Kate, Holliday’s sometime lover.
But then strangeness creeps in. In this Wild West, there is real and powerful Indian magic, with Geronimo protecting Doc and the equally powerful medicine man Hook Nose protected the Kid so that neither can harm the other. Also, there are robots, including robot prostitutes and bartenders, and Doc has to kill his best friend Johnny Ringo again after Johnny has already died once and been brought to life by Indian magic, so there are zombies (and a chance for Resnick to poke a little fun at friend and fellow author John Ringo.)
So robots, zombies and then there are the fantastic weapons Tom Edison creates for Doc, using electricity, ultrasound, and supersonic waves. We’re not at the OK Corral anymore, Doc! The book has a steampunk feel and it does add amazing futuristic elements to an alternative past, but perhaps Resnick has invented a new genre which might be called “electricpunk!”
The author has also created surprisingly sympathetic characters in Doc Holliday and Billy the Kid, and thrown in a bit of romance as Doc contemplates a possible relationship with a female bounty hunter before his disease kills him.
The Doctor and The Kid is a lot of fun, and Resnick mixes fact and fantasy so expertly that you never have too much trouble going on with his alternate universe for the length of the story. It’s violent, funny, outrageous, and thoroughly enjoyable.