Welcome to a Steampunk wild west starring Doc Holliday, with zombies, dinosaurs, robots, and cowboys.
The time is April, 1885. Doc Holliday lies in bed in a sanitarium in Leadville, Colorado, expecting never to leave his room again. But the medicine man and great chief Geronimo needs him for one last adventure. Renegade Comanche medicine men object to the newly-signed treaty with Theodore Roosevelt. They are venting their displeasure on two white men who are desecrating tribal territory in Wyoming. Geronimo must protect the men or renege on his agreement with Roosevelt. He offers Doc one year of restored health in exchange for taking on this mission.
Welcome to the birth of American paleontology, spearheaded by two brilliant men, Edward Drinker Cope and Othniel Charles Marsh, two men whose genius is only exceeded by their hatred for each other’s guts.
Now, with the aid of Theodore Roosevelt, Cole Younger, and Buffalo Bill Cody, Doc Holliday must save Cope and Marsh not only from the Comanches, not only from living, breathing dinosaurs, but from each other. And that won’t be easy.
The Doctor and the Dinosaur should have been a book I loved: I’m a big fan of steampunk. I’m an Old West history buff. And, of course, I enjoy fiction about paleontology and dinosaurs.
So why didn’t I like it? The answer is bad writing.
In an alternate history where Native American magic has slowed the expansion of the United States west of the Mississippi River, the feud between 19th century paleontologists Cope and Marsh has escalated to open war. Both men have set up camp in Wyoming in their search for dinosaur fossils, but what they don’t realize is they are digging on sacred burial ground. The legendary gunfighter Doc Holliday is recruited to convince the scientists to pack up and leave. If they don’t, the two camps will face the wrath of the local Comanche, who are using their tribal magic to resurrect dinosaurs to kill the intruders.
At the heart of the novel is a fun idea with a great setting, but the writing is so plain and workmanlike that it drains all life from the premise. The characters – all historic figures – are one-dimensional, with most of their interaction consisting of long stretches of bad dialogue. The plot itself has little in the way of twists, mystery, or menace, moving in a straight line from the beginning to a rushed, deus ex machina ending. As for the dinosaurs, they prove not to be much of a threat – they’re usually dispatched only a couple pages after making an appearance, and in one case, a character takes out an adult T. rex with nothing more than a revolver.
The Doctor and the Dinosaur struck me as a book that was churned out quickly to make a few bucks for the author. Indeed, it reads more like a first draft than a finished work. There is simply no excuse why a novel with this much potential for fun should be so boring.
- Most readers will find the real-life feud between Cope and Marsh more interesting than the squabble portrayed in The Doctor and the Dinosaur. A good place to start is with a PBS documentary Dinosaur Wars.
- Mike Resnick is a well-known science fiction writer who has penned numerous works, including several critically acclaimed novels. His website is mikeresnick.com
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