Book Review: THE DOCTOR AND THE DINOSAURS by Mike Resnick

It’s April, 1885, and famed shootist, John “Doc” Holliday, is dying of consumption. He is visited at his sick bed by shape-shifting medicine man and great Comanche chief, Geronimo, and offered a deal: another year of life in exchange for completing a mission to prevent the desecration of sacred Indian ground by paleontologists Edward Cope and Charles Marsh.

In Mike Resnick’s fun, fast-faced weird western, The Doctor and the Dinosaurs (Pyr), the Wyoming territory has more complexities in store for Holliday than warring bone hunters. There are Comanches who object to Geronimo’s newly signed treaty with Theodore Roosevelt, and they are venting their displeasure on the paleontologists.

What’s more, the fact that sacred burial grounds are being dug up in the search for dinosaur bones sets in train an even more disturbing response from the native Americans – they start bringing the dinosaurs themselves back to life, especially to tear the white men limb from limb.

Theodore Roosevelt, Cole Younger, Buffalo Bill Cody and Doc Holliday must save Cope and Marsh not only from the Comanches and rampaging tyrannosaurs, and other prehistoric monsters, but also from each other. And that won’t be easy.

The future president Roosevelt, a two-fisted hero in real life as much as in his fictional manifestation, is well up to the challenge. Holliday is somewhat more reluctant, though his surly, cynical demeanor is counterbalanced by Roosevelt’s optimism and have-a-go attitude.

In the spirit of the old dime novels (what us Brits would call a “penny dreadful” or a “ripping yarn”), though infinitely better written, Doctor and the Dinosaurs takes real world characters on a wildly imaginative and perilous adventure.

Multiple Hugo-winner, Resnick, wastes not a single word in his narrative. It’s all about pace, adventure and, perhaps my favorite component, sparkling dialogue. The witty repartee between Holliday and Roosevelt is a delight, and full of acerbic wit. If anything, I enjoyed the interplay of the characters more than the battle scenes with the dinosaurs. Given that the creatures don’t actually appear until well after the halfway point in the book, I suspect the author felt the same way.

By way of bonus material, Resnick gives us not one, but five appendices, from bibliographical references, to a list of actors who played the movie versions of the characters in the book, to true life accounts which speak to the nature and character of Holliday and Roosevelt. But the author wears all this research lightly. In fact, he can give a perfect summary of each of his characters in a line or two of description or a few throwaway lines of dialogue; truly an art to be able to do so.

doc illo

Illustration and cover: J. Seamus Gallagher

This is the latest in Resnick’s Weird West Tales, and a fine addition to the oeuvre. The author has won an impressive five Hugos and has been nominated for thirty-one more. He has also written the Starship series, the John Justin Mallory series, has sold sixty-nine novels and more than two hundred fifty short stories and has edited forty anthologies. His Kirinyaga series, with sixty-seven major and minor awards and nominations to date, is the most honored series of stories in the history of science fiction.

If I were to describe The Doctor and the Dinosaurs as an erudite pot-boiler, I mean that entirely as a compliment.

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