I like westerns. I love dinosaurs. The combination of cowboys and dinosaurs is so primal, so cool, that I love Ray Harryhausen's THE VALLEY OF GWANGI (1969). It's not the greatest Harryhausen film but it does provide a fair measure of sense of wonder and is definitely worth checking out.
I recently finished reading THE DOCTOR AND THE DINOSAURS by science fiction author Mike Resnick. It's labeled a Weird West Tale. What it is is a steam punk flavored mash up of real figures from American history (specifically, the late 19th century) and dinosaurs. On paper it looks good. Theoretically, it should work. But I'm here to tell you that THE DOCTOR AND THE DINOSAURS is no THE VALLEY OF GWANGI. Hell, it's not even as good as the worst issue of TUROK, SON OF STONE you've ever read.
The story begins with legendary tubercular gunfighter Doc Holliday on his death bed. Fabled Apache medicine man Geronimo appears before him in a sanatorium and grants Holliday an additional year of life. In return, Holliday must stop two paleontologists from desecrating sacred Indian burial grounds in their mad quest to dig up as many dinosaur fossils as possible. If the men aren't stopped, a Comanche medicine man named Tall Bear will use his magical powers to unleash real live, flesh and blood dinosaurs upon the men and their respective camps.
Holliday is joined in his quest by a veritable who's who of real people from late 19th century American history. Who's in this book? A better question would be who's not, as Resnick loads up his cast of supporting players with entirely too many people. In addition to Holliday there's Theodore Roosevelt, Thomas Alva Edison, Ned Buntline, Geronimo, Edward Drinker Cope (a paleontologist), Othniel Charles Marsh (the other paleontologist), Cole Younger, William "Buffalo Bill" Cody, and boxer John L. Sullivan. Oh, and Kate Elder and Bat Masterson are name dropped more than once.
Resnick crams his story so full of these characters that there's very little room left for the dinosaurs, who don't appear until the midpoint of the book. The plot is driven entirely by dialogue and there's a lot of it, most of it repetitious and of the info dump variety. The narrative advances in fits and starts with Resnick more inclined to show off how much he knows about these historic personages than to actually tell an engaging tale. Oh, and for a story that takes place in the colorful wild west of old, there's very little in the way of descriptions of locale and landscapes. A real sense of place is sorely missing as details regarding the countryside are sketchy and sparse at best.
The copy I read of THE DOCTOR AND THE DINOSAURS was an uncorrected advance reading copy. As such, I expect a fair amount of misspelled words and grammatical errors, mistakes which will hopefully be corrected when the book is finally typeset for good and sent to press. But there's an egregious lapse in the narrative that I hope an editor eventually caught and corrected.
In one scene, Edison and Buntline are attacked in their tent by a pair of what appear to be raptors, an encounter that occurs "off camera" and one which we only learn about it until after the fact. Both men are severely injured, with large wounds to their bodies and a great deal of blood loss. They are quickly attended to in a make-shift fashion. A few pages later, when next we encounter Edison and Buntline, no mention whatsoever is made of their injuries from the dinosaur attack The raptors are never seen or mentioned again either and it's as if the whole thing never happened.
THE DOCTOR AND THE DINOSAURS is, of course, not meant to be taken seriously. It's not exactly a comedy but Resnick certainly keeps the tone light. But frankly, the whole thing just didn't work for me. I kept wondering what famous character from American history was going to show up next and if Holliday and Roosevelt were ever going to do something about the dinosaurs at large. To it's credit, it's the first steam punk novel I've read that didn't have a zeppelin/dirigible/airship in it. So there's that. But in the end, THE DOCTOR AND THE DINOSAURS runs out of steam (sorry), well before the end of the book.