Wolf Hunter: Belfire Press, December 2012, 199 pages, cover art by Tamar Karataş. Wolf Hunter is Denver horror writer J.L. Benét’s first novel.
During WWII, a group of Nazi scientists under the command of a high ranking SS officer secretly transform Viktor Huelen and a trio of other men into werewolves. The items they use to perform this are an audio device called a Feraliminal Lycanthropizer, a pungent all-body salve, and a wolf-hide girdle with a pentagram of iron rivets.
Huelen tries hard but is unable to control the werewolf he becomes. In the first test, Huelen helps kill the weakest member of their werewolf pack. Afterward, Huelen is thrown into a dungeon-like cell where he is repeatedly given drugged raw meat and experimented upon. In another test, two men are released in the forest and Huelen is told which one to hunt. The beast inside Huelen tracks the wrong man and kills him.
A group of armed SS soldiers arrive and they escort everyone outside the castle. Apparently the werewolf experiment has been terminated.
The Doctor and the Rough Rider: Pyr Books, December 2012, 304 pages, cover art and interior illustrations by J. Seamas Gallagher. Mike Resnick is the author of over seventy novels, and over two-hundred and fifty stories. He has won five Hugo Awards for his short fiction. He has also edited over forty anthologies. The Doctor and the Rough Rider is Resnick’s third book in his ongoing A Weird West Tale series.
Doc Holliday is a card dealer at a saloon in Leadville. Two young men, seeking to make a reputation for themselves, confront Holliday supposedly over their friends’ deaths at the O.K. Corral. Later they threaten Holliday's life and he shoots them in self-defense. The Sheriff arrests Holliday and throws him in jail.
Geronimo visits Holliday in jail in the middle of the night. In this world, Geronimo is a shape-shifting magic man. The United States is prevented from expanding west of the Mississippi by an Indian barrier spell. Geronimo is willing to negotiate an end to the spell with only one man: Theodore Roosevelt. Bat Masterson knows Roosevelt. Geronimo magics Holliday and a clerk to the telegraph office in order for Holliday to send a telegram to Masterson telling him that it's essential to bring Roosevelt to Tombstone as quickly as possible.
Bat Masterson arrives in Medora in the Dakota territory seeking out Theodore Roosevelt at his ranch.
The Battle:This match-up features a werewolf horror book going up against a steampunk weird west fantasy. These books are very different in tone. So far, Wolf Hunter is dark and bloody, and The Doctor and the Rough Rider is a lightweight, sometimes humorous, adventure.
In Wolf Hunter, I liked that there were codified items and a pseudo-scientific method used to make werewolves. I found it interesting that the Lycanthropiser machine utilized Latin chants and made Huelen's mind feel "floaty".
Huelen seemed like a decent guy, but he had little backstory. He merely reacted to the things happening to him. I wondered why Huelen was chosen for this werewolf experiment.
There were a couple of instances of sexual content that I felt were gratuitous. In my opinion, these could have been dialed back a notch.
The Doctor and the Rough Rider uses historical figures as main characters, instead of as supporting characters, in an unreal fantasy setting. I'm not sure that I’m totally on board with doing this. I feel it’s using these people out of their context. This being book three in the series probably didn’t help the issue. Yet The Doctor and the Rough Rider is easy to read and the dialogue is good.
Resnick wrote that the day in Leadville was as hot as Tombstone (and hotter than hell), which I found difficult to believe. According to Wikipedia, the all-time record high temperature in Leadville is 85 degrees, not exactly sweltering.
I liked the illustration of the steampunk gun at the head of chapters, and the talking prairie dog was cute.
After reading 25 pages of each of these books, I found this to be a fairly close match. Both of these books are potentially interesting, in their different ways. But for my pick, I’ll go with steampunk western.
THE WINNER: The Doctor and the Rough Rider by Mike Resnick
The Doctor and the Rough Rider moves into the second round, to take on either Guardians of Stone by Anita Clenney or River Road by Suzanne Johnson.
To see the whole bracket, click here.