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Santiago: A Myth of the Far Future

Reviewed by wracked

 

A riddle inside an enigma,
Wrapped up in a puzzle or two.
What man fits these specifications?
The King of the Outlaws--that’s who!

 

Mike Resnick is an extremely prolific writer about, among other things, science fiction, dogs, and Africa. He has written hundreds of novels, short stories, and screen plays. During an earlier life he wrote Adult Stories under a pseudonym. A major plus in my book!

Santiago (published by TOR Books) is set in Resnick’s Birthright Universe also explored in his prequel novel Birthright: The Book of Man (from Signet/NAL). In this universe man is the undisputed power. Aliens and alien worlds are destroyed or rendered extinct if they’re unlucky enough to be in the way of the colonial or commercial expansion of humankind.

The human empire is divided into three indistinct spheres of influence. The Democracy is composed of the worlds closest to the capital planet Deluros VIII. Civilization flourishes here and security is provided by the Navy. The Inner Frontier is the next tier of planets where man (or at least his laws) is less abundant and security is mostly a matter of local agencies. The Outer Frontier is the extreme limits of Human space. It cannot be classified as within the human sphere of influence since aliens frequently out-number humans. Security is mostly a personal matter.

[A note from Mike Resnick: I can't fault you if all you've read is SANTIAGO, as this is introduced and explained over a number of books. The heavily-populated (by stars) section of the galaxy is that portion which becomes, at varying times as laid out by BIRTHRIGHT and maybe 25 other novels and perhaps half a dozen short stories, the Republic, the Democracy, the Oligarchy and the Monarchy. Those sparse stars towards the Core of the galaxy form the Inner Frontier; those further out than the Democracy, toward the galactic Rim, form the Outer Frontier.]

Santiago is the name of a near-mythical outlaw of the Inner Frontier that has been tormenting the government and large commercial interests for many years. He has never been identified or photographed and no one is certain where his headquarters/hideout is. Every unsolved robbery and mass murder is blamed on him. And with each new (alleged) atrocity the official bounty on him grows. But not all on the frontier fear him. To some he is a Robin Hood-like figure, dispensing appropriated government funds to the poor and defending the weak against official injustice.

Such is the legend of Santiago. But most of the novel is not about him but about the search for him. His notoriety and the reward for his death brought him to the notice of people who make their living by killing people like him, such as bounty hunters.

The novel is divided into six “books,” each one titled after the (sort of) main protagonist of that book. Characters are introduced through verses of a poem written about the inhabitants of the Inner Frontier. The importance of the characters is judged by the number of verses each one has in the epic poem. In many cases, the nickname by which the characters are commonly known were given to them by the poet.

The Songbird Stalks, the Songbird Kills
The Songbird works to pay his bills.
So, friend, beware the Songbirds glance:
If you’re his prey, you’ll have no chance.

The novel starts off following a bounty hunter, Sebastian Nightingale Cain, also known as The Songbird, who is just starting his hunt for Santiago. Once he starts his pursuit he meets many other people on the trail of the same person. Other bounty hunters, an art collector (Santiago is rumored to have a big collection of stolen art), a debt-ridden gambler, and a fame-hungry reporter all want to join Cain in the hunt. Much of the first part of the novel is about the negotiations and double-crossing these people do to each other in an effort to get to Santiago first. The other books roughly follow the escapades of these fellow travelers.

His name is Father William
His aim is hard to ken.
His game is saving sinners:
His fame is killing men.

Resnick populates novels with unique characters and this one has more than most. Father William is a fire-breathing preacher of immense appetite and perfect aim; Halfpenny Terwilliger, the Virgin Queen, the Jolly Swagman, Altair of Altair, Man Mountain Bates, and Sitting Bull (of the group of alien killers known as the Great Sioux Nation; these are just a few of the other characters that are part of this milieu. All are introduced with a verse and interact (one way or another) with one of the main protagonists. The background and stories about each one are interesting and flesh out the novel nicely.

He burns brighter than a nova,
He stands taller than a tree.
He shouts louder than the thunder:
He flows deeper than the sea.

Most of the main characters (that are still living) end up on the planet that is Santiago’s headquarters. As in any good western…errr…science fiction story, there is a gun battle with unexpected consequences. Resnick gives the ending a nice twist that was not anticipated.

Though this book is about murderers, bounty hunters, thieves, gamblers, and revolutionaries there is relatively little action. Resnick takes his time introducing characters, developing back stories, having the characters interact and (especially) negotiate deals. The plotlines move quickly (in between negotiations) and the many characters are not too confusing. Especially since many are killed before the story moves on!

A very satisfying read (I give it 4.5 out of 5 stars) that could make a great movie. Rumor has it that it will soon be a Major Motion Picture. Is Peter Jackson available?

[Another Note from Resnick: Yes, SANTIAGO's still on track to become a movie. It was originally optioned to Universal. They put it in turnaround after getting a script (not by me) they hated, and it was optioned by Largo. They went out of business, but the head of Largo became the head of Capella, and they optioned it and my screenplay. Then they went out of the production biz (they still distribute), and now it's with Elbertfilms, where I'm told it really and truly is being made next year. (I've heard this song before, so don't bet the farm on it.) They've purchased my script from Capella, but of course the first thing they did was hire someone to rewrite it, so who the hell knows how much of it will remain?]

[Editor's Note: Resnick sequeled this book with The Return of Santiago in 2003.]

 

Related Links:
Resnick's Official Site
Resnick's Bibliography at fantasticfiction.co.uk

 

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Author
Mike Resnick

Published
Santiago 1980
Birthright: The Book of Man 1982
The Return of Santiago 2003

All out of print at this time. Check amazon.com for used copies or Kindle editions of the first two
or BookFinder.com