by Mike Resnick
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
In The Widowmaker, Mike Resnick created the character Jefferson Nighthawk, the "Widowmaker", a bounty hunter suffering from the flesh-eating disease eplasia. When Nighthawk realized the pain and suffering that went with the fatal disease, he arranged to be placed in a cryonic sleep until a cure was discovered. As the years passed, so did Nighthawk's medical bills until his lawyers authorized the creation of two clones to help raise the capital needed to continue his treatment. The first clone died young at the end of the first novel. Widowmaker Reborn dealt with the second Widowmaker and his adventures in raising enough money to see the original through to a cure and set himself up for life. In Widowmaker Unleashed, the original Widowmaker is brought out of his cryonic sleep and cured of eplasia. Unlike his first clone, the original is looking forward to life as a retired sixty-two year old.
Upon leaving the hospital, Nighthawk travels to the backwater planet Churchill III to raise flowers and live a simple life. He is accompanied by Ito Kinoshita, the lawman who trained both Widowmaker clones. Kinoshita is sure that Nighthawk will turn his back on his life as a retiree and once again become the Widowmaker. When Nighthawk's home burns in a suspicious fire, the former bounty hunter looks for a new home, much to Kinoshita's consternation.
Throughout the Widowmaker series, Resnick has examined the meaning of identity. The previous versions of Nighthawk having to deal with the fact that they were clones of an original who still existed. The first clone became obsessed with the desire to destroy the original to lay claim to his own life. The second clone worshipped his "father." The original doesn't have these problems, but has another difficulty with establishing his identity. When he went into cryo-sleep, Nighthawk figured he would awaken without any enemies. Instead, he finds himself facing all the enemies made by his two clones. Although Nighthawk can make a distinction between who he is, Jefferson Nighthawk, and what he does, be the Widowmaker, he continues to run into people who fail to distinguish between the two. Resnick uses this dichotomy to examine how much a person's identity is made up of self-assessment and how much is a result of the views of others.
Beyond the existence of Nighthawk's clones, there is very little science-fictional content in Widowmaker Unleashed. In fact, Resnick uses many tropes typical of Westerns, ranging from the lawman to the outlaw to the bounty hunter. By doing so, Resnick reinforces the importance of his ideas rather than the setting he uses to examine those ideas.
Each of the Widowmaker books can stand on its own, although Widowmaker Unleashed is a little more dependant on its predecessors. Taken individually, each book is entertaining and gives the reader something to think about. Taken as a whole, the books are a look at indentity and individualism that is more than each book individually.
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