A GATHERING OF WIDOWMAKERS
by Mike Resnick
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
From 1996 to 1998, Mike Resnick chronicles the adventures of Jefferson Nighthawk, the Widowmaker, and his clones. At the beginning of Widowmaker, Nighthawk, one of the most skilled bounty hunters in Resnick's wild-west modelled galaxy, is suffering from eplasia. To save his life, he puts himself into cryogenic sleep while a series of clones strive to keep the galaxy safe. The first died, the second retired, and Nighthawk was able to train the third to be in his own image. A Gathering of Widowmakers tells the story of what happens when clones meet.
One of the hot topics in modern politics and science is the ethics of cloning, and while Resnick doesn't directly address that issue in A Gathering of Widowmakers, which is, after all, a novel set long after clones have become relatively commonplace. Instead, Resnick looks at the way clones might interact with each other. In this case, the three clones are not identical. Jefferson Nighthawk, the first Widowmaker, is the original. His older surviving clone, who goes by the name Jason Newman, has placed five years of his own experience over a lifetime of Nighthawk's memories. The younger clone, Jeff Nighthawk, was formed without the older one's memories, but he was trained in a way that Jason wasn't.
Resnick throws Ito Kinoshita, trainer and companion to Widowmakers, into the mix. This gives each of the Widowmakers a foil to play against, but also makes Kinoshita question his loyalties. When Jeff and Jason face off against each other, he must decide which of his companions takes precedence. Kinoshita also serves as a sounding board, allowing each of the Widowmakers to explain to him, and the reader, their techniques.
The story is episodic, focusing more on the relationships between the three Widowmakers and Kinoshita than anything else. However, Resnick has always shown an ability for creating larger than life characters. While the Widowmakers are certainly legendary, the bounties they collect are even moreso, perhaps because Resnick can only provide them with brief descriptions and names. However, his depictions of the Hairless Jack Bellamy, Cleopatra Rome, the Wizard, and the Younger Brothers are enough to make the reader want to see more of them than their brief encounters permit.
While it would be all too easy to dismiss A Gathering of Widowmakers as just a space opera mixed with a horse opera, in fact, Resnick examines issues, such as the case of cloning and identity, which could only be explored in science fiction. As it is, Resnick has written a highly entertaining novel which deals with issues in a way which allows the readers to understand them without feeling that Resnick is trying to hammer his point of view.
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