by Mike Resnick
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Mike Resnick’s novels are notable for the tall tales they relate and the characters who are bigger than life. The Outpost is a Canterbury Tales-style bar where these heroes can meet and swap stories when they need a break from their lives of heroic endeavors. Unfortunately for these heroes, the Outpost is about to find itself enmeshed in a war between the Commonwealth and an alien race.
The first section of the novel, which comprises more than half, is basically a collection of very short tall tales which establish the various characters who are at the Outpost. These stories, for all their color and vibrancy, do tend to get a little monotonous as the characters share their exploits. Furthermore, it becomes a little difficult to remember which adventures happened to which characters. In the end, however, the specifics matter less than the general feeling engendered about the characters as a group.Eventually, Resnick puts the legends of these characters behind and focuses his attention on the actual activities of the heroes as they go into battle with the aliens once they have arrived in the Outpost’s solar system. Shifting his focus throughout the eight planets of the Tudor/Plantagenet system and their moons, Resnick details the tribulations of his various heroes and hero-want-to-bes against the invaders. Some are successful, others find themselves at odds with their reputations or perceptions of themselves. In most cases, their exploits are, in fact, larger than life.
The depiction of what actually happens when the heroes meet the invaders allows Resnick to return them to the Outpost, where they can relate their adventures in their own way, demonstrating how much of their legend is real and how much is hyperbole. Furthermore, one of their number, Willie the Bard, is recording their stories for posterity, clearly announcing his intention of leaving parts out and exaggerating other parts, his intention being to record and interesting "history" rather than and actual "history," and therefore determining the reality of what happened.
Readers who are familiar with Resnick's novels will get exactly what they expect: a well written and interesting story filled with memorable characters. New readers will be introduced to Resnick's universe through what amount to a series of short (short) stories which, while not intertwined, complement each other and build on the same ideas about man's place in the cosmos and purpose for living (gambling, sex, chicanery). In fact, The Outpost may be the best introduction to Resnick's writing since his recently re-published novel Birthright: The Book of Man.
The Outpost appears to be a light read, but Resnick incorporates his philosophy into the novel in a manner that does not feel like it is preaching and does not intrude on the tall tales his characters spin. If the story seems like it could have been a western as easily as a science fiction novel, it is merely because The Outpost is as much a morality story as many westerns and the specifics of the setting are not as important as the message.
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