by Mike Resnick
Before beginning my discussion of Mike Resnick's The Widowmaker, I would like to say a few words about his previous novel, A Miracle of Rare Design. For those who missed it, A Miracle of Rare Design begins by translating the exploits of Sir Richard Francis Burton into Resnick's future history. After the Burton character, named Xavier Lennox, is left for dead by aliens after he tried to sneak into their holy city, Lennox is offered the chance to return with his body altered to match the body of the aliens. Following a successful mission, the Republic continues to modify Lennox's body as Resnick examines both what it means to be human and what it means to be an individual.
In The Widowmaker, first of a new trilogy, Resnick examines the question of individuality more fully than in A Miracle of Rare Design. A legendary bounty hunter named the Widowmaker is brought out of a deep freeze in order to get his permission to create a clone. The clone, who goes by the Widowmaker's original name of Jefferson Nighthawk, is made from cells taken off a knife which had wounded the Widowmaker early in his career. As the clone attempts to complete his mission of finding an assassin, he must come to terms with his acquaintances' interest in meeting a clone (there are only about 500 human clones in the galaxy), people confusing him with his legendary gene-source, and his own fight for a personal identity and destiny which is separate from the one planned by his creators.
The book is typical of Resnick's writings. . . a spaghetti western set in space which allows Resnick to tell his own tall tales in the American tradition. Although that might not sound like the highest praise, Resnick has an ability to tell a fantastic story and his stories of the Inner and Outer Frontiers are just as readable and fabulous (in the Aesopian context) as his stories of Kirinyaga.
A couple of the characters in The Widowmaker have been mentioned in earlier Resnick novels, notably "the Marquis of Queensbury" and "Father Christmas". Part of Resnick's future history's charm is Resnick's ability to throw out hints about great stories which he hasn't told, yet when those characters do play a role, they usually live up to the expectations Resnick created initially. I would almost like to see a listing of all Resnick's characters with cross-references to stories in which they are mentioned and stories in which they play a role.
Although billed as the first book in the Widowmaker Trilogy (according to the author's note), the book stands on its own, just as the novels of Resnick's earlier series each can stand on their own. Given the way the book works out, I imagine the same will be able to be said about the next book in the series. Also given the ending of The Widowmaker, it will be interesting to see what Resnick does in the continuation of the story.
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