Mike Resnick: Santiago

Santiago is my first exposure to Mike Resnick’s writing. I think it first attracted my attention when I read about its sequel, The Return of Santiago, and the notion of a major figure in the political scene whose existence wasn’t actually verified intrigued me. I think I’d expected it to be similar to Jack McDevitt’s novel A Talent For War, which is one of my favorites.

Santiago is told like a folk tale, with each chapter headed by a four-line stanza from a poem written by a far-future scribe recording the figures on the inner frontier of the human Democracy. The inner frontier is just that, full of rogues and scoundrels and bounty hunters. Sebastian Nightingale Cain is one such bounty hunter, who picks up the trail of the notorious criminal Santiago and starts to follow it, with reporter Virtue MacKenzie tagging along hoping to get the story on the mythical figure. Cain wants to head off the Angel, another bounty hunter, who’s also after Santiago. Along the way they meet many colorful figures as they unravel the mystery.

Santiago is low in science-fictional “ideas content”, with only the standard array of faster-than-light starships, laser guns, and other boilerplate science fictional trappings. The story rests entirely on the characters and on the mystery of Santiago, and neither of them really grabbed me. The characters are pretty simplistic, although Cain’s bluster – which he’s earned the right to – is often amusing. I figured out who Santiago would be about half-way through, and was disappointed that that was the extent of the mystery. It’s not so much a bad story as just not a very deep story, and the folk tale storytelling approach isn’t really my cup of tea.

I like McDevitt’s approach to this sort of mystery more (although it has its flaws, too), and the melange of characters is similar to – though not as strong as – the set in the comic book GrimJack (which was originally published around the same time as this volume). Santiago has a certain folksy charm, but it was a little too simplistic for my tastes.