The Return of Santiago
by Mike Resnick
Tor Hardcover: ISBN 0765302241PubDate Mar 03
Review by Ernest Lilley
464 pages List price $25.95
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Santiago, Mike Resnick's King of the Outlaws on the Inner Frontier, was killed over a hundred years before when the Democracy raided Safe Haven, thinking they were killing aliens. Now it's time for him to come back and balance Democracy's lust for order if we can find him.
Given FTL drives and ships cheap enough that private citizens can own them, what sort of civilization will spring up, and what sort of law will keep it civilized?
In Santiago, and here again in The Return of Santiago, Mike Resnick turns Doc Smith's proposal on its head; rather than invent an uncorruptable lawman to bring civilization to the galaxy, he sets out to find a virtuous villain to protect the galaxy from civilization, that dreaded killer of upstarts, aliens, and anyone who won't fit in...the Democracy.
Danny Briggs, a small time thief comes across the original manuscript of the Black Orpheus, the hundred years past chronicler of the legendary villains, lawmen, and bounty hunters of the lawless Inner Frontier, and the closest person to the legendary king of the outlaws, Santiago. But Danny's been looking for a way to make his mark on the galaxy, not as a well known burglar, but something more lasting, and to continue the chronicle Black Orpheus started calls to him like a siren's song. If he can stay ahead of those other sirens, the one's on the police cruisers of the Democracy.
But the buried treasure Danny finds in the manuscript isn't just a call to write a poem, it's the realization that the mythic Santiago wasn't merely the outlaw he's made out to be. He was in fact 1) a revolutionary, keeping the excesses of the Democracy in check and 2) at least five successive people assuming the role and the organization, before the Navy accidentally destroyed the last along with his base. Danny wants to write a poem, but he needs to find a new Santiago to make the poem everything he wants it to be.
Armed with the manuscript, he changes his name to Dante, steals a ship and heads for the Inner Frontier, men are men (and so are women, mostly), aliens are injuns (except for Virgil, who happens to actually be an injun), and law still comes at the end of a blaster. Searching for someone to be his Santiago, Dante roams the frontier, making friends and getting folks killed, all the while spreading the word: Santiago is coming.
When Santiago finally sets out his shingle, he does it by lasering his name into the side of an armored convoy. Maybe he should have called him Zorro and been done with it. Or maybe not.
Does he find his fearless leader? Of course, more or less, and Resnick makes the process a fun romp through the wilderness and through Danny/Dante's conscience...though early on we figure that for all Danny's smarts he's missing the forest for the trees...yet the author manages enough surprises to keep the reader intrigued. Like his original Santiago: A Myth of the Far Future. the whole thing turns out to be fun to read...if painful to think too hard about.