Writing about Reading: Santiago

December 12, 2012 § 2 Comments

I’m not sure when my desire to be a writer first sparked, but I can tell you when it roared into full flame; it was the day Mike Resnick spoke at my high school. I was a junior, and I’d been a voracious reader for years. I’d even written a short story for my English class, taught by one of my favorite teachers, Mrs. Henry. It might have been Mrs. Henry who arranged Resnick’s visit.

To be perfectly honest, the thing that sealed the deal for me was Mike talking about how he slept as late as he wanted, stayed up as late as he wanted, and pretty much did whatever else he wanted.  It sounded to my adolescent ears as the Good Life, and I wanted in. Coming out of that high school auditorium, I was resolved of two things: to become a writer when I grew up, and to read everything Mike Resnick ever wrote.

The first was harder than it seemed. The second was even more difficult; Mike Resnick has written a helluva lot of books.

My favorite of his books is Santiago: A Myth of the Far Future. I loved it as a teen, but I hadn’t read it since, so I decided to continue my space opera binge by revisiting an old friend.

Santiago is about several people all trying to find (and, in most cases, kill) the infamous titular space pirate. Santiago has plagued the frontier worlds of the Democracy for years, and the price on his head is in the millions. Every bounty hunter wants to bring him down, but no one knows where to find him.

The story is made up of several “books,” each one focusing on a different character. On top of that, the entire novel is framed by an epic ballad written by Black Orpheus, the bard of the frontier who immortalizes the most interesting people he meets by giving them a colorful name and writing them into his song. To have a stanza in Black Orpheus’s ballad is a badge of honor (well, in most cases) and an assurance that you will be recognized on just about every frontier planet. There’s the Songbird, the Angel, the Virgin Queen, the Jolly Swagman, Moonripple, ManMountain Bates, and more.

While I didn’t love the book as much as my teen self, Santiago is still a lot of fun. I know Resnick has had on-again, off-again offers to make it into a movie, but I can’t imagine how that would work. This myth is meant to be read, and the big screen isn’t big enough for it. There are too many asides and too many fun little treasures that would get lost in translation. (Oddly enough, I can easily see this working as a Borderlands-esque video game.)

If you’re looking for a fun science fiction romp, pick up a copy of Santiago. I think you’ll enjoy it.

Dave Borcherding

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