Thursday, February 02, 2012

Forgotten Books: Walpurgis 111 by Mike Resnick



Mike Resnick is one of science fiction/fantasy's great storytellers. I've been reading him for thirty years and I have to say he gets more accomplished and polished every time out. In addition to being a fine writer he's a fine idea man. I'd compare him to Max Allan Collins and Bob Randisi in crime fiction. The three of them have more good ideas before breakfast than I have in a week of Sundays. True. Alas.

Resnick's fiction is generally robust in its narrative but almost always thoughtful. He can take the tropes of action fiction and instill in them the themes of more reflective work. One of my favorite examples of this is his novel Walpuris 111. In form it's a thriller. An assassin named Sable is hired to kill Conrad Bland a man who has turned genocide into an ugly art form. He has practiced his talents throughout the Republic of planets and is thus sought by everyone.

The planet Jericho lands on has been settled by Satanists (planets can be settled by every kind of group) who protect Bland because they believe him to be the Dark Messiah (he will of course murder all of the before he eventually leaves). This is where Resnick shows his true mastery.

Jericho, the most successful killer in the galaxy, is pitted against John Sable, the police chief of the city where Bland resides. Sable is straight out of Joseph Conrad, a man who has become accustomed to enforcing the political agenda of his planet. He has long felt conflicted about his duties and his own morality. Now that he is faced with the assassin he begins to wonder--does Bland deserve to live? Is Jericho just a killer or a savior?

The cat-and-mouse of killer and cop drives the book but it is the moral dilemma that enriches the book. Mike Resnick always gives his readers a terrific story and many times, as here, he takes on themes that have bedeviled mankind for its entire history.
A knock-out read and chilling look at evil.