The Outpost by Mike Resnick

Tor, 2001, 383pp $24,95
reviewed in Vector 219, September-October 2001

LEGEND: We all love tall stories. After all, thatís what the great days of sci-fi were all about, werenít they? Mighty-thewed heroes, hairs-breadth escapes, unlikely applications of unlikely theories, unfeasibly big-breasted women, alien monsters intent on rape and destruction: isnít that what we all love about sci-fi? And if you push your tongue just a little way into the cheek, doesnít that make it even better? And if you shake your head at all the shenanigans with a sort of post-ironic detachment, why, it could almost be litratchur!

Iím sorry, Iím not taking this book very seriously. Not that Mike Resnick wants you to take it seriously; but Iím not taking it seriously in a different way from what he intends. He intends you to laugh at an affectionate parody of the excesses of our genre (and I wouldnít care to even count the number of references to other works youíll find scattered through this book). I am simply laughing at a silly book.

Itís another of those bar stories beloved of a certain type of hack writer who believes it excuses any idiocy. In this instance The Outpost is a bar on the most remote planet in the universe, and itís here that all the heroes and adventurers gravitate. Here they come, boasting names like Hurricane Smith, Catastrophe Baker, Gravedigger Gaines, Hellfire Carson, Three-Gun Max Ö do I have to go on? Iím sure you get the picture. Anyway, during the first part of the novel, which Resnick titles ĎLegendí, all these overblown figures without an ounce of real character between the preposterous bunch of them, wander into the bar and tell ludicrous stories about their exploits.

FACT: Even Resnick realises that you canít carry an entire novel with braggadocio and bad puns (a reference to hungry eyes elicits a story about a woman whose eyes go out hunting every night!), so he introduces a modicum of plot. Thereís an alien attack. Thereís no logic in this, these are the sort of aliens we grew out of decades ago who are there just to provide a convenient enemy attacking for no reason other than the hell of it. So in the section called ĎFactí the heroes go out to beat the enemy. The aliens have just defeated our entire navy, but these 20-odd individuals, all operating alone, of course win the war. Along the way a couple are killed, a couple more are shown to be cowards, but most perform the routine trick of wiping out entire armies single-handed.

HISTORY: Then they come back to the bar and tell the story of their exploits. And of course they change the details to make themselves look braver or more heroic than they were. And the resident historian in the bar chooses to print the legend. And Resnick presumably imagines this all amounts to something deep and meaningful. It doesnít.