"They say his father was a comet and his mother a cosmic wind, that he juggles planets as if they were feathers and wrestles with black holes just to work up an appetite. They say he never sleeps, and that his eyes burn brighter than a nova, and that his shout can level mountains. They call him Santiago."
When I first started getting interested in westerns almost ten years ago I had a hard time finding westerns novels that I enjoyed. I was looking for books that had the feel of the western movies that I liked- particularly Clint Eastwood films like Two Mules for Sister Sarah, Fistful of Dollars, and Unforgiven. After a number of failed attempts I finally came across one collection of westerns that I loved, the Inner Frontier Stories of Mike Resnick.
Mike Resnick is a highly prolific sci fi writer who has won more awards than any other writer in the genre (he cranks out a lot of good short stories that win every year). Resnick’s work is usually focused on some sort of frontier, sometimes in Africa, sometimes in the borders between genres, and most commonly in a far future space frontier. The bulk of his novels take place in the Inner Frontier, thousands of years from now, where the Republic (or Monarchy, or Oligarchy, or Empire, depending on the millennia) of Man is expanding ever closer to the galactic core. There is an ever changing border between the order of civilization and the wilds of unknown space. In this frontier are outlaws, poets, revolutionaries, gunhands, gamblers, and of course the bounty hunters that ride herd over them all.
The first Resnick book that I read was Santiago: A Myth of the Far Future, perhaps his best work to this day. When I told someone at a cocktail party full of English PhD students that I was reading a science fiction novel about bounty hunters in the future, he scoffed and looked down his nose at me. “Look”, I said, “I could also call it an examination of American frontier culture and African post-colonialism through the lenses of a futuristic Grail Quest, but that seemed too pretentious for this party”. But that’s what it is. And it works fantastically.
The Inner Frontier books are about half science fiction, a quarter western, and a quarter African safari stories. As the internal mythology builds the space frontier starts to look a lot more like earthbound frontiers. Man expands his control of the galaxy one planet at a time, with the violent, the outcasts, and the criminal being the first to hit the frontier. Aliens are alternately subjugated then praised for their diversity. There are booms and busts, and entire planets may have nothing but half played out mines and a few dusty trader towns. Always there is the threat that the government is moving closer, pushing the narrow band of the Inner Frontier ever closer to the great black hole at the center of the Galactic core.
Everyone here is larger than life. They drop civilized names as soon as they leave settled space and pick up new monickers like the Marquis of Queensbury, the Silicon Kid, Halfpenny Terwiliger, Manmountain Bates, Tyrannosaurus Barnes, the One Armed Bandit, Waltzin' Matilda, Giles Sans Pitié, and the Jolly Swagman. It is a place where someone who would call themselves Slap Bookleather would fit in well.
Start with Santiago, which frames the books well. From there The Outpost gets you into the idea that everyone is hero in the back of beyond. The Oracle series is good, and the Widowmaker series will have you rethinking your entire relationship with your father. Bounty hunters in space- sounds silly, works great. Enjoy.
P.S.- Santiago was also done as aD&D 4th edition role playing game by Enworld. The amazing Art Lyon contributed to the artwork.