©1992 Mike Resnick (P)2010 Audible, Inc.
Santiago is the pulpy science fiction equivalent of an Wild West manhunt with spaceships taking the part of horses, laser pistols standing in for six shooters, and aliens playing the role of the Indians (in one instance, quite literally). At times, Santiago is just plain bad, but it can also be a lot of fun, sometimes surprisingly so. Perhaps one of Resnick's most clever creations is Black Orpheus, a space-bound incarnation of the ancient Greek ballad singer who incorporates all of *Santiago*'s zany characters into a song about the frontier, portions of which are shared with the reader at the beginning of each chapter. Through Black Orpheus, it is easy to grow fond of the universe Resnick has created for us. Despite its setting, there really isn't much sci-fi here: Resnick provides very little description, choosing instead to allow the dialogue and a bit of expository third-person omniscient narrative to do the work.
With nicknames like the Jolly Swagman, Man Mountain Bates, and Poor Yorick, all of Santiago's characters are larger-than-life caricatures encountered by the bounty-hunter protagonist, Sebastian Cain, as he hunts the notorious outlaw known as Santiago. Sadly, the circus of fun characters is weighed down by bad dialogue, most of which consists of bada-bing! one-liners and poorly placed expository quips. Even so, the characters really carry the story along, and they must because there isn't much of a plot to speak of.
The tale of the manhunt is poorly told, with the first half of the novel following a tiresome meet-and-greet formula: (1) we read some narrative about a wacky character; (2) Cain meets this character and attempts to extract information from him; (4) the main character is referred to another wacky character, at which point we return to step one. This tedious process is repeated about six or seven times before the mode changes.
The narrator, Rueben Diaz, has a great voice and he lends some of the characters a very distinctive personality. Unfortunately, he also struggles with the dialogue. His tone and inflection are sometimes terrible, often sounding as if an unnecessary question mark had been placed at the end of the sentence? Diaz has the potential to be an excellent narrator, but this is certainly not his best performance.
Overall, Santiago will have you laughing one moment and rolling your eyes the next. Its juvenile dialogue and poor plotting often makes it feel like a Young Adult novel but, even with its faults, it is a light, fun read.
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