Sunday, May 10, 2009

Walpurgis III by Mike Resnick

When mankind spreads to the stars, various groups filed claims to settle the new worlds. Walpurgis III was one of those worlds. In this case, Satanic covens and practitioners of witchcraft were the groups that claimed this planet.

The book focuses on three characters.

Conrad Bland lives to kill. He has led massacres on many planets. Now he has been granted sanctuary on Walpurgis III. Many people on this planet think he is their Dark Messiah. Bland is planning on killing the inhabitants of this world. When he is done, he will move on to another planet.

Jericho is the best hired killer in the underworld.The Republic (the ruling government of the human worlds) has failed to kill Bland so they turn to Jericho. He is hired to journey to Walpurgis III and kill Bland.

John Sable is the chief detective of one of the largest cities on Walpurgis III. He is an honorable family man who believes in the law. Sable believes that the Republic has sent a killer to his city on a mission to take out Bland. Even though he does not agree with Bland's philosophy and prior actions, he has sworn an oath to uphold the law. He tries to warn his planet's government but they are not concerned. It becomes evident that they are collaborating with the Republic. Sable tries to warn Bland but he also is not concerned.

Jericho moves like an irresistable force towards Bland. He kills effortlessly. Sometimes he does it only to throw the police off his track. By changing identities, he is able evade the police and Bland's troops.

Bland kills everyone in various cities where he thinks Jericho is located. Sable is captured and held prisoner by Bland. The two are waiting together for Jericho to arrive for a final showdown. As Sable sees first hand what Bland has done, he starts to regret trying to stop Jericho.

The book showcases the old question, what would a moral man do when a person wants to kill the embodiment of evil? Sable faces this choice when he has a chance to stop one evil person from committing a crime. In the end, he allows one crime to happen but follows the law afterwards. His choice probably saved millions of lives. It still does not make it any better in his eyes. Sable was a very realistic character. Like many people in real life, he wants to live in a world of absolutes. Sable has to choose between evils and live with the consequences.

Two things stand out at the end of this novel. One was how constant exposure to the atrocities committed by Bland had a numbing effect on Sable. After a while, some of Bland's acts did not create the revolting feelings they initially did. And this permanently scarred Sable. Another was how when Sable returned to his normal life, he could not stop smelling the decaying corpses that he was exposed to in Bland's city. I imagine he remembered that smell for the rest of his life.

Resnick's story is fast paced. His writing style is what I would call transparent. If you are looking for a literary craftsman like Gene Wolfe, this is not the book for you. The reader will not have to ponder and try to decipher the meaning of his sentences. This keeps the story moving and focused. Sable's story will stay with you long after you finish the book.

The author does a great job of incorporating the details that develope this fictional world. Walpurgis III becomes a believable world in Resnick's hands.

It is highly recommended to fans of pulp style stories with a modern sensibility.