Mike Resnick’s Starship: Pirate is the sequel to Starship: Mutiny, and the second novel in a projected five-novel series. In effect this is the saga of heroic space leader Wilson Cole. The books fit firmly in sf’s adventure corner. Although cover blurbs mention this as a work of space opera, I believe it is far more accurate to call this a “horse opera.” Ostensibly set 3000 years in the future, it might as well have been lifted from a Hollywood mixed-use backlot. At the forefront stands the Western scene. Throw in swashbuckling pirates for plot and color, a couple of crime bosses with peculiar manners and hobbies, an evil sharklike villain, and a pirate queen from a Conan set; set the switch to “blend” and you have Resnick’s latest novel.
Not that I didn’t enjoy the book, but with three more like this in the works, and the very titles indicating the plot direction, it seems confusing at times to keep track of any purpose or direction. Rather, it is more a case of sitting back in the seat and letting events take you where they may, and try to enjoy the ride.
After gung-ho Commander Wilson Cole was imprisoned in the first novel by his own fleet, the crew of his spaceship, the Theodore Roosevelt, breaks him of jail. The entire ship then flees into a life of piracy; what other choice do they have? Still, as Cole stresses, they are pirates with a sense of ethics. Instead of preying on innocents, they will prey on other pirates, and thus have a cleaner conscience. Even such moral decisions carry a heavy price. After many adventures and a few mishaps, the book concludes with the crew of the Teddy R once again contemplating remaining pirates or embarking upon another mass career change.
As an action novel, Starship: Pirate moves quickly. Still, many of the characters come across as annoying, or at worst flat and stereotypical. Wilson Cole is the series’ undisputed leader, the decider, if you will. Yet, despite being an annoying know-it-all, his crew follows and rarely questions his leadership. The cross-ship banter does seem unsettling at times, and the lack of major social or technological change over 3000 years of human history seems implausible for a science fiction novel in the current state of the genre. Libertarians can appreciate the reasons Cole gives for their choice of “victims,” as in the Lockean sense any existing pirate by virtue of their actions now is fair game. I find that I do look forward to the next installment of the series, although I am not yet convinced it justifies hardcover prices.
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