Sometimes sequels can surprise you. A poor first book or movie can be rescued by an excellent sequel, one that smooths away the flaws of the previous work and brings the finer points into gleaming focus. The Prison in Antares is the sequel to the lacklustre pulp sci-fi adventure novel The Fortress in Orion, and though it’s certainly an improvement, it doesn’t quite make the grade.
Mike Resnick is an old hand at quality pulp sci-fi. He’s written everything from profound examinations into the nature of humanity and technology to flat out operatic space war with bold heroes and two-dimensional villains. The Prison in Antares is certainly intended to be on the latter side of this spectrum; it’s a ripping yarn about Nathan Pretorious and a team of mean space mercenaries (called the Dead Enders) who are charged with rescuing a top scientist from a high security space prison. It’s a pulpy, page-turning action adventure affair.
The problem is that, because Resnick is such a broad and well-known talent, it’s hard not to hold his current work up to a higher standard. You turn each page hoping for something more. A smidge of characterisation maybe or a plot twist that you can’t see a light-year or two away. What should be a lot of fun turns into tedium; rather than stimulating action we get a list of old clichés. The horrible thing about The Prison in Antares is that it reads like a fan attempt at some classic sci-fi fun, only instead of it being the product of some clumsy amateur, this is actually Mike Resnick impersonating a younger, more promising version of himself.
Pulp sci-fi can be many things and work on many levels. It simply isn’t enough to have cool technology and cooler male power fantasies. These days, we want all that and to also care about the characters, see their flaws and explore their world. Resnick’s current series seems stuck in a past era of science fiction that never really existed; lazy, two-dimensional storytelling with predictable plots. We can only hope that the next book in this series redeems it all, but somehow we doubt it.
THE PRISON IN ANTARES / AUTHOR: MIKE RESNICK / PUBLISHER: PROMETHEUS BOOKS / RELEASE DATE: DECEMBER 20TH