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The Fortress in Orion
By Mike Resnick
Reviewed by Jason Pettus
One of the things I've come to realize about myself in the last several years is that when I call myself a "science-fiction fan," that's actually a bit of a misnomer; I should instead really call myself a "science-fiction dilettante," because as I learned after attending Worldcon in Chicago a couple of years ago (my first SF convention in 25 years), there's really only a tiny layer of SF novels I genuinely enjoy in any given year, the really unusual and extra-smart stuff by writers who often have conflicted relationships with SF fandom to begin with (oh, hello there, China Mieville), but that I can't really stand the middlebrow space-opera stuff that actually makes up the majority of output of the genre in any given year, but that is the exact favorites of the kinds of super-fans who attend a lot of the conventions, vote for the Hugo Award every year, etc. Mike Resnick is one of these con-favorite authors -- in fact, he was the Worldcon Guest Of Honor the year I attended -- and his new The Fortress in Orion is exactly the kind of middlebrow stuff I'm talking about; it's not very smart but not very dumb either, not too fast-paced but not too slow, with the most stereotypical of hacky premises driving its utterly guessable three-act plot (a cocky yet effective military commander who plays by his own rules is tasked with infiltrating enemy lines on a daring spy mission, and hand-picks a series of sassy rogues and sexy criminals to pull it off), but with hardcore fans loving this stuff because it's fast to get through (a must for the kinds of core genre fans who tear through an entire middlebrow novel a day, every day, whether that's SF or fantasy or crime or romance you're talking about), and because Resnick will actually hang out with you at the next con and buy you a beer for liking his book.
Certainly not a bad novel, in the same way that a typical episode of a typical low-budget syndicated TV show on the SyFy Network isn't "bad," nonetheless it goes down with the same kind of generic smoothness, and leaves just as short of a lasting impression, a good way to kill a Saturday afternoon but with nothing much better that one can say about it. I read and review such books regularly here anyway, because I read and review any book that a publisher takes the time to send me (and to be clear, our pals at Pyr don't just put out these kinds of books, but also the kinds of amazing, mind-bending stuff that constitutes the best of this genre too); but I can't say that I'm ever excited by another of these "fan-fave paying-the-bills" mid-list titles, nor that I'll even remember the experience of reading it another six months from now. ("What do you mean, I actually watched the entire fourth season of Stargate SG-1 with you last summer? Why do I have no memory of watching the entire fourth season of Stargate SG-1 with you last summer?") This should all be kept in mind before picking up a copy yourself.
Out of 10: 7.5