On the planet Karimon there’s a native species of sentient reptiles that reached the equivalent of the Earth’s Stone Age. The arrival of human beings on Karimon quickly disrupts that civilization, especially because the strong presence of precious minerals attracts many potential exploiters putting the planet at the center of considerable economic interests.
Jalanopi is the king of the Tulabetes, the strongest nation on the planet Karimon, but he has no hope of stopping the arrival of human beings with their advanced weapons. His only hope is to put humans against another alien species interested in the planet’s resources to obtain weapons and agreements that ensure the natives’ survival.
“Purgatory” begins almost exactly like “Paradise”, with an introduction in which Mike Resnick tells a variant of a parable that features a scorpion and a crocodile. The only difference is that in this second novel Mike Resnick mentions Zimbabwe instead of Kenya indicating which African nation is the protagonist of the story disguised by a patina of science fiction.
The planet Peponi, on which the events of “Paradise” happen, is mentioned a few times in “Purgatory” because their stories develop practically in the same period of the future history created by Mike Resnick but the two novels are completely independent. They’re part of a trilogy set in the same fictional universe and have in common the basic theme, the allegory of colonialism in Africa, but each of them can be read independently and in any order without losing anything important.
A notable difference between “Paradise” and “Purgatory” is in the way they’re told. The first novel was developed as a research by a journalist that begins after the end of the colonial period on the planet Peponi. The second novel was developed by telling more directly the crucial events of the various phases of the presence of human beings on the planet Karimon.
The novel “Purgatory” covers a long period so in its various parts there are different protagonists. They’re inspired by real characters who played a part in the history of Zimbabwe – or Rhodesia, as it was called for a long time – and yet Mike Resnick manages to give all of them a development that allows to understand their motivations. That’s a crucial factor in understanding a highly allegorical story.
Through these characters, Mike Resnick tells the clashes not only between humans and snakes – as the natives of Karimon are called – but also between different factions within the two species. The author does that without adding judgments to the various protagonists’ actions by telling positive and negative deeds made by the various factions.
In this way, Mike Resnick shows the various characters’ justifications for their actions. Some believe they’re doing what’s best for Karimon – or Rockgarden, as humans call it – while others have interests that are economic or of a different kind. In any case, those actions have various consequences on the planet’s history.
All this allows the reader to obtain a broader understanding of that history. In my opinion, those elements are the strength of “Purgatory”, offering the possibility of making a non-ideological opinion of colonialism and its long-term consequences in Zimbabwe.
Mike Resnick wrote “Purgatory” in the early 1990s, during the first phase of Robert Mugabe’s era in Zimbabwe. The recent events in that country, with the end of that era, are only the latest consequences of previous events and if you want to understand them this is a must-read novel.