Some Democracy scientists found a defense against the Q bomb, the devastating weapon of the Transkei Coalition that killed an huge number of people for years. The Coalition’s reaction was the killing of almost all the scientists who invented that defense and the kidnapping of Edgar Nmumba, the only one who wasn’t killed.
Nathan Pretorius is tasked to free Edgar Nmumba or kill him if this proves impossible. Iris “Irish” Fitzhugh, a psychologist who will assess Nmumba’s mind state and check if he was compromised, is assigned to him and his team, nicknamed the Dead Enders. But first they have to find the scientist, locked up in a very peculiar prison.
The Dead Enders series is set in the same fictional universe as most of Mike Resnick’s works and precisely at the time of the entity known as the Democracy, during the war against the Transkei Coalition. Having already read “The Fortress in Orion” is useful to have some information on this enemy and an introduction of the protagonists, for the rest the two novels are completely autonomous.
“The Fortress in Orion” had a plot that seemed too linear to me for what was considered a suicide mission that aimed to infiltrate an enemy fortress. Mike Resnick is a writer with decades of experience and perhaps he thought that it wasn’t good for the series to become formulaic already in the second novel after that kind of start and in “The Prison in Antares” mixes things up. The author’s choice to write novels of limited length influences their plot development: a significant part of the first novel was about Nathan Pretorius’s effort to put together his team of people with really special skills, in this sequel the team is put back together very quickly so almost the whole story is about the actual mission.
The premise of “The Prison in Antares” seemed to me a bit stretched up: a group of Democracy scientists found a defense against the terrible Q bomb but their protection is definitely inadequate so they get killed by agents of the Transkei Coalition, all except Edgar Nmumba, who gets kidnapped. As if this weren’t enough, it seems that no one else in the Democracy can operate the defense against the Q bomb: OK the secrecy but in this case the lives of billions of people are at stake.
That premise serves to force General Wilbur Cooper to task Nathan Pretorius to free Edgar Nmumba. For that mission, he adds to his team the young psychologist Iris Fitzhugh, who is immediately nicknamed Irish for her red hair. The plot has the typical characteristics of Mike Resnick’s adventurous novels but a little more complex than the first novel. In “The Prison in Antares” the Dead Enders find various obstacles that force them to accomplish their mission taking a really long road with the consequence that the number of twists is definitely higher. There’s still a lot of action, which far compensates for a certain tendency to exposition by Pretorius, who for example emphasizes Proto’s peculiar characteristic in many occasions even if he seems the first to forget about it all the time.
The other real problem of “The Prison in Antares” is that the Dead Enders were all chosen thanks to some extraordinary skills but in this novel there are occasions when they don’t seem to live up to their previous mission and this has negative consequences. It’s a shame because one of the positive elements of “The Fortress in Orion” was the good characterization of the protagonists also through their skills.
Overall, “The Prison in Antares” seems to me a step forward compared to “The Fortress in Orion” but it’s still a type of adventure without too many complications. The twists are useful to keep the reader’s attention but it’s still an easy reading, a pleasant space adventure for a few hours of fun.