Home > Book Reviews > Birthright: The Book of Man by Mike Resnick

Birthright: The Book of Man by Mike Resnick

There are a number of books which I have a need to reread periodically:  The Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, Dune by Frank Herbert, and Birthright: The Book of Man by Mike Resnick.

Why this book?  Well, I think the conceit is extremely clever and the stories remind me of the best short stories of Isaac Asimov.  In fact, the only novels that I have read that remotely resemble the scope of this book those in Asimov’s Foundation series (which starts with Foundation).

This book is a history of the race of humankind as it maneuvers in the galaxy.  Each chapter describes a separate episode over thousands of years as man expands his empire economically and administratively, attempts to recover from setbacks, and eventually falls.  But what is fascinating is that each story highlights one of humankind’s drives, motives, and inherent character both in its highest ideals and in its basest hubris.  Resnick is able to both celebrate and denigrate each characteristic.

The book creates a framework for many of Resnick’s short stories and novels; a fact which Resnick says was not originally intended but suggested by his editor(s) because of their love for this work.   This works so well because there is such a variety of eras, locations, and aliens to play with.  For example, the stories cross multiple government types (empire, monarchy, oligarchy, warlord incursions, various democracies), varying levels of human control (exploration, ascendancy, setbacks, fall), and genres (puzzles, political machinations, mysteries).  Each chapter begins with short excerpts from histories written far into the future which attempts to place the episode into a larger context; interestingly, these histories are written by the winners and thus have subtle biases which adds to the tone of the story.  Try this website to see how each story and novel fits into the main structure.

I’ve only read Birthright novels in the Starship series (beginning with Starship: Mutiny), which is a more traditional space opera series but has all of the clever elements from this book.  I hope to read others.

It’s not a hopeful history, but yet defiant to the end.

5 stars out of 5

(updated 10/14/2010)

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