Tag Archives: David Weber

War of Honor (Honor Harrington #10), David Weber

Baen, 2002, 867 pages, C$41.00 hc, ISBN 0-7434-3545-1

I bought David Weber’s War of Honor hardcover in October 2002 for a good reason; bundled within its pages was a CD-ROM containing the entirety of the Honor Harrington series in electronic files I could read on my PDA. While I’d picked up discontinuous pieces of the Harrington saga at used book sales over the years, this seemed to be an easy (and cheap) way to fill the blanks. I got books; my SF bookstore got C$41 and everyone was happy.

One year later, I’m done with the series. And when I say I’m done, I mean it: Done. Finished. Will not revisit. For what had started as a light and enjoyable series of standard but entertaining military SF novels has turned into a contest of endurance. The first four books of the series were all less than 430 pages. The last four all exceed 530 pages, in a steady progression that shows no sign of abating.

War of Honor is, let’s say it right away, not as dull and ill-conceived as its predecessor Ashes of Victory. All of the increasingly annoying tics of the series are there (emphasis on trivialities; off-stage developments; self-congratulatory conversations; omnipotent heroine; tepid pacing; cardboard villains, etc.) but there are also a few interesting elements that do much to soften Weber’s bad habits. Much like in Field of Dishonor, Harrington has to deal with nasty political battles. (Alas, they’re too easily resolved thanks to Harrington’s growing fan club in the Manticoran hierarchies) Much like in Honor Among Enemies, Harrington gets back in the field by hunting pirates in the Silesian sector, but without much of the desperate urgency felt back then.

The treecats can now talk through sign language, though Weber wisely doesn’t spend too much time on that particular development. (They’ll probably sing opera by the next tome) The novel takes forever to rev up, dwelling for hundreds of pages on the totally unacceptable peace negotiations taking place between Manticore and Haven. The eeevil socialist Havenites then pull a complete fleet out of their hats and take a technological leap significant enough to seriously worry the Manticoran Kingdom. Meanwhile, said Manticoran Kingdom has been taken over by Liberals (boo, hiss, etc.) who have managed to completely neuter the military might of the Empire. This, in case you’re still unaware of the delicate subtleties of Weber’s universe, is a Really Despicable Thing. Few will be surprised to find out that some hostilities break out before the end of the novel. Even fewer will be surprised to find out that they happen off-screen and barely qualify as a “Skirmish of Honor”.

Harrington is somewhere in the book, but as usual Weber can’t hold our interest whenever she’s away. The ridiculous fashion in which he paints everyone according to their political opinions (All liberals are traitors, all conservatives are saints, all treecats are, like, the coolest, and so on) is increasingly goofy whenever he attempts serious political fiction. And of course, in the presence of a larger-than-life heroine who, herself, has become larger than her imagined universe, the Honor Harrington series has nowhere to go.

And that, ultimately, is why I’m not particularly interested in knowing what happens to Honor Harrington next. The next volume will be released someday, but I’ll be able to let it float by until we meet again at a used book sale. The Harrington series reaches its climax with the fourth or fifth book. You can even throw in the sixth one for an extra space adventure. But the last four entries have each been a big long bore. I’ve rationalized my C$41 purchase. Now I can sign off… and I’m not coming back anytime soon.

Ashes of Victory (Honor Harrington #9), David Weber

Baen, 2000, 560 pages, C$37.00 hc, ISBN 0-671-57854-5

I had been warned, early in my quest to read all ten novels of Honor Harrington’s saga, that the series took a sharp downturn in the last few volumes. It seemed difficult to believe during the first few books; how could such an enjoyable series turn sour?

Well, after reading the ninth book, it’s now more than possible; it’s obvious. What started as a fun romp through classical military fiction in zippy three-hundred-pages instalments with plenty of overdone space battles has now degenerated in a contest of endurance with overwritten behemoths that tell the story in a self-satisfied manner that belies way too much overindulgence.

When we last saw omnipotent Honor Harrington and her magical treecat Nimitz (I’m not beyond sarcasm at this point), she had successfully managed to escape the galaxy’s most secure prison, freeing half a million political prisoners in the process and destroying a sizable fraction of the enemy naval forces. No less.

The previous novel, Ashes of Victory, ended as Harrington ran back to friendly territory, leaving all the tedious mopping-up work to be done—we assumed—during the two novels. Er, not so. Almost half of Ashes of Victory is spent tying the loose ends of the previous volume. As Honor meets and greets practically every single member of the Harrington household, she engages in a tedious series of insufferable discussions in which both parties do their best to be as smug as possible. Trivial points are explained in excruciating details, well past the point at which any reasonably patient readers cries uncle. Meanwhile, the treecats’ capabilities are expanded once more (this time, they’re learning language. Quantum physics research can’t be far behind.) and Harrington gradually becomes queen Elisabeth III’s trusted confidante. The only upside to the whole sequence (indeed, the whole novel) is that we’re saved most mentions of the icky Harrington/Alexander romance.

That’s because Alexander (“White Haven”, whatever) is off grabbing the latest Manticoran technology and kicking Havenite butt. The war (launched all the way back in volume 3) finally ends here, though it ends with a abrupt twist: Rather than fight it out like men, those evil cheese-eating Havenite actually surrender! Those perfidious monkeys! How can they dare?! Heck, by that time even the readers are applauding, as the war seems to be won through large scale space battles… that are never shown on-screen. Weber’s tendency to explain useless things and gloss over major events is never clearer than in Ashes of Victory, where even the fate of several major antagonists are briefly explained away in a sentence or two even as treecat minutiae takes pages to resolve. When the ending finally arrives after chapters and chapters of self-satisfied armchair bon mots between Harrington’s best friends, Weber rushes through dozen of dramatically important events in mere pages in order to wrap up the novel.

Worst of all is that while all of this is going on, Honor Harrington is safely back home, managing her stead and setting in her new job as… a teacher. That’s right; the war ends without her. In fact, the only heroics are late, late, late in the book, and seem tacked-on to contrive Weber’s pre-determined conclusion. Those who have been charting Harrington’s ascent through the ranks will be pleased to note that she ends this particular novel on quasi-kissing terms with the Queen.

But that’s not much of a relief for everyone else who had to slog through the novel. The tell-don’t-show style of plotting is bad enough, but when you couple it with the grating dialogues and the overall lack of energy, well, suddenly it’s just as well if this is the penultimate volume of the series as it currently exists. There’s only one more Harrington book left on my bookshelves, War of Honor, and that’s more than enough for me. At this point, I don’t care all that much to see what happens to her next.

Echoes of Honor (Honor Harrington #8), David Weber

Baen, 1999, 736 pages, C$9.99 mmpb, ISBN 0-671-57833-2

Honor Harrington has managed quite a few tricks in the seven previous volumes of her adventures, but this time she one-ups everything we’ve seen so far and comes back from the dead!

Well, sort of: As the novel opens, her family, friends and colleagues are devastated when they witness a video of her execution at the hands of the eeevil Havenites. We readers, of course, know better; at the end of the previous volume In Enemy Hands, didn’t Honor break out of custody, escape with dozens of her closest allies, kill the uber-nasty villainess who had planned her execution, destroy a major enemy warship and land undetected on an isolated planet?

Why, yes. And you can guess where the plot goes on from there. Even as everyone is mourning her (while a neat science-fictional twist is thrown in the gears of hereditary succession, with significant implications for future volumes), let’s just say that über-frau Harrington is plotting her revenge. Said revenge indeed ends up being spectacular; all is well that ends well, and we can once more rub our sweaty little hands at how things will turn out by next volume’s time.

I suppose that I’m become increasingly flippant about the plot of the latter Honor Harrington books, but the series itself is steadily approaching self-parody. Isn’t there anything Harrington (along with her faithful—and increasingly powerful—treecat Nimitz) can’t do? Even partially blind, even with one arm not tied behind her back, but entirely cut off? Gee-whiz: It’s a wonder Queen Elizabeth III hasn’t yet abdicated in her favour.

Even if you’re the kind of person who’s soft on increasingly omnipotent heroines, Echoes of Honor has other flaws. I have said numerous times before that the series’ dullest moments always come whenever the action moves away from Honor, most specifically to delve in Havenite politics. This volume once again proves the validity of this complaint. As the villains cackle and Honor’s acquaintances mourn, it’s obvious that we’re just not having fun with them—it’s all about Honor, Honor, Honor.

Another flaw in Weber’s work is also becoming glaring; his tendency to over-write the trivial and skip over the essential. Pages and pages of details are spent explaining minor political points even as space battles are glossed over in a blink. More often than not, his scenes tend to present characters reflecting on past actions and planning their next act, without any actual “immediate” description of the action itself.

Some of the exposition is interesting, mind you: In this volume, it’s obvious that the war of attrition is certainly not working for the good Manticorians: Haven is out-producing them, and their newer ships are gaining technological ground. But don’t worry too much; by the end of the novel, Manticore has found one interesting advantage and seems poised for a major technological breakthrough.

Having paid for all ten books, I’m still on-board for the rest of the series. But of all the flaws described above, the over-writing is really starting to annoy me. From a snappy first volume, the Harrington books have become huge behemoths, unwieldy and seriously dull in spots. It’s non-sensical to try to force political realism (as boring as it may be) around a heroine so obviously over-the-top. Echoes of Honor is a mixture of the good with the bad; the audacious stunts of Weber’s larger-than-life heroine mixed along increasingly annoying writing flaws. Hey, maybe the war will be over by the next volume? Unless, oh, no… does that mean we’ll have to endure the White Haven romance once more?

In Enemy Hands, David Weber

Baen, 1997, 544 pages, C$7.99 mmpb, ISBN 0-671-57770-0

We readers are a sadistic bunch. Oh, we seem mild-mannered enough, sitting there with a book in our hands, the occasional smirk on our lips. But in our heads, ah, it’s a completely different attitude. We like characters, but we want a reason to like them. We want to see how they react when rocks are thrown at them. We’re not interested in some happy-but-dull guy without a care in the world; we want to see explosive action, heart-wrenching drama, death-defying adventure and against-all-odds comebacks. Make no mistake; everyone loves a happy ending, but such endings are meaningless without some prior suffering.

David Weber certainly belongs to the rock-throwing school of characterization. His flagship heroine, Honor Harrington, is a character defined by crises. In novel after novel, she’s thrown in impossible situations, but always emerges triumphant as both an officer and a lady.

Still, apart from the occasional curve ball in volume 4 and 5, Honor has always done pretty well in military engagements. Hadn’t lost a fight despite some tense moments. This changes in this seventh volume of the Harrington saga: In Enemy Hands. For the Harrington fan, three noteworthy things happen in this novel.

First, the Admiral of White Haven is gets a sudden crush on Honor. Much eeewing ensues as readers realize that he’s a ninety-years old admiral of the fleet married to a crippled ex-actress and she’s a forty-year old captain with only one previous lover to her credit. Further eeewing ensues as we realize that Weber almost never does anything for kicks or occasional passing mentions, which means it’ll probably be a more-or-less permanent fixture of the series until the death of one of them. Egawd. Now that’s a promising thought for the next novels. (Almost as promising is the mention of the treecats engaging in colonial expansion, ensuring that we’ll see much more of them in books to come.)

Second: the ongoing Manticore/Haven war is not going well for the Manticoran empire. Despite their superior educational system, superior technology, superior moral fortitude and, well, overall superiority to those evil Havenite socialists (whose name are more French than ever, despite their Soviet-style regime), the Manticorans are not making any significant progress in the war, which threatens to turn into a contest of attrition. And that’s a type of the battle the Manticorans can’t win. Everyone is getting a little bit desperate, and that, in no small part, is why Honor is brought back in full service.

Finally, —and this is the biggie that relegates even the White Haven romance to the background—, something new and delightful happens to Honor at mid-book this time around: She loses. She surrenders. She’s taken prisoner. She’s stuffed in a vessel by a power-mad Havenite, tortured (along with her treecat), abused, judged guilty of whatever crime is required to kill her and sent to her execution. Woo!

That’s when the readers’ sadism come in: After books of successful space battles in which Honor wins by the tiniest margins, it’s somewhat of a welcome change to see her fail at something, for once. By this time in the series, she’s such a super-woman character that a little reader backlash is almost inevitable. For the first time since her Grayson exile, the novel doesn’t follow the usual template.

Unfortunately, the price to pay for this new development is to spend far more time with the Havenite antagonists and as usual any time spent away from Honor is usually time wasted. (There is, however, a neat subplot involving Officer Harkness.) In Enemy Hands is never terribly dull (Weber’s writing style is brisk enough to keep us interested, no matter what), but it’s hard to avoid the thought that in terms of density of action, Weber’s last few Harrington books are suffering from a great deal of over-writing.

Oh well: It’s not as if we can stop now. As far as this volume’s conclusion is concerned, what you think will happen, happens. By the end of the book (the clearest cliffhanger the series ever had), the situation is still critical (Baen has to sell the next novel, after all) but Honor has once again given one big black eye to Haven. On to the next story!

Honor Among Enemies (Honor Harrington 6), David Weber

Baen, 1996, 538 pages, C$8.99 mmpb, ISBN 0-671-87783-6

While recurring series are a boon for authors and publishers trying to make a honest buck by luring readers back for “one more adventure”, they also present particular challenges. How you you keep your protagonist fresh and interesting? How do you develop him or her in a realistic fashion even as they encounter murder, mayhem and mystery in every new volume? How do you explain or exploit their progress through the years?

At the speed by which Honor Harrington progressed through the ranks in the first three volumes of the series, readers could justifiably wonder if she’d end up Queen of the Known Universe by the end of the tenth book. While this may still be in the cards, the fourth volume’s conclusion made it amply clear that her career had been derailed for, oh, at least the following two novels. While she made good in an allied navy in Flag in Exile, she’s back in Her Majesty’s service for the in Honor Among Enemies. She’s wearing the proper Royal Manticoran Navy uniform once more, but don’t think that she’s back on the admiralty career track; summoned by her enemies for an impossible mission far away from the front-lines of the Havenite war, Harrington is being set up for an scenario where the odds are stacked against her.

But both Harrington and Weber’s readers are alike in that this is the kind of situation they like best. Once more thrown in the middle of lethal space battles (there’s even a hilarious moment where her new crew bemoan the body count that seems to follow her wherever she goes), Honor once again upholds the honour of the Queen, triumphs against impossible odds, trashes Havenite forces and acts like an officer and a gentlewoman should.

After the more complex political plots and subplots of Field of Dishonor and Flag in Exile, Honor Among Enemies is a return of sort to more straight-up military SF. Asked to destroy a ring of pirates decimating commercial traffic, Honor is ideally placed to use her tactics against a variety of enemy forces, most often than not at a numeric disadvantage. It works well, and it sure seems as if Weber is improving the pacing of his battle sequences with every successive book.

By isolating Harrington and putting her in a smaller cadre, Weber is also setting up a return to the more intimate settings that characterized the first book of the series, before Harrington started commanding small fleets. Honor can once more get the privilege of captaining a ship, with all the assorted challenges associated with the role over and above the inevitable space fights. In fact, Honor Among Enemies marks a first in the series by featuring an interesting subplot (Aubrey Weatherman’s adventures) that does not feature Harrington. (Heck, there’s even a treecat romance thrown in) That too works well, as it’s sort of a teaser -we guess- for what will follow as she starts playing a more active role in the Havenite war.

In short, this is yet another satisfying entry in the Honor Harrington series. Provided you’re still a fan by this point (and why shouldn’t you be if you’re reading the sixth volume?), there’s plenty of things to like in this book. The standard plot template is faithfully followed, but Honor Among Enemies delivers what it’s supposed to; a pretty decent reading experience for the fans. Now, could we get cracking on the Havenite war in time for the seventh volume?

(I should finally note, as an interesting factoid, that even though I own the paperback version of this book, I ended reading it as an ebook provided on the War of Honor CD-ROM. In this particular case, it was initially a question of convenience (I had my PDA with me at the opportune moment) and then of physical preference (my paperback had a horrible “crinkly” binding, with practically no inner margins) Hmm… Could I be catching the ebook bug?)

Flag in Exile (Honor Harrington 5), David Weber

Baen, 1995, 480 pages, C$10.99 mmpb, ISBN 0-7434-3575-3

(Read as an eBook, from the War of Honor CD-ROM)

It’s become customary to introduce every new instalment of the Honor Harrington series with some variant on “Honor is Back!” But this time around, the twist is that she is not back. Exiled from the Manticoran Navy after her actions in the previous volume, she’s back “home” as the steadholder of a brand-new territory on Grayson, the planet she managed to save in The Honor of the Queen. She may not be a ranking officer of her majesty’s navy anymore, but she keeps busy: Running a stead takes a lot of time and energy, especially when she’s the first-ever female steadholder in what is still a deeply conservative society. Some people clearly aren’t happy about that particular achievement…

Meanwhile, the Royal Manticoran Navy is still fighting the war initiated by the eeevil socialist Havenites two volumes ago. The engagement seems protracted enough to last for several more novels, and to make things worse, the Havenites are planning on attacking Grayson. As it naturally turn out, Honor Harrington is ready for them given her newly-acquired commission as an admiral of the Grayson Navy…

After the successful non-military focus of Field of Dishonor, Weber takes an hybrid approach in plotting Flag in Exile: While the military aspect comes back along with Honor’s admiralty, the political conflicts are also present in her efforts to defend her stead against the more backward elements of Grayson’s elite. Cynics will merely point out that this is like recycling the best bits of the second and fourth novels (complete with a duel and a big space engagement), but when it works, it works: There’s no need to be a spoilsport.

It’s not as if there isn’t something new to gnaw upon: Honor Harrington’s gradual apprenticeship as a steadholder is a new element, and we get to see her spend quite a lot of time in this uncharacteristic environment. Maybe too much time is spent describing the intricacies of Grayson politics, though the payoff is immense. The sheer boo-hiss perversity of her opponent’s plans are a marvel of audience manipulation, and so is the way she fights back against them. For a second volume in a row, she has to match wits with experts in martial fields not of her choosing. Unsurprisingly, she comes out ahead, though Weber actually manages to make us believe in how it’s done: We go from dreadful certainty of failure to triumphant (and inevitable) victory in only a few pages, an achievement that may have been impossible for another less experienced reader.

Then it’s off to space for the routine big space battle, the issue of which is a foregone conclusion. Worth noting this time around, though, is the good portrayal of performance under duress: seldom have we seen Harrington placed under so much stress, and the constant pain in which she has to operate is well-described. Also amusing is the return of the second book’s antagonist, this time as a colleague of Harrington in this new Grayson Navy. Cute.

All told, it’s another pretty good entry in the series, with Weber’s usual flair for good characters and clear prose carrying the series along as much as the plot and the overall arc. By this point in the series, it’s obvious that this is closer to an episodic TV soap than a feature film in terms of dramatic construction: The series can afford to take forever in setting up a few elements given that they’ll play out over a lengthy period. (The Havenite War, for instance, seems to be good for at least another trilogy) Naturally, this episodic nature strengthens even more the importance of recurring elements: We’re now at a point where we’re expected to recognize characters as they come back in Harrington’s life.

These are certainly not bad things if you’ve got all the novels so far (say, as provided by the CD-ROM bundled with the Hardcover edition of War of Honor), but they may be a dampening factor for everyone contemplating to dive into the series. Hey, it’s well-worth it… but be prepared to spend a lot of time in Harrington’s universe.

Field of Dishonor (Honor Harrington 4), David Weber

Baen, 1994, 367 pages, C$7.50 mmpb, ISBN 0-671-87624-4

Well, that’s a pleasant surprise.

After bemoaning the lack of variety in Honor Harrington’s first three adventures, here’s a fourth volume that delivers exactly what I’ve been asking for. No space battles for Honor this time around; in fact, precious little military action is featured in Field of Dishonor. As the title may suggest, this time the action pretty much all takes place in the political arena, with consequences far more affecting than any of Harrington’s military engagements.

The novel starts scant moments after A Short Victorious War, as Pavel Young’s (grrr!) cowardly behaviour during the third novel’s final engagement is examined by military analysts. The recommendation is swift to come; Young should be court-martialed for his actions, a process that may carry with it the death penalty for treason. All is not so simple, however, as the case becomes a battleground for the political factions in the Manticoran parliament. Conservatives are quick to defend Young, which they see as an unfairly persecuted member of one of the most honoured families in the kingdom. Many of the other factions rally around Honor… well, except for those who still remember her punching one of theirs in the face during the events described in The Honor of the Queen. It’s a complex issue and it quickly gets even more complicated when the court-martial is decided by a jury with opposing -but definite- views.

All of the above takes place before the novel is halfway through. What follows is, by a significant margin, the most interesting section of the Honor Harrington novels yet. Matter of revenge and retribution are exacted left and right, with Harrington in the middle of the conflict. Pretty much all of the series becomes important in many subtle ways; no details are forgotten as Harrington becomes an unfortunate media darling. Nearly all characters are involved in the story. The final chapters are a heck of a lot of fun as, finally, we get something else than a Big Space Battle as a climax. Harrington’s involvement is also deeply personal, going beyond simply playing a lethal video-game combat really well with occasional casualties. This fight has no intermediaries.

In short, it is by side-stepping the usual military SF dramatic arc and embracing a character-driven plot that Field of Dishonor becomes the best entry (so far, so far!) in the series. Real character development takes place, with real issues affecting the characters. Though some of it may be predictable (it’s not as if we couldn’t see part of the story coming, even from the previous volume), it’s very well-done and carries with it a great sense of urgency. It’s also deeply satisfying in a very unconventional way. For maybe the first time, the entire series truly pays off. While a dramatic loop of some kind has been closed, it’s clear that this is far from being an ending.

(I’m not too pleased, however, with the off-screen death of one major character, whose demise is simply reported in the next chapter without any attempt at showing what happened. Kind of a missed opportunity for a good dramatic scene, if you ask me.)

Field of Dishonor might be a lot of things, but it’s -perhaps most importantly- a shot in the arm for the entire Honor Harrington saga. Wisely concentrating, maybe even only for one novel, on the characters rather than the hardware and the strategies, Weber has ensured a renewed interest in the adventures of his heroine. Despite the sombre tone of the last few pages, there is no doubt that Harrington will be back in action, and soon. Next volume, please!

A Short Victorious War (Honor Harrington 3), David Weber

Baen, 1994, 376 pages, C$7.50 mmpb, ISBN 0-671-87596-5

By this third volume of the Honor Harrington series, readers know what to expect, and for Weber not to deliver would be cruel given the exciting setup suggested by the title: war! Once again, we will see protagonist Honor Harrington battle against impossible odds and triumph after numerous obstacles. What can I say? It’s a best-selling recipe. Weber has already won the hearts and the minds of most of the military Science Fiction readership.

Avoiding ennui may be slightly harder for readers not entirely devoted to the military-SF sub-genre. It’s all good and cool for Harrington to unleash considerable whup-ass on her adversaries, but after three volumes, it gets to be tiresome.

Let’s see: Once again, the eeevil Havenites socialists (grrr!) are on the warpath. They think they can simply wage a little war against Manticorian allies, win it in a flash, bolster their treasury and quieten domestic dissent in the process. Naturally, there is one slight unpredictable factor in their plan: Honor Harrington, who has recently assumed command of the battlecruiser HMS Nike. She’s mean, she’s tough and she’s got a score or two to settle with the Havenites. Alas, she’s also stuck around Pavel Young, another old adversary who also has a score to settle with her…

At least A Short Victorious War manages to widen the scope of her actions. Whereas the action of the first two volumes was focused on one-on-one naval battles, this third entry shows us not only part of the action behind Havenite enemy lines, but expands Harrington’s field of command to encompass a small fleet of ships. It also delves a little bit deeper in the political and diplomatic ramifications of her career, expanding the credibility of the universe she evolves in. Obviously, Harringtons’ future adventures should evolve beyond the strictly military aspect, and this third volume is a promising development.

On a personal level, this is also the book in which Harrington comes to grip with her injuries of the previous volume. It is also the novel where She Gets Some (and, surprisingly enough, the one who gives it to her doesn’t Get It by the end of the story). Her cadre of friends and influential allies is strengthened; I was particularly enamoured by Michelle “Mike” (ugh) Henke and the growing influence of the Earl of “White Haven”.

Fortunately, the readability of Weber’s prose here is still as good as anything else he’s done; it helps enormously that Harrington is a wonderful character; the interest of A Short Victorious War diminishes sharply whenever she’s off-screen. (Hence the consequent lull in the middle of the book, though it can also be blames on the necessity to place all pieces in play for the last big battle) It also seemed to me as if he also managed to improve the pacing of his strictly military action scenes; the ending of this third entry is improved by some personal stakes in the final battle.

All good, then, for the series. As you may infer, I’m still wishing for a greater variety in the plotting; those big final battles are getting tiresome, especially when there’s no doubt as to how they’ll turn out. Still, the series keeps most of its interest, and all signs point to an expansion of the series in latter volumes. Bring on the fourth.

The Honor of the Queen, David Weber

Baen, 1993, 300 pages, C$9.99 mmpb, ISBN 0-671-57864-2

(read as an e-book, from the War of Honor CD-ROM)

Honor Harrington is back in this second instalment of David Weber’s wildly popular military fiction series. After being introduced to readers with On Basilisk Station, the capable officer faces another set of impossible odds in this new mission.

This time, she’s supposed to be on diplomatic duty; the Manticorian Republic is courting another solar system as an ally in an effort to protect itself from the evil socialist Havenites, and so they send in a military/diplomatic delegation to offer support and comfort to a government that has other enemies of its own. Said enemies, naturally enough, are backed by Haven. You can guess what happens from here.

“Bigger” and “better” are usually the operating directives for sequels, and The Honor of the Queen is no exception, with a structure that is essentially reprised from On Basilisk Station while allowing for more fireworks. It ends with the expected space battle in which Honor triumphs over a vastly better-equipped enemy. Repetitive, but it works; fans of the first volume shouldn’t be disappointed by this one.

What’s not as successful, though, is the explicit Women-are-people-too content in this entry. One of the most refreshing aspects of On Basilisk Station was how it handled the matter without comment, simply by putting men and women alongside in a military setting, The Honor of the Queen makes it an integral part of the plot, as Honor must demonstrate her competency to the fundamentalist characters she encounter. That smacks of overt preaching, and it’s something I’d like to avoid as much as possible. Oh well; maybe Weber now got it out of his system. Fortunately, Weber avoids the “all theists are evil nuts” cliché by featuring a few sympathetic characters whose beliefs are opposed to Harrington’s. (But they respect her. In this series so far, “goodness” and “badness” can reliably be inferred from anyone’s respect for Harrington.)

I was rather relieved to see that Honor “gets her patch” in this volume; glancing at the cover art for the latter books, I was sort of worried this would be an important spoiler for a subsequent volume. While I expect some kind of fix in the next few books, at least it explains War of Honor‘s illustration.

I was also pleased to see Nimitz (Honor’s treecat “pet”, though the term must be used lightly) get a good role. In itself, that compensates for a certain repetitiveness of the structure. It does lead me to ask, though, if every single Honor Harrington book will end with a naval engagement in which Honor is severely outmatched. I recognize that military fiction has a few basic demands and that this is, after all, only the second volume, but it does raise a warning flag.

Still, despite the familiar feel, there is a lot to like in this entry, from Weber’s unpretentious prose to his willingness to kill a few characters. It’s a pleasant surprise to see Honor’s parents turn in for a few pages. (And I’m even more pleased to notice ethnic diversity creep in Harrington’s very Anglo-Saxon universe, starting with her own Asian-ethnic mother) It’s a weaker entry than the first volume, but patience; this series is barely getting started. I have reason to believe that better stuff awaits.

On Basilisk Station (Honor Harrington 1), David Weber

Baen, 1993, 422 pages, C$9.99 mmpb, ISBN 0-671-72163-1

I’ve been eyeing David Weber’s Honor Harrington series for a while now, feeling as if I should give it a try while simultaneously being intimidated by the series’ growing number of volumes. I kept buying the books at second-hand stores, hoping to complete the dozen-book set before diving in. But that could have taken a while. Happily, Baen neatly solved the problem with the tenth novel in the Honor Harrington series, War of Honor: The C$41 hardcover included a CD-ROM containing, yep, the whole series (and more) in electronic format. No more worries about missing volumes; I could just start reading what I had and “fill in the blanks” with the electronic version on my trusty PDA.

First stop, then: On Basilisk Station, Honor Harrington’s first adventure.

Who’s Honor? She’s a starship captain who, at the start of this first novel, assumes her first command, a decrepit cruiser optimistically christened Fearless. But Honor is the embodiment of her ship’s name and at the first training exercise opportunity she gets, she severely embarrasses a cocky superior by beating him at his own game.

Mistake. Before long, she’s exiled to a trivial faraway post, where she meets an old nemesis who -in cowardly fashion- flees and leaves her to perform a wide variety of tasks with almost no assets. What others would consider impossible, Honor sees as opportunity: before long, she shapes up everything in fine fighting form. But don’t be bored yet; an enemy attack looms…

A lot of things are obvious from On Basilisk Station: First, that it’s a classical underdog-against-all-odds story featuring a plucky heroine who deserves our unqualified admiration. Second, that it’s a direct descendant of the Horatio Hornblower naval adventure stories. Third, that’s it’s completely successful as an introductory volume to the Honor Harrington series.

I’m hooked, no doubt about it: Weber writes honest military SF, sure, but unlike too many of his immediate colleagues, he never forgets that he’s primarily telling a story, not recreating a tactical engagement for the enjoyment of the armchair strategists in the audience. His secondary characters take a while to come in focus, but they do and Honor Harrington herself is the type of archetypical heroine worth absolute devotion. Similarities with Lois McMaster Bujold’s Miles Vorkosigan go beyond the fact that they’re both published by Baen books.

At least Weber’s political prejudices are obvious. The evil Havenites have a policy of expansion made inevitable by “almost two T-centuries of deficit spending to shore up an increasingly insolvent welfare state.” [P.52] Tee-hee! Then there’s the not-so-good Liberals, whose dedication to maintaining a military presence on Basilisk Station is traitorously suspect. The political system in which Honor lives is adapted directly from the English’s parliamentary monarchy: a nod to Hornblower and C.S. Forrester, sure, but also a rather convenient setting for true-blood Anglo-Saxon space opera… but I’ll hold off on any potentially embarrassing comments on the ethnicity of the series until I’ve read more of it. At least the complete gender integration of Honor’s universe is a laudable assumption.

In short, On Basilisk Station is addictive reading. I’m definitely in for the duration of the Harrington series. At one book per month (and, presumably, one review per month), I should reach War of Honor by October 2003. Stay tuned!