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.