Review: Uncompromising Honor

I’ve left spoilers out of this post. I’m debating another one with spoilers, but it would mostly just be listing all the things that annoyed me. The linked post from last year does have spoilers from War of Honor.

As series finales go, Uncompromising Honor is already the second one in David Weber’s Honor Harrington series, which by itself neatly sums up the difficulty of trying to judge the book fairly. It is not in any sense a stand-alone novel, and while I’m incapable of thinking myself into approaching in in that frame of mind at this point, I suspect the flaws would loom larger than the successes.

The successes, from a plot and series perspective, are considerable. Weber has neatly gathered up the loose ends due to his own foibles as a writer, together with the frayed ones where Eric Flint got a bit carried away with his spin-off series (technically co-authored with Weber, but as best I can tell this amounted to making sure the timeline didn’t get too impossible to sync with the main series), and tied them off neatly enough. Flint’s next book will – whatever the plot overlap – be, I suspect, essentially launching a new storyline, while I’m not sure what, if anything, Weber still intends to do with the Honorverse.

The failures are individually smaller, and in line with the same authorial bad habits I detailed a year ago when I called War of Honor “The Worst Honor Harrington Book”: Weber attempts to maintain realism and present all sides, but the coincidences work out too well, the good guys don’t make enough mistakes to make the bad guys’ howlers believeable while readying, and when it comes to political characters shades of gray are distinctly missing. In addition, this one shows up Weber’s tendency to utopian thinking a bit too strongly to be plausible at the climax.

Still, if as a book At All Costs – the first attempt at a series finale – was better, by then the side stories were spiraling out of control: this one actually manages to put a cap on things. It does leave plenty of questions unanswered – let’s call them plot hooks – and I suspect the forthcoming volume will have plenty of cans of worms to open up, but the main set of problems has been dealt with.

If you’ve read the series but not this one, you’ll probably want to. (If you haven’t read the series yet, but want to, it’s quite long, not to say outsize, at this point. The first three books – On Basilisk Station, The Honor of the Queen, and The Short Victorious War are probably the best. The first two actually can be read as stand-alone novels, but the third invokes long-term plot arcs so if you get that far and you’re a completionist on these things… well, you can probably imagine.)

Review: A Two-for-One

One of my popcorn guilty pleasures has for the last several years been David Weber’s Honor Harrington series, which with spinoffs and what-not is now quite a large number of books.  I have read most of them, I think, and while at this point the continuing series is beginning to drag quite a bit, I have this thing about finishing books I start, at least eventually.  So when I went to the library and noticed a new pair of titles in the series I figured I’d read them.  One of the causes of the series getting quite so large was that Weber started doing collaborations on side-stories with other authors.  At this point I think the other authors do most of the writing for their particular bit, and Weber mostly checks it over for consistency – more or less – with the main story.

Cauldron of Ghosts with Eric Flint

Eric Flint is another sci-fi author who mostly deals in time-travel scenarios and whose writing is not very good.  This particular book is a touch above his regular stuff, but in the end it’s pretty much the same kind of thing.  Flint doesn’t provide much substance – his characters, much like the stereotypical American movie-going public, mostly all seem to like sex and stuff blowing up.  His plots, such as they are, are wildly implausible.  His heroes are basically superheroes in all but name.  It’s hard to find much of a redeeming factor to his work – about the only thing is that he makes it clear that he, the author, knows exactly what he’s doing.  He also writes some very funny scenes, with a tendency to slapstick.  I don’t know that the book’s much good, though.

A Call to Duty with Timothy Zahn

Zahn, on the other hand, is a fairly solid writer – stylistically better than Weber, let alone Flint.  He’s best known for a pair of series in the Star Wars “expanded universe”, but his own stuff is also pretty good most of the time and usually fairly interesting.  He writes mostly sci-fi, with a lot of aliens.  Commonly he features characters with technologically enhanced abilities (for good and bad), and his plots tend toward mysteries and spying, though often with a background of, as the phrase goes, galactic unrest.

Almost all of Zahn’s protagonists, though, tend to be practical, not to say hard-bitten, type who know how the world works and just want to get their job done.  So it was a little bit of a surprise to find that the lead here is a kid just out of high school; and the setting, years before Weber’s main timeline, back near the beginning of Manticore’s history.  (The series – this is apparently going to be a series – is called “Manticore Ascendant”, so that’s not a spoiler.)

Anyway, this one doesn’t quite work.  Part of it is the problem of trying to write a protagonist who doesn’t quite know what he’s doing and still make him out a hero.  Part of it is a general lack of detail in explaining how various things work – an odd complaint when Weber is usually criticized, and rightly, for putting in too much detail, but true all the same.  Mostly, though, the pacing of the book doesn’t quite work.  The thing is spread over several years, and yet the characters – and situations – don’t develop much.

So neither of these books was particularly good.  Cauldron was more entertaining, taken by itself, but I’m rapidly running out of patience with Flint’s schtick (and with the whole Mesa storyline, for that matter).  A Call to Duty was a weak book, but the story might have some promise going forward.  At least it’s a newer (to the reader) setting.

Book Review: David Weber and Linda Evans’ Hell’s Gate

Or, “how not to establish a scenario”.

David Weber, author of various mostly best-selling science fiction and fantasy series, is an author whose work is one of my guilty pleasures.  His writing is not particularly good, but it is not offensively bad, either.  His ideas are often quite interesting, although he could use an editor, or at least a backspace key.  He has several personal hobby-horses, a few of which carry over from one series to another, but in the main they make for more thoughtful (and sometimes more realistic) story-telling than you often get from your average popular sci-fi hack.

Probably the most dominant theme in much of Weber’s work is the idea of shared humanity – that good guys and bad guys can be found everywhere, on the “right” and “wrong” side of war, pursuing honor or shady personal gain for good reasons or bad, with good cause or shoddy excuse.  If the extent to which he hammers this point home has fallen off a little bit in his latest Honorverse books, it may simply because he managed to write himself past his original plot.

However, Hell’s Gate – not a book featuring starships, or people named Honor – is not one of his better efforts.  I can’t say how much that may be the co-author’s fault, as I’ve never read any of Evan’s own work.  The long-winded fake tech details are noticeably mostly lacking, which is, I think, a good thing here.  The writing is not particularly worse than his usual.  The characters are the usual mix of intriguing and somewhat cliched but redeemable, Weber’s version of a white knight, and various cardboard extras.  The plot, though…

As might be guessed from the title (after you found out it wasn’t a novelization or re-setting of Thermopylae), the book is about the launching of a massive war between two industrial (more or less) era civilizations.  It should surprise no reader of Weber’s work to find out that he tries hard to sell the war’s beginning as basically due to an accident.  What does come as a surprise is that almost everyone on one side is either incompetent, cowardly, pliable, or conniving, at least at what Weber likes to call the “pointy end” of the action – while the other side, one book in, is made up almost entirely of intelligent, well-meaning, implausibly successful people.

Now, either one of those is a plausible enough explanation for starting a war.  A mess of accidents between possibly well-meaning but definitely suspicious people who don’t really understand each other?  Sure.  A military run amok without adequate supervision, with nefarious dudes promoted to places they shouldn’t be, running into new worlds to conquer?  Sure.  (Though over-sanctifying the other side might still be a mistake.)  But they’re not particularly compatible premises, especially when the author is trying hard to establish his usual point of view – explaining or sympathizing with every character’s point of view.

In fairness, I find Weber’s talent for showing motive – and using personal motives and behavior as a driving force – compelling enough that I will probably track down the sequel at some point.  Weber and Evans have managed to compile some fairly interesting characters, and it’s possible that the White Knights may lose some luster once things get more heated.  But the book itself I give a D.  Maybe a C-.  Maybe.