The Worst Honor Harrington Book

I’ll start with the warnings.  First, this is a rant, and it’s a rant by a fan.  There will be spoilers.  Second, this is not actually about the worst Honor Harrington book (that I’ve read), which is Cauldron of Ghosts, but that’s properly a side story and not the main line.  And if I think David Weber’s been letting Eric Flint influence the main story too much, let alone the side story that’s mostly Flint’s own creation and responsibility, well, that’s not really the point here either.

Third, this isn’t really even about my complaints about certain ‘verse-building choices – the addition of treecat sign language, the title character’s developing psychic empathic powers, or even (since it doesn’t even show up in the book in question) the use of Mesan nanotechnology as a deus ex machina whenever Weber or his co-authors write themselves into a corner that requires something really implausible to get out of.  Or occasionally something really implausible to set up future conflicts.

No, this is about the problems with War of Honor, in which a number of David Weber’s authorial weaknesses combine in unfortunate ways, as well as one gigantic mistake by his characters that even Weber’s having them point out as a mistake they made doesn’t keep it from being a major problem with the plot.

I’ll get this major plot hole out of the way first.  The climactic battle only works out in Harrington’s favor because a heavy reinforcement for her understrength Manticoran force is sent to her unofficially from Grayson.  Yet the opposing Havenite fleet commanders knew the reinforcements were missing from their normal post on a “training” mission, and never even ask if the destination (or exercise area) is known.  And these are supposed to be the smart opponents, not the dumb ones that have been thinned out over the course of the series.  Of course these mistakes do happen in war – but this one is just a little too convenient, made in the execution of a plan that’s supposedly been worked over with several of the proverbial fine-toothed combs.  It sours the taste of the final victory – and piling on another improbable scouting coincidence that let Harrington know a surprise attack was coming and set a trap only makes it worse.

So the plot, as it concerns Harrington, has a rather hollow core.  But if the only problem were the military implausibilities, it could be shrugged off.  The history of military operations is in some respects nothing but a collection of really stupid decisions from people who should have known better, or others who just got absurdly lucky, from Carrhae to Agincourt to Midway.

No, what really grates is the Manticoran politicos.  For a change, the opposition parties (from the perspective of most of the main characters) have charge of things – and there’s not a reputable viewpoint among them.  Which, from Weber, whose work is distinctive in large part because of his dedication to presenting antagonists as openly – and mostly fairly – as possible, is an awful falling off.  His Havenite oligarchs that we start the series with are hardly sympathetic, but they’re as invested in trying to control the tiger they’re stuck riding as merely continuing to make a profit – not nice people, but not abnormal, and unsentimentally aware they’re stuck with a poor system, as far as they can see – or dare to see, at least.  His first batch of revolutionaries are presented symapthetically, even though their behavior is modeled on some of the worst excesses of the French and Russian revolutions.  The rather blatantly named Rob S. Pierre, in particular, is a fairly well-done portrait of an extremist with good intentions trying to deal with the results of his own initial success.

Of course one can write a series in flatter tones, with villains and heroes plain to see if not quite color-coded.  But that’s not Weber’s reputation: so when that’s the tone for the heroes merely domestic antagonists (while the foreign enemies and allies retain their respectful presentations – mostly), the book as a whole is jarringly out of place in the series – or the series as it was to that point.  As noted in passing above, I think Eric Flint’s influence as a co-author has had an over-simplifying effect on the series (to say nothing of Weber, partly because of Flint’s side series, ending up having to write himself out of a hole dug by not wrapping up the story where he originally intended).  But Flint writes openly uncomplicated stories with over-the-top hijinks: by way of cheap comparison, he plays Errol Flynn to Weber’s Humphrey Bogart.

Worst of all, however – though it’s only a tiny detail in one sense – is that War of Honor begins in the middle of a truce, and despite these open villains taking charge of Manticore’s government, and being presented quite early as perfectly willing to present a selective view of diplomatic correspondence for public – or even wider private – consumption, Weber can’t quite bring himself to have Manticore commit the final falsifications of correspondence that bring the war raging back.  Instead it’s pinned for plot purposes on Haven’s new Secretary of State and his staff.  Now said official is ambitious enough for any three normal people, but that’s par for the course among politicians even in this universe.  But it’s never convincingly explained exactly what he thinks he’s getting from the changes made – which are not specified.  (And, to put the side-stepping cherry on top, in the sequel he’s conveniently discarded before the question can be forced in Haven of what exactly the diplomatic responsibilities are between President and Secretary of State – as what he’s guilty of – that we’re told about – is more or less making changes without informing the President.)

Fortunately for Weber, the next two volumes published in the Honorverse were side stories – one Flint’s creation, the other Weber’s own idea to continue the story after the main plot wrapped up – and much lighter in tone, so that when he got around to finishing At All Costs, the volume that was supposed to wrap up the main story – even if it had in the meantime been dragged much closer chronologically to the other now-continuing intended-to-be-sequel series than Weber had planned – I at least was ready to see what happened without too much trepidation and the bad taste of this one rather forgotten.  But it’s a really bad taste.

Not the Best-Laid Plan

If someone told you they had a plan, you would – assuming the other person to be a responsible adult – expect to hear about at least three things from them: a goal, a method, and a plan of action.  Some of those goals and methods need justification as well, explaining why the goal is a good one, or how the general concept will work; others are fairly obvious.

Let’s take a look at what some of Senator Bernie Sanders’ supporters decided to pass around as Sanders’ “plan”:

11203008_915953565133814_5588225070100870727_nNow, going off my categories above, we see that this is not actually coherent plan at all.  Points 5, 7, and 9 are clearly goals.  Points 1-4, 6, 8, 10, and 11 are probably methods – though attempting to discover the goal associated with the various methods is a difficult proposition.  Points 1, 6, and likely 11 might be associated with a goal stated as, “Create and keep jobs for Americans”.  Points 3, 4, and 10 might fall under a heading, “Reduce Income Inequality”.  Point 2 stands by itself but the associated goal is probably something like, “Stop Global Warming”.  Point 8 – well, that might be a goal (although it would need a justification), or it might be a method (for one of the goals I suggested), or it might just be pandering to a base inclined to distrust large businesses with no serious intention behind it at all.

Of course, I could likely do this with most of the candidates’ electioneering so far; but this popped up on my facebook and theirs have not, so Sanders ended up being the one I picked on.  On the other hand he can’t complain too much – any publicity is good publicity, right?

An Astonishing Lack of Concern

The other day, I saw popping up in my facebook feed a picture bearing the following quotation:

“I do not believe that just because you’re opposed to abortion that that makes you pro-life.  In fact, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed.  That’s not pro-life.  That’s pro-birth.” – Sister Joan Chittister

Without any significant attempt at research, I will merely mention that the sister is a Benedictine nun, and so I assume she is herself an advocate for the right to life as taught by the Roman Catholic (and, one is to sincerely wish, every Christian) church.  Making this assumption about her own moral views, this is a statement that should be heeded by us all.

If this were it, it would not have provoked this blog post.  If it had been shared by a fellow pro-life friend, it would not have provoked this blogging escapade.  No: I saw it shared instead by a few people who to the best of my knowledge defend the legality of abortion.

To which I have this to say: You have no right to post that.  You would perhaps clothe and feed a child lucky enough to be born alive, but you have no problems with denying the child his or her life before he has a chance to cry or suffer – and before he has the chance to live freely, love, serve, work, play, babble, talk, make friends.  You are like the man on trial for murder defending his action by explaining that his victim was homeless and hungry.  You do not kill the homeless, the injured, the “useless”, the Untouchables, the helpless – or do you now?  You are no better than the “eugenicists” of the early 20th century, and you post this quotation?  Either you completely lack self-awareness, or you are attempting to stir up guilt in someone who might be human enough to feel some to deliberately turn the issue away from your own failing.

So much for that.  Worse, the quotation is without a target.  Is there anyone who actually desires to see children unclothed, unfed, ignorant, hopeless?  You might find a very few such depraved men if you searched hearts, and a much smaller number who might admit to it.  And if I received this admonishment from a trusted source, one whose own morals were humane, I would I hope accept it as a call to further charity on my own part.  Even coming from someone who does not believe in the worth of life, it is a welcome reminder.

But I have a sneaking suspicion this was not what was intended.  I find myself thinking that this is one more straw man, that what is really being implied here by the posters, is, “If you do not think that government-backed “social” action is the correct thing to do to relieve children’s suffering, you are misguided”.

I do not myself believe, but will admit that others likely better than myself have held to, the thought that government should be a chief motivator for public charity even beyond common goods.  It may turn out – I doubt it completely – that these men and women are right.  But in the mean time, may I not pursue these goods without having motives assumed to be wrong because my methods differ?

And I ask you, after all, who is doing more for children than those who are also generally pro-life?  Which politically and morally-motivated population is the group working to teach their children well and rigorously at home; or to found solid schools outside the grip of bureaucratic incompetence (and anyone who has ever visited the DMV must, if honest, admit that bureaucracy is incompetent).  Which side of the argument tends to back voucher and charter programs to give students in failing schools more choices?  (And I admit we can argue the efficacy of some of these attempted solutions: but the effort is there.)  Or if we must look to the Establishment, No Child Left Behind may go down in history as a failed bill, but on a scale of disaster from 1 to “Obamacare”, it rates about a 3 – and, to quote that favorite idiocy of FDR’s, at least something was tried.  As I said, in all but the most dire straits, an idiotic approach, but one much beloved by Progressive.  I suspect, though I am not as familiar with the situations, that this could be carried out across the spectrum of needs Sister Chittister was crying out to help meet.  And from her, without more solid information, I can take the advice.

But from you, defender of abortionists, worrier about a “woman’s right” to “her own body” (but apparently not about her responsibility to use that body wisely, or to protect the body of another which is developing inside), from you this just makes me angry.  It is not an opinion you have a right to voice – even if, deep down, I am grateful for the Grace common to humanity which allows you to recognize some right when you see it.