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Reviewing David Weber

David Weber has been busy over the last year.  A new Honor Harrington novel “Uncompromising Honor” and a new Safehold novel “Through Fiery Trials.”  This, from the man who said he was slowing down to 500,000 words per year.

Go ahead, take a moment to consider the implications of that-  it’s on par with the famous story of a Blackbird Reconnaissance Jet who called the tower at LAX asking for permission to go to 60,000 feet. Now mindyou, most flights cruise between 30 and 42,000 feet.  “And how are you gonna get up to 60,000 feet?” The tower asked.  “Tower, who said anything about going up?  I’m coming down to 60,000 feet.”  It is a testament to the man’s ability as a storyteller with the decades of experience which he possesses that he is descending down to that point.  May we all aspire to be so capable.

 

 

I’ve read both books- they’re extremely different in setting and narrative, part of what makes Weber so impressive as a writer.  My first encounter with his work was as a freshman in high school (circa 2001) when I read “On Basilisk Station.”  14 year-old me loved that book, and as an adult who’s been on combat deployment, I appreciate even more how correctly Weber grasps so much of military lifestyle.

 

I take it as a special treat, nay a treasure, to find civilians who can so accurately write such work.  It is not a prerequisite that all who tell stories about life under arms must do as David Drake, or John Ringo and give their youth in service to their nation.  Often, it is necessary, otherwise critical mental connections and attitudes about the reality of armed service are not made. David, though a civilian, has done an incredible job at maintaining the realism and feel throughout his works, which is part of why I enjoy them.

 

Uncompromising Honor (hereafter UH) continues the story of the Honor Harrington’s fight against Solarian oppression and the unelected bureaucrats who run the Solarian League.  I enjoyed reading it, right up until Honor lost everything she cared about and went on a wild mission of vengeance to the Sol System- where she decided that destroying every single bit of the Orbitals over Old Earth was absolutely and utterly necessary, just because the antagonists had been doing it too.  At which point I put the book back on the shelf and walked away.

 

Ostensibly, this was to calm down.  Part of it is also that I think best when I’m up and moving- how does he get so much right, but screw this major plot point up?  Answer: nobody bats a thousand.  And in some way, he needs to show Honor Harrington’s flaws.  She compromised herself when she chose to mindlessly destroy civilian targets like she did.

 

This truly was, in my opinion, a character sinking to the level of their enemies, before we even get to the second and third level ramifications of crippling and maiming a fellow nation-state’s economy.  I would not, as an NCO have supported any officer over me who gave such orders.  There is a time and place for reprisal (which is a legal tool of enforcement for commanders in the field to use), to be sure.  This was not it.  To my mind and mode of thinking, her actions go against everything which I stand for, and to which I have sworn my oaths of service.  The Laws of War are real, they exist for sound reasons, and to violate them is a vile thing.  We see classic irony in the title, when compared to the character- she compromised herself and what she stands for, in the pursuit of petty vengeance.

 

In stark, and brilliant contrast to this, we have the newest novel from the Safehold series: “Through Fiery Trials.”  When last we saw Safehold, the mad Grand Inquisitor had been executed for his crimes after finally learning the truth of the power-hungry order he had given his life in service to.  It was poignant to see his deathbed confession, followed by his death.  Farewell to the creature.

 

TFT picks up shortly thereafter, as the Charisians and the Inner Circle struggle to grasp changes which have come to their world, both technological and economical.  Compared to the other entries in the series, there is far less combat, far more intrigue, far more economic warfare, and far more exploration about the rights of kings, the rights of the governed and where the two meet.

 

TFT also introduces new characters to the series, as well as a shift out of what we may consider to be the Older Generation.  Gone is Lewis Thirsk, the Dohlaran Admiral who held his nation together and brought the Church of Safehold it’s only victories.  Now we see his grandson (iirc) come into the light, not simply to fill the pages, but to drive the plot forward with a new wrinkle- as Consort of the Crown Princess, essentially uniting the two kingdoms with their marriage.  Nimue Alban the female PICA (as opposed to the male, Merlin) finally marries, for love.  These two characters in particular can be seen as re-imaginations of the twins Colin and Harriet from Weber’s previous series- Dahak, produced from the same original data (a stand in for Jiltanith MacIntyre), but so very different in personality.

 

Several other new characters are introduced, even as Charis prepares  for the possibility of the Archangels’ prophesied return to Safehold.  We see the Army of God, full of Harchongian soldiery slowly morphing into a new nation, one full of self-determination and driven forward by Earl Rainbow Waters’ desire to not see his men’s lives wasted.  The full impact of the newer gunpowder weapons is driven home as his men slough off the centuries of oppression their culture has been locked in.

 

Weber handles all of this brilliantly.  He also earns major credit from me for his profligate use of artillery throughout the Safehold novels.  I love mortars, and howitzers, and while I haven’t gotten to fire rockets yet I’m pretty sure I’ll love those too.  When the Harchongian army comes looking for trouble against a rebellious valley in TFT, they’re introduced to the joy of mortars, and instructors from Ruhsyl Thairis School of Artillery.

 

I did not bother wasting time once I had the book in my possession.  It was read immediately and in full, with minimal pauses.  Local PD does not like impaired driving, and I like not having to pay that ticket.  Lack of sleep is easily countered by irregular, unsound caffeine use.  Well-written, clear, and full of an engaging storyline that did not disappoint.

 

I’ll probably re-read the entire series starting next month when I’m on spring break mid-semester.  I thoroughly enjoyed TFT, with a minor exception- I wanted to read more about Merlin exploring the Church of Safehold’s underground lair.  Weber has hinted at it enough over the last 9 MOTHA-FRACKING BOOKS.  If it’s so important that they (our band of brave protagonists) get in there, why the hell haven’t they done so already?  Right now I feel like the crowd in Monty Python and the Holy Grail screaming “GET ON WITH IT!”

 

Whatever disagreements I have about the work aside, Weber’s determination to provide quality writing, quality stories, and in such wonderful density remain as hallmarks of his.  The only way my 2019 could get better with regards to his work would be a publishing date for the 5th Empire of Man novel (with John Ringo).  I need more Dogzard in my life.

18 Comments
  1. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard #

    On Honor’s actions against the Earth Orbital Platforms, it is my understanding that Standard Rules Of War allow for “retaliation actions”.

    The Solarian League attacked Neutral Star Nations by destroying their Orbital Platforms and by destroying the Neutral’s in-system spacecraft.

    Honor’s orders were to cripple Orbital Industry and Orbital Military Bases in the Solar System. IE Retaliation for the crimes of the Solarian League Navy.

    In addition, IIRC Honor didn’t destroy the purely residential Orbital Platforms unlike what the Solarian League Navy had done. Of course, Honor didn’t destroy the in-system spacecraft that the Solar System would need to rebuild their Orbital Industry.

    Of course, you should re-read what Honor’s fleet did to the Haven Star Systems when she was conducting raids into Haven Territory.

    Finally, Honor made sure that the Orbital Platforms she destroyed had been evacuated.

    At least one Solar League Admiral wasn’t planning to wait until all of the civilians got off the Platforms he was going to destroy.

    February 1, 2019
    • Doug Northcote #

      ***SPOILERS!*** I’d never heard that blackbird story, either altitude, that is awesome!

      I’m with Paul on this. While she did almost go completely off the rails when they moved into the Sol system, when she just about blapped a Sollie task force out of space, her subordinates stopped this. Even if it was only with a few seconds to spare. As they should have. As you would have Jonathan if given illegal orders like that.

      Just like Scotty Tremaine did as well, back on Blackbird Base in book 2(I think). Stopping her from shooting a prisoner by sticking a pulser in his mouth after he and his men had an organized rape party of Manty prisoners. Scotty saved her career and probably sanity at the time.

      I got a chance to meet/greet at a B&N in Highlands Ranch CO, when he was doing the “Out of the Dark” book tour and it was great. He did also mention and not in passing about Honor’s screw ups. Specifically that one.

      I’m not sure from your review if you finished the book or not. What later transpired was they effectively de-industrialized the Sol system. After evacuation. And they then made the warning, “If this ain’t over, we’ll do it to two more systems next month, and 4 systems the month after that. Your move. Creeps” and then the whole thing stopped. With destroying somehing of over 1 million missile pods in Sol along with a stupendous amount of industry stations and such. Roughly 2000 years of effort. Feeding that system just became the main task of the Solly navy.

      That war is over, but the whole shoot’n match sure ain’t.

      Uncompromising Honor was quite good for me (5/5) and at least it closed off one of the story loops. Which for Weber is frak’n amazing!

      I’m reading TFT right now, so I’ll not say much.

      February 1, 2019
  2. I’d always heard that Blackbird story as “Request permission flight level 80” (which is 80,000 feet and the highest one that Air Traffic Control monitors, and since the plane was coming down into monitored space had to be reported to the ATC’s).

    The ATC responded “It’s yours if you can get up there”

    And the pilot (whose mission was done and he was coming down so he could land) replied “Roger. Descending to Flight level 80.”

    I gave up on trying to keep up with Weber’s output quite a while ago, not only becuz he puts so much out, but also becuz he has a tendency anymore to spend a long drawn out time for the 1st 80% or so of his novels setting up politics (the why) and positioning his pieces (the how) for a big climactic finale. And I love his big finales enough that for a while I was willing to slog through the rather boring early-to-middle parts of his books to get to them, but… well… not anymore.

    He telegraphs the moves so much that the big climax is perfectly predictable. Granted, most novels follow the formula and are every bit as predictable, regardless of the author, but I generally enjoy the journey and seeing how the plot and characters move to their inevitable (hard fought, with great cost and sacrifice) victory, but Weber’s setups have become a slog to me anymore, rather than being enjoyable, so… If/when he puts out a new story world, I may pick it up as his initial world building is fun, but once he’s got the world set up, then his stories bog down for me.

    February 1, 2019
    • TRX #

      It is out of print and used copies trade for insane prices, so have your local library do an Inter-Library Loan to snag a copy of “Sled Driver” by Brian Shul, one of the SR-71 pilots.

      It’s mostly Shul’s autobiography of his time as an SR-71 pilot, filled with stories about various declassified escapades, why it’s not a good idea to lose your lunch in a space suit, and bits about the plane itself; its low-speed flight characteristics were so poor that they took off with a minimum fuel load, then rendezvoused with a tanker to top off. And the fuel consumption was so high, they might do it several more times before landing. Every Blackbird mission was a zigzag from tanker to tanker; photography was almost incidental.

      February 1, 2019
  3. I’m going to read the rest but just wanted to say right away… getting the military right might be *almost* as simple as treating them as human. I think that Bujold does a great job, too. There’s stuff that’s not realistic, sure, but people act like people.

    When an author does it *wrong*… once in a while it’s because they’ve imposed a structure that simply won’t work… write the lone-wolf without an understanding of the organizational reality of getting thousands or hundreds of thousands of people where they need to be, when they need to be there, fed and watered, and with the pointy ends pointed in the right direction… but *usually* it’s just because they stuck a uniform on a stick figure and forgot the person.

    February 1, 2019
    • SheSellsSeashells #

      Was just thinking about Bujold this afternoon, actually. Weird as it sounds, she won my loyalty as a reader in “Ethan of Athos”, where he’s walking through the busy space station and notices in passing that some smart baker has vented his ovens directly into the main concourse. It was such a great human-nature AND worldbuilding moment that it stuck with me. (A close second is the quaddies and their pilfered books and videos in “Falling Free”…this is definitely a woman who has raised children. 🙂

      February 1, 2019
  4. Draven #

    SPOILERS

    February 1, 2019
    • ….for 20-ish year old stuff.

      Ironically enough, I agree, but I’m laughing at myself all the same.

      February 1, 2019
      • Draven #

        no, the strike against Solly orbitals was not 20 years ago.

        February 1, 2019
  5. Mike Houst #

    Actually, Honor’s intent to destroy the non-housing orbitals over Old Earth ARE in keeping with her personality as it has been developed over the course of the series. HH has a terrible, cold, destructive, fury leashed under all that discipline. There are at least a couple of incidents where it gets out and she was in the process of going way past the point of no return when brave friends, peers, or subordinates pulled her back from the brink. It’s one of her strengths that she develops people around her to have the intestinal fortitude to save her from herself. Weber also incorporates some foreshadowing of both Honor’s actions, and the arrival in the nick of time of someone who will give her the chance to step back; although I think Weber was less subtle about it this time.

    And yes, David Weber was getting formulaic with his Honor novels. But he does it so well.

    Reading about his going from a long term intention to have Honor die heroically, and instead have her live happily ever after apparently really messed with his plots. I will say that having her survive, and McKeon die instead, was a far moving and emotional story than actually having her die. For those of us in the military, our own deaths are acceptable, highly resisted of course, but we did volunteer. It’s the deaths of our friends and fellows that we have some of the hardest time with; a combination of survivor guilt, and the whole, no better love than to lay down their life for another.

    February 1, 2019
    • HH has a terrible, cold, destructive, fury leashed under all that discipline. There are at least a couple of incidents where it gets out and she was in the process of going way past the point of no return when brave friends, peers, or subordinates pulled her back from the brink. It’s one of her strengths that she develops people around her to have the intestinal fortitude to save her from herself.

      This was the reason that a number of friends recommended the series to me – apparently, they were reminded of me reading the character. I haven’t been able to buy the series, alas, though I would like to read it (amongst a huge number of others.) One of the things stopping me is my preference for physical books (that, and prioritizing wallet contents). Seriously, if I ever won the lottery, the second thing I would do after buying a massive house, property and kitting the place out would be to go after every single book I haven’t been able to afford and wanted over the last 30 years.

      —-

      It’s really interesting that practically all of my friends have mentioned that “If you weren’t restrained by discipline/social conduct rules/adhering to law” … (The mildest one of these is “You’d be as snarky and as blunt as Dr. House.”)

      The thing is, I know I’m not alone in that description. I think most decent people are aware of their limits and the lines they don’t cross. The ones who engage in wanton attacks and such against the restrained don’t realize what they’re doing.

      People like us are the ones who know “There’s a line. Don’t cross it. Don’t push my big red button that makes me hoist the black flag, and reach for weapons I would never have touched otherwise.”

      February 1, 2019
      • Robin Munn #

        It’s like LawDog says in http://thelawdogfiles.blogspot.com/2012/12/well-thats-just-splendiferous.html – all of us have a monster down inside, and it’s wise to know precisely what that looks like so you can keep it under control. The ones who don’t know, or don’t admit*, to their inner monster are the ones more likely to let it slip when they’re not paying attention, leading to such things as road rage, etc.

        February 3, 2019
  6. 23 skidoo

    February 1, 2019
  7. thephantom182 #

    “I enjoyed reading it, right up until Honor lost everything she cared about and went on a wild mission of vengeance to the Sol System- where she decided that destroying every single bit of the Orbitals over Old Earth was absolutely and utterly necessary, just because the antagonists had been doing it too.”

    That was my favorite part, as it happens. Given the set-up, that was Manticore’s only play. Technological advantages are brief and rare. When you have one, you use it.

    February 1, 2019
  8. My first encounter with his work was as a freshman in high school (circa 2001) when I read “On Basilisk Station.”

    *boggles* Wait, I’m like two-three years older than you?

    I don’t know if I should throw a party or be upset.

    February 1, 2019
    • Kids these days. 🙂

      February 4, 2019
  9. Yep #

    TFT is a money grab at best. My only one star review,ever.So disappointing. TFT should have been the last chapter of the previous book. Sad to see an author with such talent publish such trash. Get an editor.

    February 2, 2019
  10. Honor wrecking the Sol orbital infrustracture was EXACTLY the right thing to do:
    The Sollies had been busy devastating the orbital economies of numerous systems. Leaving Sol’s infrastructure intact would have granted them a de facto victory as they would have remained the dominant economic power over numerous economically crippled worlds…not least including Manticore.

    The Sollies needed to be taught a lesson that STUNG. The loss of their military units was of total unconcern to the civilian leadership of the Solarian league, the more so after it was proven to be so obsolescent. A politician can shed a crocodile tear over a thousand graves, but hit him in his wallet and he’ll REALLY feel that loss…

    February 5, 2019

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