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Saturday, July 31, 2010

Right Wing Critique of the Week

Honor Harrington series, by David Weber

The saga of a space warship officer in the year 4000.

Pros: Exciting, page turners, good escapism, better than action pulps like Clive Cussler, orbital mechanics are somewhat realistic and integral to combat tactics

Cons? Well, first of all, the situations have all the ethical gray areas of a yin yang. The characters are pure good or pure evil. The good guys, of course, are not only brave, courteous, and thrifty, but they can fight, sail, fly, shoot, and navigate delicate interstellar political intrigues with ease. The Bad Guys are incompetent commies and/or religious nuts who rape, murder, betray each other and do everything in their power to hand victory to the Good Guys. There is a satisfying amount of injury and death from all the action, though. The Good Guys don't escape totally unscathed.

The books verge on fantasy-fulfillment of fanfic levels. Money, fame, glory, medals, knighthoods, titles, promotions and prestigious jobs are showered on Honor after every major event. It's a little excessive, even considering the theme is supposed to be the rise of a legendary admiral and her absurdly awesome exploits. In the third book she just does her job, nothing particularly spectacular, and once again hosannas fall from the sky and a single shaft of sunlight illumines her. In the fourth book, she learns to shoot in about two weeks and becomes apparently the greatest duelist in known space. Oh, and everybody is young and beautiful and lives for 200 years.

The technology makes sense, sort of, but it's all clearly designed to make large 17th century-esque naval engagements necessary. I sincerely hope that 2000 years from now, battleships sailing at 3000 times the speed of light through hyperspace will not need thousands of midshipmen to trim the sails. Yes, sails.

And why are the majority of the officers women? I haven't kept count, but it seems to me that the numbers should be equal, or male-skewed, particularly since astrogators are required to do math by hand.

Elizabeth Moon is better. Just flat-out better.

After writing that, I read books 4 through 8. I have to say, #1, 2, 7 and 8 are the best, but as the series goes on the books become needlessly drawn out and sometimes redundant. Chapter 19 of In Enemy Hands is nothing but introspection, and it recapitulates introspection that was carried out in chapter 5 or so. Is Weber padding his page counts and turning out the series for the money? Well, of course, and so would I. The padding is generally high quality material, but it's not space battle action. Over the course of the series Honor Harrington doesn't actually fight that many battles. She spends a year on medical leave, 2 years on vacation, a year or two guarding convoys. I was a bit disappointed with the lack of exploding spaceships. Particularly Field of Dishonor, which was an interesting excursion but probably could have been done better.

Books 5 through 8 are great plot-wise, but they digress into unnecessary scenes and description quite a bit. Every time an enemy ship is introduced, Weber spends 2 to 3 pages introducing the officers and telling us what color hair they have. Then the ship explodes and they all die.

Politically, the series is written from the point of view of a neo-con. The author's opinion is that government-run education is great, as long as it's not too socialist. I should be unsubtle here and say I find that a contradiction. There's almost no moralizing, but his mainstream redstate outlook does make me roll my eyes from time to time.

Wry: an all-purpose adjective that Weber thinks makes a paragraph funny. The characters have yet to say anything funny, but they grin wryly, speak wryly, and supposedly have wicked/devilish senses of humor. There was an in joke between Harrington and McKeon that the other characters didn't get.. and I didn't either. I suspect that there was no hidden meaning and that it was meant to be witty as a statement in and of itself. I'm not really sure.

Verdict: The plot could be tightened up a lot, but it's good when you finally get there.

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