Book Review: Changer of Worlds by David Weber and Eric Flint

Changer of Worlds (Worlds of Honor, #3)Changer of Worlds by David Weber
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Okay, to be fair I started this book a fair bit of time ago, read about two and a half of the four novellas in it, and then my partner decided to read it and hid it on me. I found it again a month ago or so but wanted to finish reading the book I was on before I went back to this one.

These are some very well-written stories, and because they lack the usual Weber info-dumps, they’re among the best written Honor Harrington stories I have yet to read. And I have to warn you, unlike many short stories that center around an ongoing novel series, you kind of have to read these or some things will make no sense to you in the later books.

Fortunately this will almost universally be a pleasure. The first story, “Ms. Midshipwoman Harrington,” is a direct homage to “Mr. Midshipman Hornblower,” which is wonderful since the Horatio Hornblower books are part of what inspired Weber to write this series in the first place, and why it’s such wonderful space opera. Here we get to see Honor Harrington, great captain and general, as a mere midshipwoman on her “snotty” cruise. Lots of action, typical Navy politics . . . wonderful stuff for any Honor Harrington fan.

The second story, “Changer of Worlds,” provides some wonderful insight into the ways of the other major intelligent species of the Honorverse; the treecats, who are not just cute telepathic kitties. No indeed.

The third story, “From the Highlands,” introduces us to some other major characters in the Honorverse and what they’re up to; including Victor Cachat, Peep intelligence agent, Anton Zilwicki, the world’s most unlikely Manticoran Navy intelligence officer; Cathy Montaigne, renegade Liberal eventually to be a force to be reckoned with in Manticoran politics; and the Ballroom, a secret terrorist organization of escaped slaves dedicated to wiping out slavery by whatever means necessary. Oh yes, and Zilwicki’s daughter Helen, a force to be reckoned with on her own. This story, written by Eric Flint, is full of his subtle humour, sharp wit, and clever plot and counterplot elements. It reads just like a spy thriller with some comedy thrown in. Great stuff!

The only story I thought we could have done without was the last one, “Nightfall.” This was basically what happened when Secretary of War McQueen took on the Secretary of State Saint-Just just before the end of “Ashes of Victory.” I suspect it was originally included but Weber’s editor, in a rare act of prudence, cut it and told him it wasn’t necessary. I agree; it wasn’t necessary. Since we already read how it started, and we already knew how it ended, and it was just a lot of pain and bloodshed in between, and we didn’t learn anything about any of the characters or the events, I don’t see the point of it.

So; three out of four great stories ain’t bad. Well worth reading, anyway.

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Book Review: War of Honor by David Weber

War of Honor (Honor Harrington, #10)War of Honor by David Weber
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There’s nothing like being sick to make you finish the reading you’ve been wanting to get done, especially when you just aren’t up to doing much else. So I finally powered through War of Honor.

The books in this series come in two types; really action-oriented, and really political. This was one of the political ones. And yet this wasn’t nearly as dry as most of the political ones. At the start of the book, a coalition government forced upon the Queen of Manticore by an unholy alliance of the Conservative and Liberal Parties has been in power for four years. At the end of the last book they had just accepted a ceasefire from their long-standing enemies, the People’s Republic of Haven, despite the fact that the Manticoran Navy had them on the ropes and could have ended the threat they represented once and for all. In the four years since, the corrupt government has not officially ended the war so that they could take advantage of wartime tax measures for their pet projects, and have stalled peace talks. Despite this, they have assumed military superiority over the Peeps, and have demilitarized much of their Naval forces, as well as suspending most of their building projects. They have also swept most of the useful Naval commanders into the grey realm of half-pay, and have appointed their cronies — mostly insufferable bureaucrats with little to no combat experience — into key positions in the Navy. Key to the plot, this also affects their intelligence sector, which is commanded by a complete incompetent. The First Admiral of the Navy is none other than Admiral Janacek, whose personal hatred for Honor Harrington and Earl White Haven leads him to assume exactly the opposite of anything at all that they suggest. And they are also doing their very best to be so rude to everyone who is part of the extended Manticoran Alliance that they have almost succeeded in alienating all of them.

Of course the Peeps, who have had another coup and have restored their ancient Constitution, thus becoming the Republic of Haven or the Republicans, have not been idle. They have assigned their best tactician to a top secret R&D project called Bolthole which intended to address the military superiority that the Manticorans had — and to much better effect than anyone dreamed. Their elected President is a former intelligence operative who was working against the corrupt Peep government, and their Secretary of War is the man who personally led the coup that resulted in the new government. They are trying to negotiate with the Manticorans in good faith, despite the attitude of their present government, because they really don’t want another war. But if all of this weren’t bad enough, the man they are stuck with as their Secretary of State, Giancola, is manipulating negotiations by altering official documents to build up tensions for his own purposes.

Weber does a marvelous job of setting up this train wreck, which is what most of the book consists of, although he insists upon breaking it up with a tedious “love that cannot be” subplot between Honor and White Haven. Which gives him a pretext for having the Admiralty hang Honor out to dry at Sidemore, caught between a rock and hard place with ships so obsolete there would be nothing she could do if things actually hit the fan.

It might strike people as being a bit unrealistic, but being a Canadian under the Harper government taught me that it most certainly isn’t.

Honor survives (of course, or that would be the end of the series). I have to admit that it’s a bit tedious that again she’s the only one that does any substantial damage. And there sure was a lot of praise for her abilities from the mouth of one of the benevolent antagonists in the Republican Navy! Yawn. I do wish Weber would stop that.

But the tension did keep me reading right through to the end, so what can I say? Obviously I stuck with it and it certainly wasn’t boring! But neither would I go screaming from the rooftops about how absolutely wonderful this book was. So, good, but not great is my verdict.

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Book Review: Ashes of Victory by David Weber

Ashes of Victory (Honor Harrington, #9)Ashes of Victory by David Weber
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Another installment in the Honor Harrington series of books. Which, in general, I like. This one — not so much.

This book suffers from severe filler problems. As in, way too damn much of it. I understand that Weber was trying to write himself out of a hole when he wrote this one, since the plotline was differing vastly from what he’d envisioned and he needed to catch up. Okay, sensible. As a writer I get that. And the details in it are important to understand what happens in the rest of the series, because the game completely changes from this point. Again, fair enough. However, in my opinion, most of this could have been accomplished in two short stories; one of which could focus on the characters introduced to explain the new technological developments, and one of which could focus on the Queen of Manticore for the sake of the important political changes. If he really wanted, he could have done another heartwarming soliloquy of a short story about Honor at Saganami. The rest of it was, in a nutshell, boring. I managed to drag my sad butt through it by using it as toilet reading, right up to the last quarter of it; which actually was quite good.

If you want to know what’s going on but you don’t want to drag your brain through this, let me save you the trouble. (view spoiler) There you go. Now you don’t need to subject yourself to the boredom.

It gets a two star rating because, as I said, the last quarter is excellent, and because Honor Harrington is awesome; and, as much as I hate to admit it, because I really admire the author’s desire to be realistic instead of Hollywood about the details (such as Honor’s convalescence and the natural progression of politics and warfare.) Still, I wish he’d read more Patrick O’Brian than C.S. Forester; where he might have learned how to navigate that sort of thing without sucking the life out of it.

And yes, I’m going to keep reading the series, which is still worth it overall.

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Book Review: The Short Victorious War by David Weber

The Short Victorious War (Honor Harrington, #3)The Short Victorious War by David Weber

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The plot of this book was a political and military shell game. It was a necessary step in setting up the next book in the series, but it wasn’t my favourite, I won’t lie. Still, I enjoyed Weber’s political and military maneuvering from the POV of his characters. Honor Harrington fans will probably want to treat this like the prelude to the next book and read them sequentially as I have done; otherwise this will feel like a lot of setup with little action. For those of you who are following the series, the political and military situation entirely changes at this point, not necessarily with the results you expect.

A point of note, however; the character of Honor Harrington is fleshed out considerably in this book in a way that I like. Honor Harrington is an exceptionally competent Navy officer, a warrior, and an outstanding commander and not-bad diplomat; but she is also a *girl*. By this I mean that unlike many sci-fi tropes, she does not lose her femininity by being a military officer; nor her “militariness” by being feminine. It’s refreshing and I like the character very much. I also like the fact that I think that Weber basically flips a coin to decide whether a particular new character he is going to introduce in the Manticoran Navy is going to be male or female, rather than letting the position decide gender (for instance, Honor’s XOs are just as likely to be female as male, and so are her tactical officers, Marines, and so forth.)

Recommended to fans of military fiction, Navy fiction, and space opera everywhere.

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Book Review: The Honor of the Queen by David Weber

The Honor of the Queen (Honor Harrington, #2)The Honor of the Queen by David Weber

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book completely converted me to the Honor Harrington series. Not only was this an outstanding bit of space opera, but somehow, David Weber managed to insert a strong-willed female vaguely agnostic protagonist into a diplomatic and military role with a Mormonesque patriarchal religious culture . . . and it worked; and made sense, and didn’t descend into any number of several possible bad tropes, or psychological abuse, or preaching about either side’s views.

Honor came across as an intelligent and effective military leader and diplomat and I read the whole novel at the edge of my seat. A lot of things happened in the story that are difficult and traumatizing for a realistic character, and neither did she wallow in self-pity nor sail blithely through the situation as though entirely unaffected. She is angry in some cases and almost violates all sorts of protocols due to her very human emotions.

I fell in love with her completely, and Weber’s complex political worlds even more so. Interplanetary and imperial politics have direct effects on Weber’s Manticoran Navy, some of which are quite bad for its starfarers.

It’s not perfect of course. Weber still insists on the story-bogging infodumps. And some of the bad guys might as well be curling their mustachios and cackling. But all in all, a fine piece of writing, one that inspires me to better work in my own writing. If you are a fan of space opera or nautical fiction, you *must* read this book. You’ll thank me for the recommendation.

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Book Review: On Basilisk Station by David Weber

On Basilisk Station (Honor Harrington, #1)On Basilisk Station by David Weber

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was recommended to me by a few different people because a) I like space opera and b) I like historical nautical fiction like Horatio Hornblower and the Aubrey-Maturin novels. The Honor Harrington books were deliberately written to evoke that nautical military fiction, up to and including a nod at another famous protagonist with the HH initials, and a logical reason for teenage midshipmen (or at least they look that way.) There’s some neat aliens too, like the treecats such as Nimitz, Honor’s faithful companion.

I was slow to warm to it. David Weber’s first effort still suffers from some inexperienced writing, such as awkward dialogue and infodumps (one of which was in the middle of the big climactic space fight! Why can’t we have learned about how the tech works earlier, like when Honor came aboard the ship?) I understand he never stops with the infodumps either, but I hope they are timed better.

All in all, however, I was engaged and I enjoyed this pleasant romp through space, and it made me check out the rest of the series; which did succeed, by book three, in winning me over (reviews to follow). A recommended read for fans of nautical fiction, military fiction, and space opera.

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