Tag Archives: military sci-fi


I have a feeling that, with the loss of the original author, there’s at least a decent chance I have something like eighty Deathlands books left to read that all have randomly extruded titles. The somewhat better news is that the new author[1] has a better handle on the characters than in the last book.

Skydark does raise a logistical problem as the series gets ever longer. There are only so many years and so much geography in the continental (former) United States, for Ryan Cawdor to have history everywhere they go. Unless we are operating on Marvel time, it’s already straining credulity. Apparent solutions are a) talk about the pasts of the other characters from this time and place or b) continue on with recycled enemies and NPCs occasionally or c) you know, go somewhere and the characters don’t have a history there. And to be fair, b and c already happen with some regularity. Which leaves me sad about the broad absence of a.

This time out, anyway, the band of violent wrong-righters encounters a mutant who for once got himself a fairly beneficial mutation, as a result of which he leads an army of the most terrifying of all human mutations, the stickies, in numbers never before seen. The story is fine[2], but the science part of the science fiction went a bit off the rails, and you can tell that the last two chapters were reserved for the editor fixing some of the logistical and characterization continuity errors that this author introduced into the series.

Which was a relief, as I came into the final stretch of the book prepared to be pretty scathing and concerned about how many of these books I own. But now I think we’ll be back on the rails soon. I approve of gradually more epic plots, as long as the characters and the rules don’t change drastically. It’s a little late in the game for that, is all.

Last thing: I want to give a shoutout to the meaningless blurb phrases on each cover. Like, they’re always the most enigmatic version of a fortune cookie, but this one is just special. “When all is lost, there is always the future.”

I’d say you can’t write this stuff, but objectively, someone could.

[1] Or another, newer author? Ugh. I don’t think I’m going to look it up every single time.
[2] my complaints about Ryan’s overstuffed past notwithstanding

Field of Dishonor

A thing worth noting is that I have only the barest memory of the plot of these Honor Harrington books. She’s supremely competent, and always correct in a ’90s hawkish conservative kind of way, and half the book is other people talking about how awesome she is. I read The Short Victorious War, let’s see, basically six years ago[1].

At that time, I correctly predicted that Field of Dishonor would immediately follow from a timeline perspective, while incorrectly predicting that I would therefore read it any time soon. The book is, as I also predicted, a complete deviation from the series so far, in that it’s 100% political (well, and personal), but 0% military, except insofar as it’s military politics. This is never quite offputting, but boy does it bring into sharp relief how much everyone (except the bad guy, obvs) in the book thinks Dame Honor is the absolute bee’s knees.

Despite the percent of the book dedicated to lavish praise of the main character (and despite the fact that Weber has decided that to be an effective conservative icon, one must be rich as well as titled, and therefore dumped nearly nine figures into her lap), there was ample intrigue and suspense to keep me entertained for the entire book, with one exception, which I am forced to drop below the cut due to spoilers for the finale and epilogue.

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The Short Victorious War

It’s been a while since I’ve read an Honor Harrington book, and I honestly couldn’t say why. I mean, I know why I haven’t in the past let’s say year and a half, what with finally packing up my house and moving, and then getting engaged and planning a wedding before getting my books all the way unpacked from the move. But it was four years before that, and that is the part I cannot especially account for. Honor books are fun! Step one: space bad guys decide to be bad guys. Step two: space good guys leave Honor in an untenable position due to political wrangling or misplaced tactical / strategic thought that notably disagrees with whatever Honor correctly thinks instead. Step three: big naval space battle, which is somehow exciting despite being spread out across hours and hours instead of the 15 minutes of a Star Wars space battle[1]. Step four: Honor wins and gets lots of begrudging accolades from the people she just proved wrong. What’s not to like?

That said, this is the first book that has ended in such a way that I kind of want to know what happens next immediately. So while I understand not reading it that soon after the last one, I still can’t explain the fullness of the gap. Oh well?

Here’s what you need to know about The Short Victorious War: it is foreshadowed by a history lesson from which the title is drawn, in which Imperial Russia tried to take on Japan just a brief time before the glorious Communist revolution. So when the space bad guys proceed in chapter one to plan their own short, victorious war against the space good guys in order to settle down the proletariat, the outcome of the book has already been decided. However, getting there is basically hilarious on the space bad guy side[2] while maintaining the typically entertaining Honor formula on the space good guy side. Plus also, space romance!, if that kind of thing is your bag.

The reason I think I am especially excited for the next book is because it ended on the kind of cliffhanger that leads me to expect things to pick up weeks later instead of the typical years later, plus also I expect the formula to be broken. Which is always more exciting than knowing exactly what will happen, despite how entertaining the road to it might be.

[1] I think this is because of the ratcheting tension.
[2] Leader of the space bad guy revolutionaries is named, and I swear I am not making this up, Rob S. Pierre.

The Honor of the Queen

I do not wish to be too sick to write a review, as what if I fall behind in my reviewings? But contrariwise, what if I write a useless review to which people respond, “Hey, stop writing reviews while you’re sick, Sicky!” And then… well, I haven’t really been able to define the bad thing that happens next, probably because my head is too simultaneously congested and medicine-floaty to concentrate that long. But clearly, consequences will abound. All the same, I’ve written way too much to back down now, even if none of it has anything to do with Honor Harrington just yet.

Which, yeah, I finally read the second book of that series, The Honor of the Queen. In a lot of ways, it is a clone of the previous book. Well, sort of. At least, the setting is unchanged.[1] That setting being some 1700 years in the future, where mankind has long since spread forth from Earth, discovered the means for faster-than-light travel, only of course politics are always basically the same and now there’s a cold war between the honorable, if occasionally too doveish, Manticoran system and the wily, expansionistic and probably pinko commie Republic of Haven. You may recall (or may not, depending on how much I mentioned any of this last time) that our plucky heroine Honor Harrington got caught up in the apparent beginnings of that cold war while On Basilisk Station, with the results that she proved her pluck to herself, her subordinates, and her Queen’s military chain of command.

Now it is some years later[2], and Honor has been picked to command a task force on a diplomatic mission to a pair of backwards religious worlds that rejected all technology[3], with the result that they are insular and range from sexist to incredibly misogynistic, all of which would be good reasons to continue ignoring them and leaving them to their petty internecine religious warfare, except that they make a good buffer (or forward base, depending on whose team you are rooting for) between Manticore and Haven, much like Basilisk Station did last time. If you think this means that we’re about to be treated to another display of extreme competence in the face of insurmountable odds, during which Honor will impress allies, enemies, and neutral third parties alike with her capability and her, well, honor, then you are clearly reading the correct series. It’s interesting, because even without knowing that there are a whole bunch of books left to read, I would have known after reading the first one that there’s really no chance whatsoever that she’ll fail at what she sets her goals to, but the pacing is so much improved[4] over the first book that I was able to wring almost as much excitement out of wondering how the success would occur as I would normally spend on wondering whether it would.

Things I am looking forward to in future books: whether the revealed personality “flaw”[5] will cause her any future problems; the outbreak into an actual war of some kind between the two rival, uh, nations I guess? That’s the closest analogue, anyway. Oh, and whether the hyper-intelligent empathic cat creature will stop seeming weird eventually. At least it no longer seems tacked on.

[1] I really feel like there’s a distinction I’m about to draw here, in which I define the setting more precisely instead of just saying the most uselessly inane piece of information ever presented in a review by anyone, ever. Nevertheless, the fact of my aforementioned sickness is definitely rearing its head, if only in my head.
[2] These years are not very relevant since most everyone in the developed parts of the galaxy has access to life extension technology. Yay, the future!
[3] I know. Believe me, I know. So do all of the characters. Weber’s penchant for straw men may start to grate on me, I reckon, unless he gets a little more circumspect about them.
[4] Seriously, from about the midpoint of the book on, there was very little action that did not feel climactic. Which makes up for quite a fair amount of previous political strawmanship, let me tell you.
[5] Scare quotes because of how certain I am that Weber doesn’t really consider it a flaw at all, despite that he acknowledged why it could be troublesome.

On Basilisk Station

I’m having a hard time writing a cold review of On Basilisk Station, because I myself did not come to it cold; instead, a string of reviews by Mike Kozlowski has colored my perceptions of the entire series for the whole time I’ve been aware of its existence. It is like being in your twenties and finally watching this Star Wars movie you’ve heard so much about from the thirty-somethings you hang out with. And so I’ve got the simultaneous experience of the book itself intertwined with various snickerings as I note the exact kinds of things about the books that he had previously said that are just so ridiculous, and I have to wonder if they’d have struck me as forcibly, at least in this first book, if I hadn’t already known what was coming.

In any event, a rundown for you: a couple of thousand years from now, give or take a century, mankind has spread throughout the stars, only with none of that Earth-That-Was nostalgia for a vanished planet. In fact, the Solarian League (or something like that) is one of the biggest players in galactic politics, though they play no particular role in this first book of the series. And the aliens, such as they are, all appear to be way behind mankind. But that’s because this is a very 18th-19th Century setting, only with spaceships instead of boats, and of course all the European countries were the most advanced, with the native tribes there only to be enlightened or used as catspaws, depending on whether you (like our plucky heroine, Honor Harrington) are a member of the Royal Manticoran system of planets or are one of the socialist and expansionistic bad guys, such as the Republic of Haven are mostly peopled by. Because this isn’t actually 19th C. European politics and warfare, you understand. It’s the future, and we’re in space!

All you really need to know about Honor Harrington is that she’s very very smart, both as a manager of people and as a military tactician. Possibly as a strategist too, but for now she is only the captain of one fast-response warship, the HMS Fearless, so we don’t get to see her conducting a full-scale war like Luke Skywalker does sometimes. At least, not yet, and it’s good we’re in the future, because the Force would not do Luke much good against Honor. Anyway, I may be drifting a bit afield here. The point is, Honor has lots to overcome. For example, she did a bad job in a military exercise because her old reliable weapons were traded in for new technology that only works at close range if the enemy doesn’t expect you to have it, and for some reason everyone expected her to have it in the second through twentieth runs of the exercise. Thanks to this embarrassment of the weaponry and strategic thinking behind it, she and her ship get sent out to the middle of nowhere (on Basilisk Station, you are no doubt shocked to learn) for a pointless picket duty, inspecting merchant cargo for contraband. Also, her crew is angry at her, her executive officer doesn’t respect her (even though he constantly berates himself for it, since he knows she deserves his full support, for being as awesome as she is), and her doctor is a slacker. And this career failure in the making doesn’t even take into account the Republic of Haven and their expansionism that I mentioned earlier.

I think I have never read more escapist fiction, is my point here. I will not speed through them, but I am looking forward to the next one despite myself. Because no matter how bad things get, she’ll be an impressive genius. If you dropped her naked into the middle of the Australian Outback, she would not walk out alive three weeks later. She and her Aboriginal Air Force would have already conquered Sydney by then and be making plans for how to take on China. (I mean, she wouldn’t do those things for the hell of it; we can take it as read that Sydney and China are bad guys, because otherwise they would already be plying her with fresh accolades instead of resisting.)

Also, for some reason, she has an empathic six-legged cat. The book is… well, “good” is not the correct word here. The book is entertaining despite said cat. My understanding is that it is exactly the same as reading Horatio Hornblower stories, but I have never done this thing. So if you like those, or like over-the-top awesomeness that cannot be prevented by any government-built levee, or probably if you like empathic six-legged cats for some reason, then this right here is the book (and probably the series) for you. I know I’ll read more, because even if she is too awesome for me on paper[1], it is impossible to deny the holy-shit face-splitting grins that occurred several times over the course of the last few chapters of the book.

[1] Yes, yes, but I mean it metaphorically.