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Honor Harrington = Classic SF: NOT!

A short while ago aberwyn posted her reaction to a Facebook Top 100 Classic SF Works highlighting the lack of women that the author considered worthy of inclusion. There were only 7 titles on the list. At the same time she pointed out some questionable decisions amongst the men on the list, most notably to me the Honor Harrington books by David Weber.

I have just finished reading the HH books and while they are a passable read the idea that anyone would add them to their list of Best SF ever simply astounds me. David Weber makes the same mistakes again and again and to tell the truth, it is only because I am a set junkie that I persevered as long as I did. It may be that David's interesting and relatable characters make it worthwhile for readers to put up with the mistakes in craft that he makes, but I know that if the books I read hadn't been part of Baen's free read collection, I wouldn't have got past book 3.

INFO DUMPS: One of the tricky things in Science Fiction is to decide how much tech to include. You need enough in the story so people don't think things are operating by magic but if you include to much you leave your audience with their eyes glazing over. Time and time again David fails to get the mix right. Whether it be the history of space flight, the social structure of Dave's psychic cats, or ship design, I don't think there was a single book in the HH series that didn't have multi-page info dumps. Please, please please, if you want to give us so much detail, stick it in an appendix(I will happily read it there, I promise).

BORING SPACE BATTLES: This is a biggie especially as the series progresses and the battles become more complex. David is writing Mil SF(as I am told this particular sub-genre is called) and while a bit of detail is called for, to put in so much that the battle becomes something the reader skips over is criminal.

A typical battle reads:

"tGG launched their missiles towards the oncoming armada. 5% bumped into each other and exploded, 17% got tricked by Electronic Counter Measures, 35% were destroyed by counter-fire and electronic pulse emitting nukes, 22% exploded harmlessly on the ship's sidewalls(some sort of force field we had an info dump about earlier), 2% overshot and exploded harmlessly behind the fleet and 14% were killed by defensive lasers.  But that still left 19573 missile to wreck their havoc on the enemy ships"

Then he will start listing all the damage these missiles caused and his readers are really glad that they got an electronic version since when they wake up they won't have lost their page and have to skim through the bloody lot again finding where they were up to!

I suppose it could be argued that there is a history of people writing boring battle scenes going back to the Norse days when the battle was basically a list of who killed who(or should that be whom?). Tolkien does the same thing in the Battle of Pelennor Fields, but he was wise enough to stick the great scene between Merry, Eowyn and the Nazgul in the middle to get the readers blood boiling again before he went back to making lists of the dead. Fortunately story-telling has moved on from those days, and so should David's writing.

AIR-CARS!: Okay this is a science fiction book. Do we really need to call cars that can fly "air-cars"? Would anybody be at all surprised if a character jumped in their car, backed it out of the driveway, kicked it into flight mode and took off? Of course it isn't just cars that get the hyphenated treatment. There is "genetic-slavery" too. It is fairly well established that none of the characters in these books approve of genetic slavery and one of the questions that came to mind every time I read the term is: "Do they then approve of Non-Genetic Slavery?" And if they don't approve of slavery FULL STOP, why label it as genetic-slavery in the first place? Perhaps Dave should write a genetic-slavery info dump to bring us up to speed!

These sort of things may seem like small points but for me they really stuck out, and for a reader who is already wondering if the read is worth it, it is another reason to not go on.

Another small issue that continually cropped up was a craft/editing problem.  Every now and then a character would state something as an obviously known fact, even though we were never told when it stopped being secret. The most memorable example of this was Honor's burgeoning empathic ability. It is quite clear that Honor is keeping this to herself.  Then Hamish casually mentioned it(I can't remember which book) and it totally pulled me out of the story. It might have been something that I could ignore if it hadn't been such a major plot point, and hiding her ability to the world at large continued to be so. So suddenly the secret wasn't a secret, but we didn't know who was in the know or why and when Honor decided to tell them. One quick scene could have sorted this out but either David forgot he hadn't told us yet or didn't think it was important enough to bother about. Either way, to my mind, a really bad decision.

WAR OF HONOR: War of Honor is the 10th book in the series and is is pure unmitigated drivel. This book is mostly politics and the various protagonists are so unbelievably stupid it defies understanding how they managed to tie their shoelaces, let alone run a political party. It is an indication of how badly thought out Weber's world-building is that 9 books into the series he doesn't seem to have come to grips with how Manticor's political system operates.  The result is a nonsensical mind-numbing hodge-podge of idiocy cobbled together to make the politicans seem rational and reasonable(at least in their own minds).

Up until this point, it is the ongoing story that had me continuing to read the HH books, but this crappy piece of hack writing totally ruined it for me. I did read on, and unfortunately was proved in later books that by this point Weber was just going through the motions.

THE ILLUMINATI: Well, not precisely the Illuminati, but in an effort to draw out the HH story Weber created a shadowy organisation who had secretly fanning the flames between Manticor and Haven for the last 40 years, encouraging them to wipe each other out. In Mission of Honor and At All Costs(books 11 & 12) is is explicitly stated that certain politicians who pushed the two nations back to war in War of Honor, were working for them, even though in WoH we are given a first person perspective view of one of these "agents" which is at total odds with this new reality. It is the worst piece of revisionism I have ever seen. David Weber hasn't either bothered to properly explain the situation or to go back and re-read what he has his characters say and do so as to be ensure consistency.  Either way - really poor craftsmanship and he should be ashamed.

MIL SF: The last thing I have to say isn't a criticism of David Weber or his stories at all. There are certain folk in the SF community that bemoan the lefty, feel-goodism that they believe is the only thing the major SF publishers will allow to print. They extol Baen as being a bastion of real SF where people get dirty, things are tough and lots and lots of people die(a key indicator of SF quality of course being the number of body-bags needed). I followed a link to a forum where they congregated telling each other how things used to be better in the old days. One commenter caught my eye when he lambasted Ursula Le'Guin and David Brin "with his talking dolphins" as what has gone wrong with SF. I couldn't help but think of this man and his horror while reading the Honor Harrington books. Right from the first page, in books that he obviously loves, there is a cat. A psychic cat who can talk to it's owner. I must admit to laughing about the mental judo this man must have gone through to find the cat acceptable but Brin's dolphins a sign of the end of times. I am lucky I suppose to be able to find even this small amusement from such a badly flawed body of work.


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 16th, 2011 07:36 pm (UTC)
A definite LOL! but I agree with your points about craft, particularly the endless battles.

My opinion only follows:

A real problem in all forms of SF and F is the Imaginary War, the war that never happened over issues that the author made up and that's fought in battles that never happened either by people who never lived or died. The details cannot go on too long because, quite simply, they don't matter. They're not real.

What makes them seem to matter are the characters in the book (or movie.) If the reader cares about the characters, and if the characters are affected by the out of the battle, then the battle matters.

There are some people, writers too, who also care about the fate of the machines involved in the battle. I'm personally not one of them.
Apr. 17th, 2011 01:28 am (UTC)
I actually found the characters pretty engaging and up until the last few books the broad strokes and rationalisations behind the war (sorta) believable. I even accepted the rather groan-worthy naming of the leader of the Peoples Republic of Haven Robert Stanton Pierre(I couldn't decide if naming the committee members after leaders in the French Revolution was a homage or an easy way of labeling the govt. with a known historical equivalent).

David could have all the stats he wanted if he mixed it up with some Fog of War excitement to add a touch of humanity to his statistics since while it is true that some people go for the raw data approach, I am guessing a greater number want a more persoanl involvement in the story. And I talk as someone who enjoyed reading the detailed maths within Neal Stephenson's Anathem!

Of course with 1 or 2 battles every book, no matter how engaging the writing by the end of 6 or 7 books the battles are going to seem a bit "samey" and dull. Another reason for an author to know when to wrap things up?

Apr. 17th, 2011 05:33 am (UTC)
Either wrap it up or find a way to change or avoid the battles. :-)
Apr. 20th, 2011 04:27 am (UTC)
Kill all the pigs, perhaps????? Heh!
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )



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