I’m going to make a New Year’s Resolution to do more e-book reviews. They’re fun to write, and they make a good change in pace from the e-book news that fills these pages. Plus, they make a good excuse to read e-books in new programs or devices.
Lately, I’ve decided to go back and reread the entire Honor Harrington series and related works, by David Weber (and friends), in internal chronological order. A few more novels have come out since the last time I did this, with another scheduled for 2011, and it’s been long enough since I read the whole thing that if I just read the latest ones I know I’ll miss about half the story. And since I’m going to be reading them anyway, I figure I might as well review them here as I do it. (I will space them out and intersperse other reviews as well, for variety.)
The Honor Harrington series is one of the Baen Free Library’s earliest successes—in fact, before there was a Free Library, the first Honor Harrington novel, On Basilisk Station, was given away as a “free sample” for Webscriptions. (That’s how I first read it, and got hooked, and probably the same is true for many other Honor fans.) The fact that it also became Baen’s most popular backlist title in paper was all the proof that Jim Baen and Eric Flint needed to form the library and, later, start giving away every e-book in that and other series on bound-in CDROMs.
Since the complete Honor Harrington series thus far is available on one of those CDROMs (with the exception of one short story/novella anthology, due out in February), hosted publicly on-line at The Fifth Imperium, this means that any TeleRead readers who would like to follow along can read the stories as I do. The reviews will try to avoid major spoilers for the book or story being reviewed, but will almost certainly contain them for previous ones.
This is a reread I undertake with some trepidation, as my feelings about the Harrington series are marked by no small amount of ambivalence. Make no mistake: Weber is a very talented writer, and I fully enjoyed the books while reading them (for the first time, at least), but as Weber’s longest-running series (indeed, one of the longest-running recent SF series in general that I know of), it provides ample room for some of his flaws as a writer to come to the fore as well.
The Honor Harrington books are quite an accomplishment in epic world-building. Even leaving aside the hundreds-of-years-ago prequel stories, they span a period of over twenty years, following the interwoven arcs of several characters as they affect the history of their respective star nations. And if the way that starship technology is set up to force space battles to play out like naval encounters seems a little contrived, the battles are still written suspensefully—and anyway, the naval parallel makes it easier for readers to envision the encounters.
On the other hand, Weber’s tendency to paint characters largely in shades of black or white has a lot of room to play here. Characters are often either incredibly good and noble or irredeemably evil (or irredeemably incompetent, which amounts to the same thing), with very little grey area in between. (And anyone who messes with or even sneers at Honor usually gets what’s coming to him in the end.) I tried to come up with exceptions to this rule, but then realized every character that came to mind was from one of the spinoff stories or novels written by guest writers!
And of course Honor herself sometimes seems too perfect to be true. To use TVTrope speak, she has often been accused of being a Canon Sue and a Boring Invincible Hero (though ironically, Weber had originally planned to kill her off at one point and jump the story ahead to the next generation). On the other hand, those are just the flip side of being a Determinator.
When combined with the way Weber is often very hard on his characters in their personal and professional lives (Honor goes through about seven different kinds of hell in just the first few books, let alone the rest of the series) and the somewhat heavy-handed politics, this can tend to make the series as a whole read very melodramatically. This is not bad in small doses, but it is one of the reasons I am a little hesitant to approach the entire series again.
But as I said, despite all this Weber is a very good and engaging writer. And it’s a measure of that engagement that he makes me care about the characters enough to want to experience their lives again, even knowing what awaits them. That I’m willing to go through the whole thing so I can find out what eventually happens next is ample proof of that.
So, despite my trepidation, once again I turn to life among the treecats.
Coming Up: Honor Harrington Prequel Stories