Rule Space-Brittania! David Weber’s The Short Victorious War
The nice thing about a book series is that you generally know what to expect with each installment. Dresden Files novels will have snark and monsters, Game of Thrones novels will do something horrible to your favorite character, and a Wheel of Time book will…well, I don’t know what a Wheel of Time book will do, because I haven’t read any of them because there’s something like fourteen in the series and they’re all a thousand pages long.
Which brings up the downside of series fiction- the time investment needed to get up to speed on a new series. This wasn’t much of a problem in my younger years, when I had time to hoover up whatever battered paperbacks I could lay my hands on, but nowadays, being an official Grown Up with a Real People Job has made me a little more picky with my reading, simply because I haven’t nearly as much time to do so as I’d like.
Still, having read the first Honor Harrington book last year, it made a good enough impression for me to read another…and here we are!
The Short, Victorious War is actually the third in the Honor Harrington series- I haven’t read the second (yet), but I’m a rebel, not to be held back by silly things like ‘continuity.’ Thankfully, The Short, Victorious War does a pretty good job of filling in the background early on. It also helps that I read On Basilisk Station to get the general gist of the setting.
The Short, Victorious War begins with Honor Harrington, the brilliant space-tactician lady in a white hat, being called back to duty. Apparently, at the end of the second book, Honor got shot in the face with a laser gun, but she’s better after a bunch of reconstructive surgery (and a cool cyber-eye indistinguishable from her real eye). Having had enough time to recuperate, Honor (and her psychic space cat) is assigned to Space-Britain’s newly commissioned flagship, the Nike.
Honor captains the Nike, and is generally awesome at everything because that’s the kind of character she is. The Short, Victorious War has a greater scope than On Basilisk Station, however- since the Nike is a flagship, it also carries an Admiral for the whole task group, so Honor has more stuff to worry about than just her one ship.
It’s also worth noting Honor has more of a personal emotional arc in this book as well. There aren’t any heaving bosoms or ripped shirts, but Honor does get romanced by a hunky Space Station Captain over the course of the book. Oh, and she’s also got to deal with an old enemy from her academy days, as well- more on him later.
Meanwhile, several star systems away, the Space Communists are worried about a bunch of political stuff, so they get the bright idea to start a war with Space-Britain to distract their people in a Wag the Dog kind of situation. Because nothing could possibly go wrong with that.
A build up to war follows, as Space-Britain and the Space Communists maneuver their ships around their respective borders, with slowly escalating incidents as the two nations gear up for war. This greater scope gets somewhat confusing from time to time, as Weber sort of takes it for granted that you know where a certain star system is, or who’s the captain of the local star patrols, or whatever. There’s a lot going on- and that’s before you get into the random interludes where people talk about Space Commie politics or whatever. At least Weber steers a clear of the patronizing, colonialist themes that came from his treatment of the “Aboriginal” aliens in On Basilisk Station, so…progress?
All of this comes to a head as Honor Harrington’s fleet is attacked by a larger force of Space-Commies. Of course, since the series is called ‘The Honorverse,’ Honor carries the day through her tactical brilliance and general protagonism. Again, the space battles are the real draw to the book. It’s just a little easy to lose track of which fleet is going to which system, or the difference between a dreadnaught and a battlecruiser, and so on. It’s worth noting Weber includes a little appendix at the end listing those exact details, but once the novel’s action was wrapped up, I didn’t much feel like reading it. Terribly lazy, I know.
Really, a Honor Harrington book is kind of like a video game with a lot of cutscenes. There’s a lot to keep track of, and a lot of people talking about random political crap that you may not pay too much attention to…but the actual gameplay (or, well, spaceship fights) make up for it. It might be nice if there were more spaceship fights, but I pretty much say that about every book ever. Have Sherman hit Georgia with an orbital bombardment in Gone With the Wind, because why not? I think I just pitched the latest Baen series, right there.
The other thing about the Honor Harrington novels is that they have some of the most absolute ‘morality’ of any sci-fi book I’ve ever read. It’s almost to the point of hilarious simplicity- if you’re on Honor Harrington’s side, you’re a model officer and upstanding moral paragon. If you’re against Honor for whatever reason, you’re not only a mustache-twirling villain, but also stupid and incompetent and probably a coward, too. No exceptions.
For example, Honor’s nemesis, who I mentioned earlier? The dude’s an arrogant, entitled nobleman, who tried to sexually assault Honor back when the two of them were back in the Space-Navy-Academy. Honor, being generally awesome at all things, beat the living shit out of the dude, but didn’t press formal charges- though Count Space Rapist still was disgraced, and wound up getting crap postings throughout his military career. There’s a little more drama as Count Space Rapist gets placed under Honor’s command…and, lo and behold, he turns tail and runs in the middle of a battle, so at the end of the book, he’s drummed up on charges of cowardice and insubordination and stuff. It’s a fitting fate for an utter creep of a character, but it’s a little…much, I guess? I’ve become leery of the ‘rape as drama’ trope (good thing I’m not watching Game of Thrones!), but seriously, if Weber had decided to include space-trains, this dude would be tying orphans to the space-tracks.
The flipside of this is Honor and her allies are squeaky-clean perfect. Which…is okay, I guess. But not only are they model officers, they’re also stupidly lucky. For example, one of the Space-Commies’ key assets is a nigh-undetectable network of spy satellites at the very edges of Space-Britain’s space. Fair enough. Except that, during a training exercise, a Space-British ship just happens to be in the exact spot in the nigh-infinity of space to detect the spy satellite’s transmissions, which leads to the whole Space British Navy learning something’s amiss, which lets them get into place to kick the snot out of the Space Commie invasion (though not soon enough to prevent appropriately heroic losses, that is). The good guys are just too good, I guess.
There’s a point, about halfway through the novel, where a rookie Comm officer is monitoring the bridge of his spaceship while the Captain’s asleep or something…at which point a bunch of Space Commies warp into the system directly in front of him, not knowing that he’d be there on patrol. (More of that Good-Guy Luck in play). The Rookie Comm officer rightfully flips out once he sees the enemy signatures show up in front of him, and basically, reflexively says “FIRE ZE MISSILES!” which catches the Space Commies off guard and blows them up. We don’t hear anything from that hapless comm officer for the rest of the novel, but I can’t help but think he’d make for a more compelling protagonist- the war hero with imposter syndrome. Then again, to scratch that particular literary itch, I can always turn to Ciaphas Cain or Harry Flashman.
And heck, ol’ Flashy was a servant of the actual British Empire- don’t have to muck around with all this contrived space silliness, either.
Still, despite the contrived politics and black and white morality, I enjoyed reading this book- though I may have to cherry pick later ones in the series to find the ones with the best spacebattle-to-chaff ratio. I’ve only got so much time to read, after all.