Thursday, August 25, 2016

Double Cross, by Ben MacIntyre

This week I'm looking at another bit about the history of espionage during World War II, although in this case from the British perspective and MI-5 and MI-6 with the Double Cross system. Which quite frankly is one of the most astounding and incredible stories of World War II and, considering how many bungles seemed to happen with espionage during World War II, by and far the most successful example. This book focuses specifically on five of the more fantastic spies, although the Double Cross system included dozens of people working to bamboozle the Germans into thinking they had a functional spy system within Britain. When in fact every German spy in Britain was under British control, one way or another.

A Yugoslavian playboy, a bisexual Venezuelan good-time girl, a Polish military veteran, the French daughter of a White Russian emigre, and a Spanish chicken farmer. It sounds like the lead-in to a fantastic joke, and considering they fooled the entire German intelligence apparatus it kind of was. Of course these weren't the only agents in the Double Cross system but MacIntyre focuses specifically on these five, who are probably the most interesting and in a couple cases they were the most influential in shaping German opinions of Allied strength during the war. But before I go further, some context.

The Double Cross system was an initiative put in place by the British, who have a long history of spying and were probably the best spies during World War II, to capture and control German spies. Thanks to the breaking of the Enigma code by researchers at Bletchley Park, MI-5 had advanced notice of every German agent being sent into the country and they were quickly captured. Many were imprisoned, some were executed, and a select few were chosen to become double agents to feed information back to the Germans and convince them they had a strong enough intelligence network on the ground that they didn't need to send any more spies into Britain. Perhaps most interestingly numerous people were initially recruited by the Germans to spy for them and then, whether out of idealism, greed, self-preservation, or other motivations these spies then immediately turned themselves in to British Intelligence and offered to become double agents in service to Britain. Or in the case of Juan Pujol, the Spanish chicken farmer, he attempted to get recruited by the British numerous times and, having been rebuffed, signed on with the Abwher and began fabricating information wholesale. The British, alarmed by this spy they didn't control, soon recruited Pujol into their ranks which was his goal the entire time and he continued to deceive the Germans.

The most amazing thing about the Double Cross system was that it worked for so long as well as it did. Up until the end of the war there were numerous Germans who were convinced they had functional intelligence networks in Britain. But in a way, we have the Abwehr to thank for that success. The Abwehr was Germany's intelligence arm during World War II and was absolutely filled with people who were gullible, incompetent, corrupt, or just plain lazy. Joining the Abwehr was an easy way to avoid active military duty and pleasant postings such as Madrid or Lisbon were especially desirable. Many Abwehr agents indulged themselves with the finer things in life rather than getting involved with the actual work of spying, which made Double Cross's job that much easier. On top of that there were numerous people within the Abwehr who were actively working to undermine the Nazi regime. This includes perhaps even its chief director, although his motivations were never truly known before his death. The Double Cross plan was audacious and ultimately successful, probably in no small part to the Abwehr's disinclination to do any actual spying work.

The ultimate plan came with Operation Fortitude, a plan of deception to keep the Germans from correctly surmising where the inevitable Allied invasion of Europe would begin. In concert with military counter-intelligence teams, the Double Cross team created the illusion of two entire armies located in the south east and east of England, threatening Norway, Denmark, and the Pas de Calais across the Straits of Dover. If any information about an attack at Normandy was leaked at all, the Germans were made to believe it would be a diversionary attack in prelude to the main thrust at Calais. Amazingly, despite numerous problems right before D-Day in June of 1944, Double Cross was able to convince the Germans that this was merely a diversion for several weeks, tying down numerous German reinforcements that could have smashed the Allied beachhead before they could consolidate. By the time Germans were sending reinforcements to Normandy, the Allies had already secured their position and were advancing into France.

In hindsight this book is kind of short, talking only about five major characters and the people who interact with them, as well as some other examples of deception by the British during World War II which influenced German decision making. But overall I think it's pretty good. You definitely get a sense of just how downright amazing this program was and how surprising it is that it managed to last for as long as it did. It's definitely a very broad overview rather than going into specific details, but I like general overviews as a rule so I ended up liking it. I also was absolutely astounded at how lazy, incompetent, or just stupid the Germans were and was glad we really lucked out when it came to that. It's an interesting part of World War II that doesn't get talked about terribly much and definitely worth reading.

- Kalpar

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Fool Moon, by Jim Butcher

This week I'm taking another look at the Dresden Files series, although strictly speaking I'm taking more of a listen instead. I looked at Storm Front a pretty long time ago so I really have only a vague recollection of the events of the book. Which kind of hampered me when I started listening to Fool Moon. However, I did remember some of the important bits and the book managed to bring me back up to speed so it worked out all right.

Harry Dresden, as you might remember, is a professional wizard and sometime-consultant for the Special Investigations unit of the Chicago Police Department which deals with the unofficial magical cases in the Chicago area. After the events of Storm Front, Lieutenant Murphy has come under scrutiny from Internal Affairs and she's distanced herself from Dresden. But in the fall Murphy finally calls Dresden in on a very strange murder case. Which looks like it's been committed by a werewolf. But as Dresden soon finds out there's more than one type of werewolf in Chicago, and not all of them need silver bullets.

Overall I think this book was okay, and most of my issues probably came from me having read the first book so long ago that I'd gotten foggy on details. There's an important character arc for Dresden in this novel, and it sets up arcs for later story lines which are tempting enough to want me to keep going with the series. I really do hope that Dresden actually develops as a result of this arc and becomes a better character because his own self-conscious actually called him out on a lot of stuff in this book. And honestly? I think I have to agree with his subconscious. But if there's a sort of reset between this book and the next I think I'll justifiably be a little annoyed. So if the previous book did the job of establishing the world, its characters, and rules, then Fool Moon definitely helps the world grow and expand, while leaving plenty of room for exploration.

Otherwise? It felt kind of like a popcorn book for me. It's a little silly at times, a little scary, and a little sexy. I certainly didn't piece the mystery together before Dresden managed to do so himself, but I'm not very good at piecing mysteries together on a regular basis so I don't feel very bad about that. It's just good entertainment. There might not be a lot that's terribly substantial to the book beyond Dresden's own character arc, which makes up a fairly small part of the book, but it's pretty good entertainment.

And you know what? Sometimes that's okay. Not every book has to be super serious and deep and meaningful. Sometimes you just want to watch giant robot tanks fight. Or in this case watch werewolves fight. And quite frankly I was pretty well entertained by the book so I think it did its job.

I do want to make a note with the audio book edition I listened to, I think James Marsters, the narrator, did a pretty good job as well. He does a lot of the reading in a very tired voice, which I think works well for Dresden considering how much he gets beat up, dragged through the mud, and forced to stay out all night trying to catch werewolves. I think it was a very nice touch, especially since Dresden's basically a private eye but with magic.

Entertaining, if not terribly substantial, and I rather enjoyed it. If you like urban fantasy definitely worth reading if you haven't already.

- Kalpar

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Double Star, by Robert Heinlein

This week I'm taking a look at another Heinlein book, Double Star, which is one of his earlier books so it's fairly short and has less of the obnoxiousness people tend to notice in his later books. I say less of his obnoxiousness because there are still some problems but that comes more from a literary perspective rather than him shooting his mouth off on philosophy. I'm also wondering, as I'm finally looking back at Heinlein after years of having not picked up any of his books, if maybe I've grown out of them so to speak. I may want to go back and look at a couple of my favorites, but it may simply be a case of my tastes changing with time and what I thought was super interesting when I was in high school seems somewhat passe as I've grown older. It's hard to say.

The plot of Double Star is described very literally by TV Tropes as ''The Prisoner of Zenda in SPACE!'' Basically an important political figure has been kidnapped and there is an important event coming up where that individual absolutely must be in attendance. In Zenda it's a coronation, in Double Star it's an adoption into a Martian clan. Fortuitously another individual who looks remarkably like the kidnapped individual has been located and recruited to substitute for the kidnappee in the all-important political event. Shenanigans ensue. It's a pretty decent plot that's been used multiple times in literature and recycling it in space is a totally legitimate strategy so I don't really have any problem with that.

The biggest problem I've noticed about this book, and this goes throughout the book, is it suffers so much from telling instead of showing. Important things are told to us rather than being shown when they really, absolutely, should be shown. And I understand it. It makes for much easier writing. It's much easier to say the Martian adoption ceremony is super important and wonderful and full of symbolism rather than spending hours over your typewriter trying to come up with actual events to show how it's actually wonderful and full of symbolism. And there are some good showing passages in the novel, but it's almost entirely told from a telling perspective.

And I think that partly has to do with the nature of the book, which I have to keep in mind. This book was originally written as a serial in science-fiction pulp magazines and was later put into novel form. This was actually pretty standard for a lot of books written during the 40's and 50's and it influenced how sci-fi novels were written. You have a lot of decent-length chapters with interesting stuff going on to keep readers interested month after month in the story, but you don't want to let the story go on for too long before people start losing interest. And so I can understand how Heinlein and other authors, who are doing this for money and need to produce something within a certain time frame, may resort to telling instead of showing to make sure they meet deadlines. So I think I understand where it's coming from at least from a systemic standpoint.

However, at the same time I feel like it's still fair to judge literature, regardless of its form and origins, by certain yardsticks. Sure, literature is going to be one of those things that's highly subjective depending on people's personal tastes. A book might be the most exquisitely written thing in the world, but if it's got shirtless vampires brooding all over the place I'm probably still not going to like it. And if it has giant robot tanks? Well, I might tolerate certain stumblings as long as I get my robot tanks. But regardless, I think we can still look at things like characterization and showing versus telling to make judgements of books regardless of their content.

So where does Double Star fall? It's okay I guess. The plot's interesting and it comes with Heinlein's usual peccadillos that you can expect in a 1950's science fiction story. There's an author filibuster, but it's for interspecies tolerance which is something I think we can all get behind. The biggest weakness throughout this book though is its writing. Consistently there are things that should be shown but are rather told to us, something I'm beginning to realize in other space operas. It's okay, but I wouldn't go around calling it great literature. The ultimate irony is that this was Heinlein's first Hugo Award. So what the heck to I know?

- Kalpar

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The End of Wall Street, by Roger Lowenstein

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So this week I'm taking yet another look at the fairly recent economic crisis of 2008 which we're still, eight years later, working on recovering from gradually. In this case the book is from Roger Lowenstein who actually wrote the book on the Federal Reserve that I listened to a while back as well. Of course since this book also talks about similar subject matters as The Divide by Matt Taibbi, including the buyout of Lehman Brothers by Barclay's, there's going to be a certain amount of overlap. I will say however that Lowenstein doesn't dip into the polemics that Taibbi does and certainly doesn't stoop so low as to make fun of Dick Fuld for his name, a point I thought unbecoming of Taibbi.

To explain why the meltdown of 2008, which removed a significant chunk of the world's wealth, brought the world economy to a screeching halt, and almost smashed the entire delicate framework of modern high finance is...complex. Yes, you can blame bad mortgages and a collapsing real estate bubble in the United States for being the catalysts which precipitated a global crisis. But to say that it was only those two things that caused the crisis is to overlook larger systemic issues which allowed such things to happen in the first place. Lowenstein goes into a great amount of detail explaining the variety of factors which created the crisis, as well as explaining its effects and rationalizing why agencies such as the Federal Reserve made the decisions it did.

Did banks and other lending institutions make loans to people they shouldn't have? People who didn't have enough income to ever hope to pay off the mortgage? Of course. There's ample evidence that this happened. And was their political pressure from Congress to extend loans to Americans to promote the ideal of home ownership? Also true. However, despite what certain people believe and as Lowenstein points out, the crisis was not caused by the government forcing banks to loan against their will. Lowenstein explains that the securitization of loans and vehicles such as credit default swaps made mortgage-backed securities seem like the risk-free item to invest in and public demand for mortgage-backed securities helped fuel a race to the bottom among lending institutions to generate more and more mortgages to then package as Triple-A bonds. 

More than any one thing, Lowenstein argues that it was a combination of factors that enabled the crisis to reach the scale that it did. Low interest rates in the United States, a policy pursued by Alan Greenspan, made low interest rate mortgages and home equity lines possible, turning Americans from a culture of savers into a culture of borrowers. Lax regulation of markets, under the belief that markets were ultimately perfect mechanisms, enabled more complex, more opaque, and ultimately riskier financial instruments to proliferate on Wall Street. A lack of oversight from both the government and the main credit rating agencies, who many investors relied upon to provide information about instruments like mortgage-backed securities, meant investors lacked necessary information to fully understand what they were getting into. And of course the culture of Wall Street, emphasizing decadence, multi-million dollar bonuses regardless of actual success at a company, and highly risky behavior which was assumed to be entirely risk free. (Although Lowenstein doesn't attack with the same vitriol that Taibbi does, which I found to be a welcome relief.)

So when the bubble finally collapsed, it created massive sell-offs and formerly stable financial firms such as Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, and Bear Stearns became hopelessly insolvent in a matter of weeks. Which only precipitated greater sell-offs. Suddenly banks weren't willing to lend to anyone because they couldn't be sure an industry would be in business for another week. Lowenstein points out that day-to-day operations of industry in America had become so dependent on credit that General Electric, one of the biggest and most stable companies in the world, was unable to get short-term loans at rates of 25% because people were so unwilling to risk money in the private sector. Instead, money was flung into treasury notes to the point where the government was borrowing money at 0%, and eventually it would technically be able to borrow at negative interest rates. Clearly the myth that human being act rationally can be buried in the wake of such behavior. 

The Federal Reserve and other government agencies were put in an unusual position and in 2008 they engineered several bailouts of massive banks, as well as orchestrating mergers, to keep the financial industry from falling apart. There has been considerable criticism since then, especially considering how much went to executive bonuses, that perhaps the industries should have been allowed to fail. Taibbi certainly took the government and the Federal Reserve to task for such decisions.

Lowenstein, however, argues that the collapse of Lehman Brothers is largely responsible for the decision. Lehman Brothers was an example of a firm that almost certainly deserved to fail, having leveraged its assets to the hilt, and it was decided there would be no bailout for the investment bank. However, as Lehman Brothers went up in smoke, and the surviving assets were gobbled up by Barclay's, among others, markets continued a deep tailspin. The Dow Jones Industrial Average, considered an important marker of the state of the American economy, dropped by hundreds of points in a matter of days, in one case dropping a thousand points in one day. As more Americans saw retirement accounts and other savings invested in stocks completely lose all their value, the government was faced with the option of either bailing out banks that almost certainly deserved to fail, or watching the economy as we know it simply cease to exist. 

Lowenstein does briefly criticize some of the later bailouts, which seemed to be Ben Bernanke's favored method of rescuing at-risk companies in the United States during this time. But considering how fragile the economy was at the time, I don't know if I can entirely blame them for pursuing that course of action. I do agree with Lowenstein that new and stricter regulations needed to be put into place, rather than the fairly moderate reforms that did get passed.  

Overall I think this is a pretty good book that does a very good job of explaining the Crisis of 2008 and the ensuing depression which is a fairly complex subject. Granted, I pretty much agree with the statement that stricter and better-enforced regulations and oversight need to be in place, so my opinion is probably clouded on the issue.However, Lowenstein definitely avoids the vitriol and polemics that Taibbi all too often falls into so I think this book is a bit of an improvement. But I definitely recommend reading or listening to this book if you get the chance. 

- Kalpar

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Sharpe's Rifles, by Bernard Cornwell

This week I'm reviewing Sharpe's Rifles, which is actually one of the earlier books in the series in order of publication date, but actually sixth in the series based on chronological order. Also I've come to the realization I'm six books into this series which is a little daunting to say the least. This book is also the first to take place in Spain during the Peninsular War which apparently is a majority of the series. Much like in the previous book, Shapre's Prey, Sharpe is currently a lieutenant in the 95th Rifles and is serving as a quartermaster rather than a fighting officer. This book basically shows us Sharpe's transition and the forging of his partnership with Sergeant Harper, who I strongly suspect will be a very important character in later books. (And for people who've already read them, I'm aware that might be an understatement.)

The biggest issue I had comes probably from reading this series in chronological rather than publication order. This book feels like the biggest reset within the series because we see Sharpe reduced back to being nothing more than a misfit officer promoted from the ranks who isn't respected by the men under him and isn't trusted by the officers above him. Also all the riches and spoils he gained from India are long gone, actually disappeared between Trafalgar and Prey so he's back to being dirt poor again too.

If you're reading the series in publication order than it's probably less jarring to see Sharpe at his absolute worst. After all he's got to build up from basically nothing to become the god among men as portrayed by Sean Bean he eventually becomes. However, if you read in chronological order with his campaigns in India first, it's very jarring to see Sharpe as distrusted by everyone. Despite being a common soldier, people still kind of saw Sharpe as one of the best damn soldiers in the entire British army and there were a few willing to look past his more unusual background. Heck, even in Sharpe's Prey there are powerful patrons who may actually influence Sharpe's career which only makes it that much stranger when he's in Spain as a quartermaster.

Another weird thing that it only took me about six books to notice is Sharpe seems to have a different woman he falls in love with every book. Seriously, it's at the point where I'm suspecting Cornwell had something written into his contract where Sharpe had to meet a beautiful woman and fall in love with her every book, with Sharpe only occasionally getting the girl. It's kind of believable at first, when he meets one or two ladies, but after the sixth it's kind of like, ''Oh, she's the love of your life? Really, Sharpe, you don't say? Mhm, do go on.'' I hate to say it because I'm stereotypically one of those not interested in romance sorts of people, but it's cropping up so much it's practically formulaic. I'm afraid this has the potential to just be incredibly annoying as the series goes on.

I think overall my biggest problem was that I read other books where Sharpe's more developed and becomes the best damn soldier in the entire damn British army and everyone knows it, where now he's basically a nobody. It's a big disconnect, but I think a result of prequels more than anything else. It's okay otherwise. Fairly standard battle scenes but not much else to write home about.

- Kalpar

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The History of the Medieval World: From the Conversion of Constantine to the First Crusade, by Susan Wise Bauer

This week I'm taking a look at another incredibly ambitious book, The History of the Medieval World. Although this week's book deals with only about seven  or eight hundred years of history, opposed to last week's two thousand years, it's still fairly ambitious in its scope as it attempt to talk about everything going on in the world rather than focusing on say, just the pope. And yet at the same time the book feels somewhat inadequate because it takes an almost shotgun approach. I'm left wondering if this was meant to be a textbook for classes rather than a historical monograph considering how broad and shallow its focus is.

The word that best describes this book is ambitious, and I think in trying to at least touch upon absolutely everything over some seven centuries of history is an incredibly difficult task. The result is I feel like Bauer has bitten off more than she can chew because the results feel a little muddled. There's also an argument that surfaces from time to time in the book that religion becomes just one more tool of the state to wield power, starting with Constantine's incorporation of Christianity in the Roman Empire and Bauer argues reaches its ultimate denouement in the First Crusade. Now, to completely ignore religion during the Medieval period, especially the spread of Christianity and later the birth and spread of Islam, would be to completely ignore a key aspect of social and political structures during this time period. However, I don't think Bauer spends sufficient time making her arguments coherently and the inclusion of India, China, Korea, and Japan only muddy the waters further.

One of the areas where I felt Bauer got too ambitious was trying to include Asia in her analysis and a very limited analysis of the Americas as well. To be fair, traditional histories which are almost entirely reliant on written records are largely blind when it comes to American civilizations whose writings have largely been lost, destroyed, untranslated, or never existed in the first place. Much of our understanding of those civilizations comes from archaeological research, which involves more than a little guesswork. However the cultures of Asia did have writings during this time period and extremely rich and detailed history. While Bauer goes into these cultures at various points, the lion's share of focus seems to remain in Europe and the Mediterranean.

Now, are Euro-centric histories a problem? Yes. Europe has dominated ''standard histories'' for generations and trying to include cultures from across the globe into more standard history curricula is an ongoing challenge. After all, I know infinitely more about Europe than I can tell you about almost any other place on the globe. But it definitely feels like Asia as a continent gets less attention than Europe and the Americas get practically no attention at all. The fact that sub-Saharan Africa is excluded entirely from this narrative is particularly jarring. I honestly think the book might have been better served by focusing on the main area of interest: Europe.

A challenge I did have was also the sheer amount of names and information included in this book. When you're dealing with dozens of geographic locations, scores of countries, and hundreds of people it can be very difficult to keep track of them all. Especially when you're listening to the book rather than reading. That being said, I learned quite a few things, especially about places like the Byzantine Empire that I don't necessarily know too much about, which was pretty interesting. It's a very shallow overview, but there are some good things to learn in here.

Overall, the book's okay but I think it has a few problems. The religion as a tool of government argument crops up a couple of times but I feel like Bauer doesn't articulate her argument well enough to make it really stick. The inclusion of non-European cultures is nice, but they're largely presented in isolation of Europe rather than how they or Europe may have influenced each other. The inclusion feels incomplete and as I said, the lack of anything about Africa is especially concerning in light of what else is included. I can't think of any good overviews that throw their nets as broadly, but I can think of some that stay far more focused.

- Kalpar

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Echoes of Honor, by David Weber

This week I'm talking about the...eighth. Wow, really? Eighth book? Didn't realize I was that invested in the series. Anyway, we're looking at the eighth book in the Honor Harrington series and I'm really starting to see where other people, such as Sursum Ursa, have some deep complaints about this series. Don't get me wrong, it's still a pretty fantastic series and there are some really awesome moments, but the book series seems to be growing increasingly exposition-y and with a fresh new crop of plotlines to make a patch of kudzu vine look tame by comparison. I still think it's a good series, but it's definitely lacking the tight character-driven science-fiction which made up the earlier books in the series and suffering, like some other space operas I've been either reading or listening to, from a strong need to show instead of tell.

Obligatory Warning for Dear and Gentle Readers: As we're eight books in it's almost impossible to talk about the book in some meaningful way without going into specific details. The above paragraph provides a good summary of my opinions if you wish to avoid spoilers. 

Echoes of Honor is the first book in this series to be subdivided into separate books, which I think is an organizational choice by Weber more than anything else. Half of the books focus on Honor Harrington and her adventures, while the other half focus on...literally everything else going on in the galaxy right now, albeit in fairly circumscribed manner. The book also covers about a year and a half of time which is a little strange because it doesn't feel that long reading it and I began feeling like maybe other things are happening that I'm just not aware of.

The book begins with a section focusing on literally everyone else, which is kind of weird because instead of focusing on the main character we're treated to an absurd amount of plotlines you have to digest, some of which aren't developed until presumably later novels. The book begins with Haven releasing video of Honor's execution and the response of Honor's parents, and her friends both on Grayson and Manticore and the sorrow both star kingdoms share at losing one of their best commanders. The loss is somewhat muted, however, as anyone who's come this far has probably read the last book and knows that Honor's alive and well. In fact, the very next chapter features the Havenite minister of propaganda gloating over what a good computer simulation job they did with Honor's execution. So while it's useful to see the sorrow and anger of Manticorans and Graysons, it feels a little weird knowing Honor's alive the whole time.

The first part of the book also spends an inordinate time talking about the space economy. Seriously, there are whole discussions and internal reflections on how the economy of Manticore is doing and how it's beginning to strain under the burden of wartime necessity. A large amount of resources are going towards military needs, putting civilian needs on hold although apparently it's not quite yet to rationing, and Manticore is considering the horror of a progressive income tax. (More on that in a minute.) And while it certainly would be a realistic argument that people in those positions of power would have, it's not exactly what I'm interested in when it comes to space operas.

The story is also turning into a patch of kudzu for me because there's so much going on that it's becoming increasingly difficult to keep track of everything. There are so many characters from so many factions that I'm about ready to start making dossiers for all the characters just so I can keep track of them. There's also the introduction of a plot revealing a secret to Grayson's genetic heritage which is played up as this really big deal but then...isn't talked about again. Which could mean it's being saved for a later book, but if it isn't it will ultimately be padding.

And let me take a moment, without getting too political, to state that the argument flat taxes and low government regulation of business is good for the economy. In the short term. In the long term...well it gets far more complicated. Basically members of the Manticore government attribute their great wealth, which had previously been attributed to their high industrial base and location on prime trade routes, to a flat income tax and low regulation. Granted, I seem to fall more in the Keynesian camp when it comes to economic interpretation, but there are problems with this argument. It's kind of been hinted at before, but we're getting to the point in the series where I'm starting to wonder if maybe the Manticorans actually are the plutocrats the Havenites keep accusing them of being. If this was intentional it's very interesting, but I have a feeling it might not have been.

All of this stuff that happened above, mind you, is before we get back to Honor and seeing what she's doing. I can greatly sympathize with Ursa's frustration and wanting to shout ''Where's Honor?!'' while reading the book. And seeing Honor is definitely worth the wait, but I kind of wish the series stayed more focused on one plot rather than drifting all over the place. Which ties into the problem where the book tends to tell rather than show in a lot of places. I'm wondering if this is a problem with space opera as a genre rather than just the Harrington and Dune series, but there are things I really wish they'd show rather than telling us about, especially in reflections by characters. When the book gets into the active tense, it's really enjoyable and Weber is a master at building up the tension to an emotional release point, but that doesn't happen enough in the book for my tastes.

Overall the book is okay. There are some really good parts and I, personally, am too invested in the series to be willing to quit now, but I can see where there are some problems which I suspect will only be exacerbated as the series goes on.

- Kalpar