Thursday, January 9, 2014
The Honor of the Queen, by David Weber
To first explain my concerns with this novel, at certain points I felt like Honor of the Queen and On Basilisk Station were beginning to repeat themselves with certain key plot elements. To avoid any specific spoilers let me just say that the climax of this novel very closely mirrored the climax of On Basilisk Station with a desperate struggle between starships. Certainly there were plenty of differences in the situation and how the climax was resolved, but the conflict felt eerily similar to the previous novel. Perhaps I'm reading too much into it, but it certainly feels similar. In addition, Honor finds herself the only Manticoran authority within the star system and with no support available from home for some time. As a result she has to face the situation on her own and the ultimate decision comes down to her. While I certainly am not opposed to Honor being an action space captain who kicks ass and takes names, in fact I quite enjoy it, it's sort of like in Star Trek where the Enterprise is always the only ship in the sector for some reason to handle whatever situation is at hand. Obviously Honor is the main character and I quite like following her around, but a lot of the other characters, especially the bad guys, feel like part of a much larger plan while Honor seems to be doing her own thing in the universe. While the loneliness of Honor's position worked well in On Basilisk Station, it tied into the fact that she'd been dumped there by the Royal Manticoran Navy as a "reject" and so she truly wasn't part of anyone's larger plans. As a decorated hero of Manticore and commander of a squadron escorting a diplomatic mission Honor is truly part of a larger struggle now and her being on her own simply doesn't work as well thematically.
At the same time, The Honor of the Queen certainly expands the scope of the galaxy, moving us outside the borders of Manticore and introducing us to the first of what will certainly be dozens of star systems that will become part of the eventual Haven/Manticore war. Personally I like learning about the different histories of these various star systems and I hope to encounter more rich histories, backstories, and cultures as Honor continues her adventures. In addition we shifted closer to that oncoming conflict which I'm sure will come to dominate later books. We also got to see some full-scale space battles with multiple ships involved which gave me a lot of the pulp action I crave and a hint at how utterly crazy some of the later space battles will be.
The main plot of this book is Honor has been attached as a military escort to a diplomatic mission to the nearby planet of Grayson in the Yeltsin system. Economically Grayson is incredibly poor and has a military that is centuries behind both Haven and Manticore in terms of technology and strategies. However, the planet is located strategically between the two powers and makes a likely avenue of attack for Haven into Manticore. As a result Manticore seeks a military alliance with Grayson and rights to establish in the Yeltsin system. The challenge to this whole mission is that Grayson was established by an extremely fundamentalist religious sect which viewed women as inherently inferior to men. As a result women can't vote, can't hold property, and certainly can't serve in the military, which causes a considerable amount of friction between the local male leaders and the very female starship captain Honor Harrington. It certainly sets up an excellent opportunity to talk about sexism but I feel like it was done in a ham-handed manner. Obviously no one is saying that women shouldn't have the right to vote or hold property, well almost no one. We live in a society where we are very fortunate that blatantly overt sexism like that is fairly rare. However, the absence of blatant, overt sexism has lulled many people into thinking that sexism no longer exists when it is still an ongoing issue within our society. Not many people may say that women are too irrational to vote, but there are plenty of people who say women are "naturally" good at raising children and being nurturing and that women have a far wider range of emotions than men. By establishing a society that is blatantly sexist and which we can all (or most of us can all) agree on is inherently wrong, it makes it easy to dismiss other ongoing issues as small potatoes by comparison.
Probably the strongest thing The Honor of the Queen does to counter sexism, though, is to portray Honor as an extremely competent officer and commander who is the best person for the crisis at hand. Honor is not an excellent officer in spite of her gender, nor is she an excellent officer because of her gender. She simply is an excellent officer who happens to be female, and that is how you write good female characters in fiction.
Overall, an enjoyable book and definitely for the space opera and epic sci-fi crowd. Hopefully the next books are even better.