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

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