Thursday, November 2, 2017

We Few, by David Weber and John Ringo

Today I'm wrapping up the Empire of Man series with the final novel, We Few. The result for this book, and I guess for this series overall, is actually a bit of a disappointment. The biggest thing I'm left feeling is that Ringo and Weber had much bigger plans for this series beyond just the four fairly long books, but for whatever reason they kept the series at just four novels and didn't bother to expand it from there. Maybe they had other projects to work on. Maybe Baen decided it wasn't interested in continuing the series, I don't know. But I'm left feeling like the story Weber and Ringo wanted to tell wasn't completed and we got only a fraction of what we could have.

Warning: Mild Spoilers Ahead

Towards the end of the last book, March to the Stars, we discovered that Prince Roger's mother, Empress Alexandra, had been captured by a coup orchestrated in part by Roger's father, the Earl of New Madrid, and the naval minister Prinz Jackson . Roger and the survivors of Bravo Company, Bronze Battalion, have been declared traitors and are officially wanted people throughout Imperial space. Unofficially rumors of the drugs, torture, and rape that New Madrid and Jackson have been using to control Empress Alexandra has been leaking out of the palace and some people are beginning to think maybe Roger wasn't behind the coup after all. When Roger and the survivors of Bravo Company manage to get back to civilized territory they find plenty of allies ready to help them in a daring plan to rescue the Empress and save the Empire.

Plot-wise I actually liked the idea Weber and Ringo managed to come up with for this book. The best plan Roger's staff is able to come up with is that they start up a Mardukan-themed restaurant in Imperial City as an advanced base of operations and a front for the importation of money and equipment for their raid on the Imperial Palace. Most of the battles the heroes have gone through before have been straight-up fights, massive set piece battles with hundreds or thousands of casualties. Seeing Roger and company work on doing a covert operation with a bunch of green, three-meter tall, four armed aliens is different enough to be really interesting. So for that I give it plenty of credit.

On the down side, there is some stuff that is either terribly dull, or stuff that's left out entirely. Some major space naval battles are part of this book, which I'm all for, but Weber goes into the numbering the missiles the ships launch in a salvo, describing how many get defeated by counter-missiles, how many get stopped by point-defense, and then how many manage to get through and strike hits. This is something I've been noticing a lot recently in the Honor Harrington books and it honestly feels like so much padding. I really didn't want to know the exact number of missiles utilized. You say it's fifty thousand? Great. That sounds like a lot. And then we have descriptions of vectors and time lag from transmissions and so on which is very pretty and I'm sure all manner of accurate, but it really takes away from the story.

Another thing that bugs me is the loose ends left at the end of this book, specifically Prinz Jackson and the Saints. From the first book we've had the Saints described as antagonists, but at a larger scale than what Bravo Company was going through. For the last three books the main enemy Bravo company was fighting was the environment of Marduk itself and the natives. The Saints actually appear in the first and third book to be enemies but aside from some mentions about how they're evil enviro-hippies and enemies of the Empire, that's about it. It's almost outright stated that a conflict between the Saints and the Empire is extremely probable in the near future and presumably some of the events of these books would move the two factions closer to war. But instead, Bravo Company and the Empire are dealing with the issue of a civil war at home. By the end of the book the issues with the Saints still have not been resolved or for that matter even addressed so it almost becomes a question of why were the Saints included at all in the series?

The other thread at the end was the escape of Prinz Jackson, the mastermind of the coup against Empress Alexandra. With Jackson safely out of the Sol system and calling as many admirals loyal to him as he can, the Empire is definitely in a state of civil war. With the Saints eager to snap up territory while the Empire is occupied, it's clear that this civil war needs to be resolved quickly and decisively if the Empire is going to survive at all. And we see the start of it when Roger leads the assault on the Imperial Palace to rescue his mother as well as the division within Home Fleet's forces between those loyal to Alexandra and those loyal to Jackson. But otherwise the war is left incomplete. The start of the book has a brief historical passage on Roger who becomes known as Roger the Terrible so presumably he manages to quash Jackson's rebellion, but we're left with so much to be done and so much unexplored.

There are a few minor things as well, but that's kind of niggling over details compared to the big stuff. These books have left me feeling like Weber and Ringo had plans for a huge, complicated world as deep and interesting as that of the Honor Harrington series. Instead we only catch glimpses of this world in a time period spanning not much more than a year. Maybe this was their intention, but it makes me feel like Roger's story is incomplete more than anything else. And so this series is, ultimately, kind of a disappointment.

- Kalpar

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