Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Mission of Honor, by David Weber

Today I'm looking at the twelfth, count them, twelfth book in the Honor Harrington series. And this is just the main series, this doesn't include the side books and short stories where additional plot has been going on. (More on that later.) But since this is the twelfth book the following obligatory statement must be made.

Dear and gentle readers, it is basically impossible for me to talk coherently about this book without going into spoilers. If you wish to avoid spoilers about this book or series please cease to read at this point. Thank you for your patience. 

At the end of the last book Queen Elizabeth III sent Honor and Eighth Fleet on a mission to the planet Haven to negotiate a peace treaty with the Republic of Haven, hopefully to end the war that's been going on for two decades and has effectively broken both nations after the casualties of the Battle of Manticore. Hence the title, Mission of Honor. However, there are a lot of other things going on in this book and ultimately leads to a fundamental shift in the narrative of the series so far and how it's going to play out in the other books.

As I've mentioned, there have been other plotlines developing in supplemental books to this series, books which I really wish I'd taken the time to read at this point. As I've always said, I'm of two opinions on having a plotline spread and grow from just one medium into a multi-medium series. In this case it's intertwined book series, but another example I could use is the Marvel cinematic universe where TV shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. are starting to cross over with each other (and possibly other series as well). Or like the current Star Wars universe which is growing to be very much like the old Expanded Universe they were trying to avoid where films, tv shows, books, comics, and video games are all interconnected. On the one hand, I can see how cool having a story that arcs across multiple forms of media can be and the potential it has. There are simply stories that you can tell better with a book or a tv show than you can with a two or three hour movie and connecting them together can be really neat.

On the other hand, it makes it all the more difficult to track down all the plot threads and fully understand what's going on. It can also make the universe difficult or intimidating for newcomers to delve into, leaving only a gradually diminishing fanbase. And this is exactly the reason why I never was able to get into traditional superhero comics either. Inevitably every time I would try to start reading comics, there would be cross overs or plot events with other books that you'd have to hunt down and investigate. I personally found it very difficult to get into superhero comics as a result. Obviously this doesn't pose a problem to the huge audience of superhero comic fans, but I think it's a valid concern.

Now I will start by saying that I liked this book. There were things that I enjoyed quite a bit, even if they were loudly telegraphed and I could predict where the plot twists were going to go because Weber so neatly laid them out that even a blind person could follow them. So while this book didn't have any real surprises, I still had a very emotional reaction to this book. And so I think that's a good thing. Unfortunately I gave this book a poor rating on GoodReads simply because I think Weber's gotten to a point where he's thinking, ''Okay, where the heck do I take the series from here?'' And some of the things we're supposed to accept as plausible are a little...extreme.

As I may have mentioned in previous books, the organization known as Manpower which specializes in the genetic slave trade has started popping up, so they're not exactly coming out of the blue. And we've known that they've been stirring the pot and hatching evil schemes for a while now so I can see them influencing certain events for their own advantage. Especially since they intend to create some sort of genetic caste system across the galaxy in a next step of human evolution. The problem I have is that this plan by Manpower/Mesa is a centuries-long plan and apparently these guys have been responsible for pushing both Manticore and Haven towards war for the past seventy to a hundred years. And nobody outside the conspiracy has gotten wise to this plot until the events of this book when people working for Manpower decide to defect.

Obviously this is a work of fiction. With interstellar travel, psychic cats, laser weapons, life prolonging technology, and a variety of other incredibly difficult or impossible things in it. A massive, centuries-long conspiracy involving thousands, if not millions of people should not be all that strange. Except everything that I know about human nature makes me doubt that a conspiracy that big going on for that long could possibly have been going on in the dark. I mean, we have mathematical formulas at this point showing it's basically impossible to keep a conspiracy from being blown if more than a handful of people are involved. So as much as I hate to say it, suggesting that a massive organization of genetic superpeople have been manipulating entire galactic governments from the shadows for centuries just strains credulity. I know, I know. Fiction with interstellar travel and psychic cats, but for whatever reason I'm still stuck up on this point.

I also feel like this diminishes the series on another level. When this series began it was the conflict between the People's Republic of Haven and the Star Kingdom of Manticore. The People's Republic (which was a libertarian's nightmare of a corrupt, bloated welfare state), needed a source of income to prop up their social programs and Manticore with its lucrative wormhole junction was an obvious target. Manticore, of course, did not want to be annexed so warfare was inevitable. And I felt like this was a believable premise, especially with the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars but in Space angle. And it was believable that a well-meaning government like the People's Republic of Haven could establish a robust welfare system, resulting in massive government deficits, and resulting in them looking to territorial conquest as a means to keep cash and resources flowing in the system, with empire eventually becoming something of a bad habit. It was believable, and there were people on both sides we disliked and people we liked.

Except now we're expected to believe that the conflict between the People's Republic of Haven and Manticore was the result of interference by the Manpower faction. They're the ones that turned the noble Republic of Haven into the despicable welfare state People's Republic of Haven (have I mentioned Weber seems to have a libertarian leaning?). Manpower was responsible for the Peep solution of annexing other star nations to fill the coffers to support the welfare state. And because the Peeps and Manties were the two powers most vocally against the genetic slave trade, Manpower decided it needed to take both of them out. You know...in a couple of centuries. (And as a side note, now that I think about it, I'm kind of surprised Manpower didn't try to corrupt either or both of the star nations into changing their stance on genetic slavery. That seems like it would have been easier.) So now the reason bad things happen hasn't been because people were just people, it's because there was a conspiracy of bad people behind everything. Ultimately people are selfish, short-sighted, petty, and a variety of other negative traits which make us not the best at planning things in advance. Bad things happen because people are, at the end of the day, people and we don't always make the best decisions. But now we have a bad guy, someone with obviously evil intentions, and we get to pin everything on them. It just feels dishonest somehow.

Another way Weber kind of got to ''what can I blow up next'' is what he did to Manticore's industrial infrastructure, basically blowing it to smithereens through a surprise attack by Manpower using new, mysterious, undetectable superweapons. It kills several million more people and trashes Manticore's industry and economy, effectively knocking them out of the war until they can get missile and ship production back up and running. Something which promises to be an extremely difficult task. I feel like Weber was looking for a way to both up the stakes and further force Manticore and Haven into an alliance of necessity. And for me it just feels like too much.

So, all this being said, I have mixed feelings about this book. There are a lot of things that I enjoyed, but there are a lot of issues that I had as well. I'm going to continue with this series because I am interested in where it's going, but I suspect it's not going to be the same series that it began as.

- Kalpar

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