Out of the Dark by David Weber, 381 pages, Tor Books.
This blog is going to be less of a review of this particular book and more of a commentary on David Weber as an established writer. David Weber is best known as the author of the Honor Harrington military science fiction series, and is a New York Times bestselling author. But for me, reading one of David Weber’s books is much akin to seeing a cute girl from a distance, taking her out on a date and realizing that you have dated her before and didn’t like her the last time either.
Years ago, I bought his book The Shadows of Saganami, another military sci-fi story set in a galactic naval setting. I still haven’t finished it.
Later, I bought the book Off Armageddon Reef, which I still consider a phenomenal book, and is the first book in a series. I read the second book, and got halfway into the third one before giving up. Each one got progressively worse. Which I consider sad. Authors who write series have a captive audience, but only as long as they continue to deliver. Unfortunately, he didn’t, and I lost faith in the series.
Out of the Dark reminded me what a bad date David Weber was–or is.
The story is based on the premise that earth is visited by aliens during the reign of Henry V. The aliens are part of a Hegemony of many different races, and their survey of planet earth puts it at Level 5 as far as technological and social development. Hegemony rules allow for races to come and take over planets and their populations as colonies as long as they are less than Level 2 in development. By the time the carnivorous Shangari race arrives 500 years later to do just that, the earth has obtained Level 2 technology, which is basically where we are today. The Shongari not only are frustrated when they see their target planet and population has risen so far so fast, but they also determine that the human race will soon grow to compete with their own empire if something is not done. Despite Hegemony rules, the Shongari decide to bombard the planet, destroying every major city and sending down troops to subjugate the rest of the survivors. But the humans will not give up so easily.
This is the premise that enticed me into buying the book. And that is probably Weber’s greatest strength. He comes up with story concepts that appeal to me, and many other readers. That’s the cute smile on the short-skirted girl down the hall that makes me pursue her. I’m a sucker for a short skirt and cute smile, after all.
But Out of the Dark finds Weber falling into the same habits that made me stop reading his series, and made me give up on Saganami.
His writing regularly includes long passages of internal dialogue by characters, often using that device as a way to provide exposition, something that my writing students know I have major issues with. For me, Weber could have–and should have–just included more story, both dialogue and action, rather than just telling me what happened. And there is probably a lot of information that should have just stayed in the author’s research file and not in the book itself.
One of the other stylistic techniques that he uses is to include scenes of dialogue, where one person will talk for long sections without interruption. For me, that’s not a lot different than the bad habit of internal dialogue. Not only is it unnecessary, but it’s boring. I found myself skipping these sections, or just reading the random sentence or two to keep track of what was going on.
But probably the biggest mistake that he makes is something that most beginning writers learn, the deus ex machina device at the end. When all seemed bleak, and I saw that the pages were winding down, I wondered if indeed the aliens were going to completely destroy Earth. Instead, humans found a device that was totally unexpected and totally outside the conventions of the story premise. As I tell my writing students, writing a book involves a social contract between the author and the reader. The author lays down in the first chapter rules for the universe that the story happens in, and the reader decides whether he or she will accept those rules. But then the author is bound by those rules for the rest of the story. When the author throws in some element that breaks those rules, the reader feels betrayed, and should feel that way.
I had high hopes for David Weber’s book when I picked it up, and once again, was disappointed. At this point, I have pretty much vowed to stay away from his writing, but who knows when that cute smile and that short skirt will come enticing me again. When that happens, I hope that I can remember this experience and turn away.