Following up my enjoyment of the short story in the Big Book of Space Opera, I read David Weber’s On Basilisk Station and The Honor of the Queen , the first two volumes of the Honor Harrington books. These are guilty pleasures, but more pleasure than guilty, so far.
So, the books are about Honor Harrington, right? Right. Honor is... well, picture someone who’s super awesome. Now ratchet the dial on your awesometer up to 11. Then crank the dial further, to the point where it actually breaks right off, and awesome starts spilling on the floor. Honor Harrington is much awesomer than that. Compared to her, Miles Vorkosigan is an absolute chump, Trent the Uncatchable is a loser, and Bugs Bunny deserves to be stew. If the reader ever starts to have doubts about Harrington’s awesomeness, various characters will immediately pop up on stage to testify to it, occasionally at length.
Contrasted to Harrington and the other fine upstanding officers of the Royal Manticoran Navy are 1) the decadent socialist People’s Republic of Haven, full of no-good lowlifes who have been corrupted by decadent socialism into being, um, corrupt and decadent and stupid; and 2) the stupid inbred aristocratic saps in Manticore’s “Liberal” party, who are so naive and addlepated that they think war might sometimes be a bad idea and are thus constitutionally incapable of understanding that only the militaristic-minded folks of the Navy can accurately understand the world as it is.
I’m not exaggerating the degree of contrast between the awesome characters and the stupid ones, either. Remember the dinner party scene from Cryptonomicon, where Randy pictures himself as a dwarf, dominating the conversation with his raw tech-god manliness? An essentially identical scene occurs early in the second Harrington book, where the peace-loving diplomat is verbally slapped around by the war-loving military leader, and left sputtering and embarrassed. Later in the book, Harrington actually punches the diplomat in the face, to the general applause of everyone.
There are, however, exceptions to the general rules, because the whole point of the book is to demonstrate how awesome Harrington is, and that can’t be done if everyone on her side is also awesome and her enemies are idiots. So, in each book, there is precisely one Haven naval commander who is really smart and capable (which we know because he often thinks about how horrible Haven is, and what a bad idea socialism was, and in general acts exactly like Honor would), and one or more people on Harrington’s side who do something stupid that seriously cripples her effectiveness. Also, she’s usually up against impossible odds, because possible odds she could handle without even cutting dinner short. Come to think of it, she doesn’t cut dinner short for the impossible ones, either.
In general, if you’re a right-wing war blogger, this is the series for you. It’s a universe in which all the stuff you believe is actually right. There’s no pesky Iraq War going on to make you question your assumptions; in the universe Weber has lovingly constructed, the idots who disagree with you are proven foolish by the inexorable pace of fictional events.
If you’re not, though, well, the political stuff is a serious and grating irritation. I try to get past it mostly by reminding myself that the book is deliberately reminiscent of the Napoleonic Wars (Weber has carefully arranged his tech in such a way to ensure that space battles are fought almost exactly like ship battles of that era), so I just need to treat the attitudes as though they’re 19th century ones, not something that could apply to the current day. (And to be fair to Weber, too, his militaristic attitude would’ve been a lot more palatable in the post-Cold War era in which the books were written than in today’s climate.) And if you’re able to get past it, the actual space-battle stuff is fun, as is watching Harrington’s awesomeness in action. As much as I recognize that these aren’t, in most senses, good books, I still find myself enjoying them immoderately. People who love Bujold’s more military books — The Vor Game, say — would probably like Weber, as he scratches a very similar itch.
For your part, Baen’s put the full text of the first book online for free, so you can try it out without much of an investment, and it’s worth at least a free glance, so go give it a whirl.