Audiobook Review: Shadow of Freedom by David Weber

5 06 2013

Shadow of Freedom by David Weber (Honorverse Bk. 14, Saganami Arc Bk. 3)

Read by Allyson Johnson

Audible Frontiers

Length: 16 Hrs 44 Min

Genre: Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: If you absolutely love Weber’s writing, and enjoy battles with no questions about the outcome and no real dramatic tension, just a superior force kicking cocky people’s asses, than Shadow of Freedom should make you quite happy indeed.

Grade: C+

I was thinking about Karate Kid today. I know, what day aren’t the vast majority of humanity thinking about Karate Kid. So, I was thinking about a what if. What if Ralph Macchio started as a poor kid taking on the rich kid establishment through the teachings of a wise Mr. Myagi? What if his training got more intensive to the point where it takes on almost mystical levels? Young Macchio became the ultimate skilled practitioner of the martial arts, able to kick anyone’s ass. His enemies at the Cobra Kai, admitting to his vast superiority become his allies as he enters the wider world. Along the way, he encounters the established greats of martial arts. They all dismiss him as a minor nuisance, a young upstart that needs to be put in his place. Yet, with each boss fight, Macchio reigns supreme, not allowing the bosses to lay a single hand on him. Our Karate Kid is so vastly superior that he kicks their asses before the fights even begins, issuing their ultimate comeuppance. Each new boss hears rumors of the skills of the Karate Kid, but discounts them, leading to their ultimate devastating ass kicking. Macchio is so beyond everyone else that you know he is going to win before there is even a hint of a fight. No need for some strange Crane Bird Stance or mystic injury healing massage, he just shows up, and takes them utterly apart. You know that each win is without drama or intrigue. There is no chance of a loss, and the bosses each make the same stupid decisions. Let’s face it, this scenario sucks, and would be the result of bad storytelling. You may like seeing arrogant bosses getting put in their place, but there should be some drama, a chance for the bosses to at least lay a finger on the young traveling Karate Kid.

Shadow of Freedom is one of the latest in the spinoff series that examines the Honorverse and the wars of the Marticoran Empire, but away from the main action, and centered on peripheral characters. It’s sort of serves more as a sequel to Torch of Freedom and the Saganami arc than the main arc of the narrative, yet I don‘t feel it fits comfortably into any particular part of the story.. Shadow of Freedom focuses on the Talbot Quadrant, an out of the way segment of the Empire that recently broke away from the Solarian League. This in the growing war between the Manticorans and the Solarians the Talbot Quadrant has become more strategically significant. Yet, the conflict has been a direct result of the manipulative hand of the shadowy Mesa Alliance, whose secret plans are now beginning to surface. The political and military scenario at this time in the series is so complex and vast that Weber needs nearly half the novel to set things up, making sure his readers are up to date. It’s a murky situation, and at times it feels like Weber’s universe and his conflict has just gotten too big. When he finally gets down to action, it’s basically a repeat of the last few Honorverse novels, where the Solarians doubt the ability of the upstart neo-barb Mantorians and dismiss the rumors, than get their asses complete kicked just like the time before… and the time before. There is no dramatic tension, just the satisfaction of arrogant people getting the snarky grins wiped off their faces… oh, and maybe just a bit dead as well. The only moments that really add to the overall Honovorse story deals with the breakdown of the plans of the Mesa Alliance, and this is a relatively small slice of the tale. I like the characters, and Weber writes strong action, but it’s all basically rehashed scenes that may offer a bit of fun, but does nothing to move the plot towards any sort of resolutions. I enjoyed the tale, once things got moving, but wanted so much more. I will be interested in seeing if the bits of information given to us by Weber in this novel have any impact on the storyline. It almost seems like a spinoff series that serves simply to give us another book to buy. If you absolutely love Weber’s writing, and enjoy battles with no questions about the outcome and no real dramatic tension, just a superior force kicking cocky people’s asses, than Shadow of Freedom should make you quite happy indeed.

Allyson Johnson has a solid grasp on Weber’s world and gives another fine performance. One of the overall issues of the series is that Weber uses such a broad set of characters from many different planets, with no real cues on their accents that narrators basically just makes it up. Johnson uses an array of American, European and Asian accents for her characters. Yet, the issue comes in with series consistency, when other narrators take on the other spinoff series. I wish they would allow Johnson to just continue to read the entire series. I am comfortable with the choices she makes, and she stays relatively consistent after some questionable pronunciations early in the series. Johnson does a great job with the action, and kept me from falling asleep during the long bits of monologue style exposition that Weber uses to remind us what’s happening. For fans of Weber’s series, as long as they don’t expect too much, Shadow of Freedom is a decent listen. Those frustrated with the current direction of the series thought, will only have their condition exacerbated.

Advertisements




Audiobook Review: A Rising Thunder by David Weber

18 06 2012

A Rising Thunder by David Weber (Honor Harrington, Bk. 13)

Read by Allyson Johnson

Audible Frontiers

Length: 17 Hrs 56 Min

Genre: Science Fiction/Space Opera

Quick Thoughts: A Rising Thunder is definitely the case of my love of the Universe Weber has creates conflicting with my nostalgia for the feel of the older books, and my desire to move the plot ahead in more significant ways. I find the universe fascinating, and I want to know the ins and outs of every decisions and incident, yet I know that as the Universe expands, things begin to move slower. Even fictional worlds must deal with entropy.

Grade: B

A bit ago, author Richard Kadrey posted an old quote from Raymond Chandler about science fiction that I found humorous. In the quote, he talked about the new genre called science fiction, and went on to write this cliché paragraph filled with faux techno jargon that I found quite funny. Yet, of course, as a fan of science fiction, I also felt a tad defensive. This paragraph more is how outsiders view science fiction than an actual reflection on the genre itself. I imagined that someone could write an equally clichéd parody of hard boiled detective novels that would get Chandler riled a bit too. Then I began listening to A Rising Thunder by David Weber, and had to laugh. A Rising Thunder is the 13th book in the main arc of David Weber’s Honor Harrington series, a series that also includes 4 supplementary novels that are linked to the main arc, 5 shared world anthologies, and one Young Adult precursor novel. These 23 books make up what is called by fans The Honorverse. Yet, what made me laugh was that anyone who read the opening sequence of A Rising Thunder would feel like you were reading Chandlers scathing parody of the genre. It is full of technical terms, place names, acronyms, and political inferences specific to the world that Weber has created and someone just happening into the book would totally feel like it was a strange version of the English language. Yet, for me, who has read all but the Anthologies, it felt comfortable to be back in a world I enjoyed.

A Rising Thunder is a hard novel to really evaluate. First off, I had a lot of fun with it. It had been nearly two years since I last read a Honor Harrington novel, not counting the Young Adult A Beautiful Friendship, which is set centuries before Honor Harrington was born. Yet, despite all the fun I had with it, I was also frustrated. The scope of Weber’s universe has grown so much since On Basilisk Station, that each significant occurrence that happens in A Rising Thunder, has to be explored from so many angles, that the novel only slightly progresses the story in any meaningful way. Case in point, On Basilisk Station is quite an intimate tale of an estranged ship captain sent on a make-work mission with a disgruntled crew. The novel begins with Honor boarding her ship, getting ready to head out into a backwater region of Manticorian space. In A Rising Thunder, our main character and hero Honor Harrington, now a major political, military and social player in the universe, doesn’t even appear in the book until we are six hours in.
Also, Weber filled his early novels with high risk, high casualty conflicts, where Honor pulls out victory by the skin of her teeth. In a Rising Thunder, the battles are so one-sided, that there really isn’t any sense of peril. You know who is going to win, you just don’t know which clever trick they will use to pull the win off. Yet, while the military struggle is decidedly one sides, the political aspects of the novel are as muddy as pond water. Here is where the real conflict is now taking place, in the bureaucrats offices, board rooms, and council chambers, and the common man or front line soldier really has little or no say in the number of ways they are getting screwed by the political systems. A Rising Thunder is definitely the case of my love of the Universe Weber has creates conflicting with my nostalgia for the feel of the older books, and my desire to move the plot ahead in more significant ways. I find the universe fascinating, and I want to know the ins and outs of every decisions and incident, yet I know that as the Universe expands, things begin to move slower. Even fictional worlds must deal with entropy.

There are mixed feelings among Weber fans about Allyson Johnson’s performance as narrator of the main Honerverse arch, often going back to a mispronunciation of a major place name, which Weber himself admits was his fault. I personally enjoy her performance. It really is tough for a narrator of such a big series full of so many characters to satisfy everyone. Johnson uses a variety of accents, speaking styles and tones to delineate the multitude of major and minor characters that appear in these books, and for the most part, she does a good job. Sure, some of her male characters are on the rough side, but truly, how many male characters do you expect a female narrator to pull off. I always have issues with her portrayal of Honor. I tend to imagine Honor with a rougher voice, almost like Captain Janeway from Star Trek: Voyager. Yet, this is based on her personality and actions. Weber himself describes her voice as a pleasant Soprano, and that is what Johnson gives her. What really impresses me is how she manages to keep the pace of the novel moving briskly, even with large moments of exposition, as well as multiple side tracks and sub plots. Johnson does what good narrators should, keeps the book moving, and the characters interesting So, overall, I think Johnson handles the narration of this series extremely well and look forward to book number 14.