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Monday, September 20, 2010

“Out of the Dark” by David Weber (Reviewed by Robert Thompson)

Official David Weber Website
Order “Out of the DarkHERE
Listen To An Excerpt HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: David Weber is a New York Times bestselling author best known for his Honor Harrington military science fiction series, the most recent of which was Mission of Honor (Reviewed HERE). Weber has also written many other novels which range from epic fantasy and space opera to alternate history including the Safehold series (A Mighty Fortress Reviewed HERE), the War God novels, and two co-written volumes in Eric Flint’s 1632 series.

PLOT SUMMARY: The Galactic Hegemony has been around a long time, and it likes stability—the kind of stability that member species like the aggressive, carnivorous Shongairi tend to disturb. So when the Hegemony Survey Force encountered a world whose so-called "sentients"—"humans," they called themselves—were almost as bad as the Shongairi themselves, it seemed reasonable to use the Shongairi to neutralize them before they could become a second threat to galactic peace. And if the Shongairi took a few knocks in the process, all the better.

Now, Earth is conquered. The Shongairi have arrived in force, and humanity’s cities lie in radioactive ruins. In mere minutes, more than half the human race has died.

Master Sergeant Stephen Buchevsky, who thought he was being rotated home from his latest tour in Afghanistan, finds himself instead prowling the back country of the Balkans, dodging alien patrols and trying to organize scattered survivors without getting killed. And in the southeastern US, NRA-certified firearms instructor, Dave Dvorak, finds himself at the center of a growing network of resistance—putting his extended family at lethal risk, but what else can you do?

On the face of it, Buchevsky’s and Dvorak’s chances look bleak, as do prospects for the rest of the surviving human race. But it may well be that Shongairi and the Hegemony alike have underestimated the inhabitants of that strange planet called Earth…

CLASSIFICATION: For the most part, Out of the Dark is a military science fiction novel set on contemporary Earth, but the book also contains some historical fiction and cyber warfare in the prologue and beginning chapters.

FORMAT/INFO: Out of the Dark is 384 pages long divided over thirty-nine Roman numbered chapters, and a Prologue and Epilogue. Narration is in the third persion via many different perspectives, both humans and Shongairi. Main characters include Thikair, the Shongairi Fleet Commander; Dave Dvorak, an NRA-certified firearms instructor; Master Sergeant Stephen Buchevsky of the Marines; Captain Pieter Stefanovich, combat engineer for the Ukrainian army; and Major Dan “Longbow” Torino, an Air Force fighter pilot. Out of the Dark can be read as a standalone novel, but is the first volume in what is being described as a “new military-SF series”. September 28, 2010 marks the North American Hardcover publication of Out of the Dark via Tor.

ANALYSIS: I’ve known of David Weber for a while now, but hadn’t actually read anything by the author until last year’s Warriors anthology (Reviewed HERE), which included Weber’s short story, “Out of the Dark”. One of my favorite stories in the book, I was super-excited to hear that “Out of the Dark” would be expanded into a full-length novel, launching a new military science fiction series. Unfortunately, the novel did not work nearly as well for me as the short story did.

What I loved most about the short story was the surprise twist involving—SPOILER ALERT!—vampires. I thought the idea of vampires battling aliens was an incredibly cool concept and couldn’t wait to see the idea executed in a full-length novel. What I didn’t expect was that the vampires wouldn’t make an appearance until 200 pages in, but then just as Romanians living in the “heart of Wallachia”. The vampires aren’t even revealed as such until around 330 pages in, towards the end of the novel. To make matters worse, all of the cool parts involving the vampires against the Shongairi were skimmed over in comparison to the rest of the novel. So instead of vampires battling aliens—what could have been something really cool and original—Out of the Dark focuses mainly on surviving pockets of humans resisting the Shongairi invasion, a much more common science fiction theme.

In addition to the novel’s surprising lack of action involving vampires vs. aliens, I was also disappointed by the Shongairi themselves. For one, the aliens aren’t very ‘alien’. Physically, the creatures are described as “doglike”, or referred to as “puppies” by the humans, while psychologically the Shongairi are like dogs or wolves, possessing a submission mechanism and pack mentality. In short, the aliens are not very alien-like. Secondly, the Shongairi, despite their interstellar space travel capabilities and orbital kinetic strikes which can level a city, are surprisingly inept. Perhaps it was Weber’s intention to make the Shongairi this way, but I just think the book would have worked better if the aliens were fearsome and dangerous, rather than incompetent. I do admit though, that I was amused by the Shongairi’s various opinions and reactions to KU-197-20’s (Earth) inhabitants...

On the positive side, Out of the Dark is written by a very skilled and experienced author in David Weber. I was particularly impressed by Weber’s versatility to write science fiction (Hegemony, Shongairi, Barthoni), historical fiction (Battle of Agincourt), cyber warfare, dry humor (Shongairi), and military fiction with equal proficiency, although fans of military fiction have the most to rejoice about. On top of that, the pacing is exciting, the dialogue is crisp led by some excellent banter, and I really liked how Weber developed characters and the way he was able to juggle numerous viewpoints. Sadly, I never really connected with any of the book’s main characters and felt the way Weber switched narratives was sometimes a bit disjointed.

Overall, Out of the Dark is a novel that fell way short of my expectations, much like other cool ideas have done in the past including Aliens vs. Predator, Freddy vs. Jason, and Star Wars: Death Troopers. Fortunately, the book has its moments, and I think anyone who likes military fiction mixed with some SF, would really enjoy Out of the Dark. Personally, I wish David Weber had concentrated more on the vampires vs. aliens angle than he did, but the way he ended the novel offers a number of promising ideas for future volumes. I just hope the next book in the series can deliver on the offered potential...


David H. said...

Is this really the start of a new series by Weber? I thought I had heard it was simply a standalone novel . . .

Liviu said...

I have not read this one yet since I did not like the Warriors story that much - though i will take a look when it is published - but as a big fan of the author and following his dedicated forums, I heard contradictory reports and it seems that the novel is indeed a standalone, but the author may write more standalones in its universe, so in that sense it is part of a new series.

Anonymous said...

Love the site, but I hope this doesn't become a trend... giving away major plot spoilers to people looking for their next good read.

Liviu said...

We apologize for this but here it's a special case since the novel is based on a short story that appeared in a well known anthology and the spoiler referred to that first and foremost.

Robert said...

Normally I don't do plot spoilers at all, but like Liviu said, this is a special case. In fact, the ARC specifically mentions vampires on the back cover. Not sure if the finished copy will, but part of the whole marketing process will no doubt be the whole vampires vs. aliens angle...

Anonymous said...

I think the spoiler is doing potential readers a real service. I didn't know about it, and I don't read inside or back covers, which often contain spoilers too. So I read this book thinking it was a hard SF story, and then BOOM! Dracula shows up at the end of the book and saves the day. I have never been so angry at a novel in all my life, and I will never, ever read another David Weber book.

Unknown said...

WTF?! Vampires! Why'd they wait so long if they are invincible... stupid. Wish I had read the short story and wouldn't have wasted my time.

Andy said...

Read the book first, no spoilers no short story, was amazingly gripped wondering how the earthlings would get out the proverbial shit. Then Dracula shows up 300 pages and the wrong fiction book late and fucking magically wins for everyone.
Last David Webber book I read .... disappointed. Thank god for kloos and scalzi.


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