Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Review: The Honor of the Queen, by David Weber

This is the second Honor Harrington book. Like the first, On Basilisk Station, it’s currently available for free as an e-book, which is wallet-pleasing.

I generally liked the first book. In certain aspects it was very good but it did sometimes info-dump a bit.

The second retains all the virtues of the first and diminishes or eliminates the flaws. The author is very good at creating tension and prolonged space battles, the longevity of which serves to heighten the sense of danger.

It’s even oddly topical, with the choice of religious lunacy as an antagonistic force.

Honor Harrington (HH), freshly promoted after the previous book’s doings, is the military lead on a Manticoran military-diplomatic taskforce to Grayson, a potential new ally. The downside is that they’re very conservative religious sorts who don’t think a woman capable of being a soldier and her being the military chief could make signing a treaty difficult. However, they are keen on allegiance with Manticore, due to the threat posed by Masada, a nearby planet crammed full of religious lunatics, who are also potential friends for the People’s Republic of Haven, Manticore’s cold war style enemy.

The plot is simple in broad scope but complex in detail, so I won’t go into it too deeply. It’s very well-conceived, as HH and the diplomats try and forge an alliance with a world that has a drastically different view of society. Meanwhile, Masada and Haven seek to destroy any prospect for such a partnership.

Whilst there’s a good amount of backstory, it feels naturally presented. The author also doesn’t fall into the trap of making the religious conservatives or extremists into two-dimensional caricatures or scarcely credible idiots.

The pace of the plot is well-balanced: slow tension mixed with bouts of frantic action, and leavened with just the right amount of ambiguity and uncertainty.

I don’t think it’s necessary to have read the previous book, but it would help give a little bit more background to the general universe (or Honorverse) as well as specific characters. Mind you, as both this and the first book are free, there’s little reason not to get them.

So, I would recommend this if you’re into sci-fi, and even if you’re not I would suggest giving it a look. Found it very entertaining myself, particularly the latter half, and it’s well worth a look.


Monday, 13 October 2014

Malevolence: Tales from Beyond the Veil

Good news!

Malevolence: Tales from Beyond the Veil, comes out in less than a week.

Malevolence is an anthology of ghost stories featuring tales written by over 20 authors, including excellent sorts such as Jo Zebedee, Teresa Edgerton and Toby Frost, amongst others.

It will also include the short story ‘Saxon & Khan’, written by me (Thaddeus White). It’s my first traditionally published story, so it’s quite a nice milestone. Unusually for me, it’s set in the modern day real world, which was an odd place to write a story.

I’m not familiar with every author, but I’ve read (or sometimes beta-read) stuff from several of them and can attest to the quality of many of the writers.

There’s still time to pre-order a cut-price version here:

And there’s to be a signed edition, released a little bit later. They’re limited in number, so if you’re interested best to snap them up now:

I’ve got short stories in the pipeline (submitted but not yet accepted or rejected) for several other anthologies. Hopefully one or more of those will come out next year, and I’m also working on Kingdom Asunder.

In the meantime, enjoy Saxon & Khan's paranormal escapade.


Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Cruelty and Clemency

Grimdark, as the grimmer and darker sort of fantasy currently very much in fashion has been dubbed, can often have lots of horrid things within. Rape, murder, torture, pain, woe and anguish abound.

Human history (and, sadly, the human present in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere) reveals that mankind has a quite remarkable capacity for inflicting tremendous pain upon itself. At the same time, it’s worth recalling even despicable groups can have a good member (Schindler for the Nazis, for example). Brutes can occasionally show clemency, just as kind men can sometimes erupt with rage.

The strength of the rule of law is critical to considering widespread levels of violence. The Romans were not exactly soft on crime, but the Roman legal system was pretty advanced for its time. Stability and low crime rates were important for the Empire, because stability made people feel more confident, happier to trade and spend, and less likely to hoard money ‘just in case’ something terrible happened. The economy worked well, everyone had a stake in peace, and those who tried to rebel got crushed by the Roman army. For a long time Roman authority was strong, and this worked.

But when the Western Empire collapsed, power ended up being devolved to such small levels that there was barely even the pretence of law and order. Brutality replaced civility, as proven by charming games such as nailing a cat to a tree and headbutting it to death. (I am, sadly, not making that up. The excellent By Sword And Fire, by Sean McGlynn, is really worth buying for a good look at cruelty and clemency in the medieval world, particularly warfare).

Lots of what went on in the medieval era was pretty brutal, and we would consider a leader who commanded such things (including the massacre of prisoners who surrendered on condition they be allowed to live) war crimes. But today’s tyrant was yesterday’s hero. People in villages, towns and cities welcomed a strong ruler. There was no police force, so when criminals were caught harsh measures were approved of and often reassured the people. In war, there was a conflict between brutality and mercy.

The Black Prince had a fearsome reputation, and he deserved it. But this cut both ways. People would often not surrender to him, simply because they preferred to fight (and perhaps die) to entrusting themselves to his care. By contrast, Henry V adopted a milder approach when he conquered much of France in the 15th century.

However, a reputation for being meek and weak could lead to problems. If every surrender is accepted then what penalty would there be (for example) for those rebelling against their lawful king? In the medieval era the lion’s share of a king’s duty was to be the chief warrior of the realm. His position depended upon being strong and being perceived to be strong, and a show of weakness could prompt rebellion, with ambitious rivals taking a tilt at the crown.

Not to mention the fact that if enemies were left alive to fight another day, they might be victorious next time, and not return the merciful favour.

It’s easy to look back and consider the medieval era to be thoroughly uncivilised and savage, but there were rational causes behind the cruelty sometimes enacted. In the same way, a surprising degree of mercy could sometimes be shown. It’s hard for us, with long-term nation-states, international law and well-established domestic justice systems, to put ourselves in the shoes of someone who lived almost a thousand years ago. Back then there was no police force, practically no disease could be cured by medicine and countries (most notably England and France) were just beginning to centralise power and impose order.


Wednesday, 1 October 2014

The 100: first season review

The 100 is a new TV series that just finished airing (in the UK). It’s a sci-fi set a century or so after a nuclear war devastated the world, and charts the efforts of the few people left trying to return because their space station is beyond saving.

The first people sent (one hundred) are criminals. Because of the lack of resources all crimes are capital, but juvenile offenders are incarcerated until they reach the age of majority, when they get the special birthday present of a spacewalk without a spacesuit. The 100 are sent to see whether radiation has died down enough for the Earth to be survived.

I’ve got to admit, whilst liking the premise, I was going to give up on this roughly a third of the way in. A fellow from the internet, who had seen the whole series, suggested I reconsider, so I gave it another shot.

I enjoyed the latter half more than the first (bit like Supermodels of SHIELD. The 100 have also outlawed ugly women). There’s a nice diarchy situation going on, with two characters (Clarke and Bellamy) effectively leading the juvenile criminals. Clarke being more conciliatory and Bellamy more authoritarian/militaristic, though both have a certain pragmatism.

Early on, I felt that the episodes were sometimes not very engaging, and that the main storyline was taking a while to unfold. Later episodes did a better job of mingling the central storyline with each individual episode’s plot [I won’t go into detail for fear of spoilers]. Still room to improve, but it was entertaining.

The action on the Ark (the space station, where the parents and other adults still dwell) was usually interesting as a power struggle took hold as resources dwindled to almost nothing, and efforts to reach the ground hit a snag or two.

The finale of the season worked very well, I thought. Can’t go into detail, obviously, but it had been built up nicely and left some questions hanging for the second season.

I still don’t see why enforced American accents were the order of the day, though. The protagonist, Eliza Taylor (as Clarke), has a perfect American accent but what’s wrong with her native Aussie? Did those space fascists ban non-US accents as well as ugly women?

Pace, in the first half, could’ve and should’ve been faster.

On the plus side, there are some genuinely surprising plot twists, perhaps the most notable coming fairly early on.

I hope the second season builds on the first and the show continues to improve. I’ll be watching it.