The Stars at War – Short Review.

I have a real soft spot for military science fiction. I count the Honor Harrington (David Weber), Empire of Man (David Weber and John Ringo), Legacy of the Aldenata (Ringo again) and Belisarius (Eric Flint) collections amongst my favourite stories of all time. Two of those series have something in common, don’t they? No, not John Ringo, though that would be a great guess, he is after all my favourite author of this genre of fiction.

That’s right, David Weber. Having recently reread my copies of the Harrington novels for the third time in as many years I found myself searching for literary pastures new. While looking through my pile of unread books, way too many, I came across an omnibus. Two books of a series of four slapped together under one cover. And whose name should I find on that cover? Why yes, David Weber, and some other guy I’ve never heard of, Steve White, but David Weber!

Set in our universe a few centuries from now they deal with two interstellar wars which are separated by 60 years. The first is based around Earths forces desperately trying to defend humanity from a totally unexpected holy war. The second covers the start of a war with a completely unknown species, who it so happens like to eat their prey live, and guess what? Everything that moves is prey.

It’s hard to write a book review for one reason, spoilers. How much do you tell the reader? How little? Well I’ve decided to tread the, less is more, path. So no plot stuff, instead here’s why I love these books, and why I’m desperate to find the 3rd and 4th ones.

The characters, and there’s so many characters, somehow manage to be engaging, and enjoyable despite how many of them fail to get much page time. In the first book for example, I found myself rooting the most for a third string female character, a resistance leader on the world of New New Hebrides. The authors somehow manage to capture the essence of each character, thus making you care about them very quickly.

The alien villains aren’t one-dimensional. They may, mostly, not achieve 3 dimensions, but they are good solid two-dimensional figures. They’re also rather well thought out villains, and aliens.

The good aliens are…well they’re giant bipedal cats. Sort of. If you grew up playing the Wing Commander games you will probably end up seeing the Kilrathi in your head most of the time. I know I did. But that aside they’re extremely well thought out, well written, and have a fascinating culture of their own.

The combat, the most important part of any military science fiction novel, is quick paced, exciting, and not in any way confusing. This is an important point, confusing descriptions in military scifi is a real pitfall of the genre, especially when it deals with ship to ship combat, rather than ground troops. We’ve all seen war movies, so we know at least generally what they’re talking about in a ground based book (Legacy of the Aldenata being a prime example), but not even a lifetime of Star Wars, and Battlestar Galactica can really help all that much in wrapping the human skull around descriptions of space combat.

Here however Weber and White manage to walk an impressive tightrope. They make the descriptions technical enough to explain precisely what they mean, while still being comprehensible to someone who hasn’t spent most of their working life writing these types of battles. A great example is their use of light-hours, light-minutes, and light-seconds as the basic way to tell how far away an object is. The distances they describe are difficult to comprehend, but that one is much further than another, and that in turn is further again than the next makes perfect sense.

Leaving that aside though the battles are exciting, and the authors aren’t scared to skip to the aftermath of a battle, if two come too close together in the story. A wonderful gift to the overall pacing of the books.

So in closing these books are amazing. They’re very enjoyable. Fast paced, I’d finished the first in just three hours, and was stunned to find I had. Exciting, well written, and most of all they’re fun. The good guys mostly win, the bad guys mostly lose, and one set of good guys are giant cats! Come on what more could you want?

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