Published by Tor
Hardcover, September 2010
David Weber is one of the most prolific and popular writers in Science Fiction and Fantasy, his novels hit the best seller lists and more often than not, he’s got two or three different books on the bestseller lists every year.
When he publishes a book not in his long-running Honor Harrington series or his more recent and nearly as popular Safehold series, the book is bound to raise eyebrows from fans of those two series expecting another installment. On the other hand, such a book could be a possible introduction to Mr. Weber’s oeuvre. Well, Out of the Dark is his third full-length novel published in 2010 and at just under 400 pages could be considered “small” or even “minor” by his standards. The book started out as a novella in the Martin/Dozois edited Warriors anthology (reviewed here), and one I thought to be a highlight of the anthology.
The novel begins with aliens from a galactic collective known as the Hegemony visiting Earth from afar and assessing the human civilization and decrying our violent tendencies – during the Battle of Agincourt in the 15th Century. The Hegemony decrees that in order to protect the galaxy from humanity’s abhorrent violent tendencies, our growth as a galactic civilization should be halted. So, in an attempt to potentially kill two birds with one stone, the much maligned Shongairi Empire is sent to Earth to eliminate the human threat before it can spread. You see, the Shongairi are not well liked thanks to their own violent tendencies (they are the only carnivorous society to reach a technological level which allows them entrance into the Hegemony) and barely passable qualifications for membership in the Hegemony.
When the Shongairi eventually arrive at Earth, what they see is not exactly what they expected. Humanity evolved considerably in the 500+ year interval since the Hegemony first watched over our planet. Our technology level, by Hegemony standards, is now Level 2 so we are technically off limits from Hegemony intervention. The Shongairi being self-righteous and prideful, think nothing of this rule and proceed with a plan for subjugating the human race into slavery thinking their advanced civilization can easily run rough-shod over humanity. But, we fight back.
The story itself very much had the feel of a disaster novel. In some ways, I was reminded of Walter Jon Williams’s The Rift or even Stephen King’s The Stand for the varied characters and their related storylines Weber introduced in the first third of the novel. Weber shows us individuals in the military who are on the front lines in the United States and have lost their families, he shows us retired military people who are well prepared and form the beginning of a resistance, and he also introduces us to a military unit stationed in Romania that teams up with a local guerilla force in order to combat the alien threat.
The ending definitely has that Deus Ex Machina feel (as did the novella), but while I thought it was somewhat effective, I also thought it could have been played a bit more rationally especially compared against the other rational elements of the novel. I won’t spoil what the “surprise” is, but it may be one of the worst kept surprises in genre fiction published 2010 and the hints are quite blatant up to the ending.
Weber dropped in a lot of technical military descriptions that started to become a bit much to digest and interrupted the narrative flow of the characters for my tastes. The only other problem I found with the novel was the retired military characters who were leading the beginnings of resistance in South Carolina – the husband and wife characters share the name of the author and his wife. I’ll give Mr. Weber the benefit of the doubt on this one and consider it as him simply having fun rather than succumbing to the dreaded “Gary Stu Syndrome.” However, I did like the names of their dogs – Merlin and Nimue – nods to a character in Weber’s superb Safehold saga.
In the end, I think I would call Out of the Dark an over-the-top flawed piece of entertainment. I enjoyed the book a great deal, enough to overlook some of the issues I raised in the above paragraph. These are concerns I could completely understand other readers being unable to let fall by the wayside, but the story itself was enough fun and the overall narrative pull allowed those concerns to be swept under the rug for me. The question remains whether or not Mr. Weber will turn this once considered one-off novel into a full-fledged series. If he so chose, I for one wouldn’t complain.
© 2011 Rob H. Bedford