Book Review For SFRevu, August 1997

IN ENEMY HANDS by David Weber / ISBN 0-671-87793-3 August 1997 Baen Books hardcover

Honor's in trouble again.

She's suddenly developing feelings for an attractive older man she's liked for a while, but not THAT WAY until now. Unfortunately, he's her superior officer. Even more vexing, he's got entirely the wrong slant on some new multistage missiles with a performance envelope she'd gladly sacrifice 18 percent of her broadside for!

As if that weren't bad enough, comes the most one-sided defeat in the history of the Royal Manticoran Navy. Plus, since the book title already gives it away ... let's just say that anybody whose fantasies feature Honor looking fetching in handcuffs may be pleased with this seventh far-future space navy thriller starring the beautiful and deadly Lady Dame Honor Harrington: Countess, Steadholder of Grayson, newly promoted Commodore of the Royal Manticoran Navy, and complete 40th-century fox.

The Honor books combine a dash of Danielle Steele's romanticism with a big dose of Tom Clancy's technothrills - and anti-leftist politics - in an SF military/adventure milieu. Usually, they're a pleasant read if you like anything in that mix.

Unfortunately, here the politics threaten to thwart the thrills. The book's three measly space battles are swamped by three thousand political discussions. Starting with the opening scene, which excitingly features people sitting around a conference table THINKING ABOUT recent political history.

In a nod to the French Revolution, the kakistocratic nogoodniks heading up Honor's enemies, the People's Republic of Haven, are called the Committee of Public Safety. Led by Rob Pierre, get it? The Peeps are set up (and I do mean set up) as a straight Marxist/socialist bureaucracy.

While the good guys, Manties and Graysons, are enlightened products of 40 centuries of human political development. You know, a hereditary monarchy and a hereditary oligarchy ...

Weber does get your blood boiling as his bad guys commit the usual socialist outrages. Tying the hands of the military, gutting free speech, providing welfare to the poor, and so on. But in extrapolating a huge star-spanning socialist empire just to expose its sins, isn't he flagellating an extremely ex-equine?

Luckily, there are other familiar pleasures here.

We get the first inkling of a new parallel to wet navy technology, with mention of sortieing the Manties' light attack craft from something reminiscent of an aircraft carrier. This kind of thing is an enjoyable constant in the series. Space navy technology 2,000 years from now seems to be a mixture of 1805 (broadsides and a 3D equivalent of lines of battle) and about 1985 (lasers, missiles, electronic countermeasures).

You keep waiting for Weber's swabbies to start sponging out their impeller missile tubes.

Also returning, naturally, is Honor's cute, furry yet formidable empath/symbiote/pet treecat, Nimitz. Along with so many relatives that the next volume may be called THE TROUBLE WITH TREECATS.

Plus the usual quota of old friends, subordinates, and retainers. All so besotted by what a good person and outstanding officer our heroine is that they're glad to be slaughtered so Honor can move on to higher command in the next book ...