Another in my series of Sunday posts to clear out my backlog of started (but not finished… not even close in most cases) posts about books I have read.
This one follows from a grand idea I had for a post which I have been kicking around for a couple of years now. I was going to do a mighty compare and contrast post about four space opera science fiction series that I had read over the years.
The problem turned out to be in the final word of that previous paragraph, “years.” As in, it has been many years since I have read some of these books. My idea just wasn’t viable without my going back and re-reading a whole pile of books.
So my back-up plan is to lay out a very basic summary of each series in the order in which I read them, so oldest (and most vague) memories first. Then I will hang a poll at the end to let people vote on which series they might recommend and call it a day. So let’s get started.
Summary: Follows (mostly) the life of Miles Naismith Vorkosigan, the physically handicapped son of a powerful noble in a down-on-its luck empire. Think Tyrion Lannister in space. In fact, aside from a better relationship with his father, that analogy is surprisingly apt, and since the series kicked off in 1986, it pre-dates Tyrion. Call Tyrion Lannister a medieval Miles Vorkosigan.
Highs: I read it so long ago… this is where my comparison idea really fell down… it is hard to remember. I have a positive mental image of the books.
Lows: I didn’t keep the books for very long, so I clearly felt, at some point, they were not worth re-reading. Maybe they felt too contrived?
Summary: Honor Harrington, a female officer in the Royal Manticore Navy, rises through the ranks via brains and skill.
Highs: Early stories are good, tight space sagas. Technology and politics are believable. She has a cat. I actually re-read On Basilisk Station recently, and it was still good.
Lows: Series evolves from external foes to internal politics and gets dull. I didn’t make it through the fifth book, which was the latest in the series when I read it.
Summary: Follows the careers of, and the friendship between, Lt. Daniel Leary and Adele Mundy, in a series of adventures inspired by Patrick O’Brein’s Aubrey/Maturin series. (Which I have also read from end to end.) 18th century attitudes and politics in the era of space travel.
Highs: Fun books, interesting approach to FTL space travel in order to give it a feel of the age of sail.
Lows: Series doesn’t shake out and settle down until the third book. We spend, in my opinion, far too much time with Adele reflecting on her past and her relationships with the other characters in the book.
Summary: John “Black Jack” Geary is awakened after 100 years in stasis sleep in an escape pod to find the war that was just starting when his ship was destroyed is still going on. Picked up on the way to what was supposed to be a war winning attack, he is there to see it turn into a trap. The commanding admiral puts Geary in charge as he goes to his death. Afterwards, Geary keeps command of the fleet, being the most senior captain by many decades, and tries to get everybody home safely while most of the other captains try to call bullshit on his right to the command position.
Highs: Well thought out and consistent space travel and combat. Political and personal entanglements, as well as feelings of doubt, guilt, and anger, that Geary gets into feel real.
Lows: Carboard cut-out bad guys and seemingly endless passages about honor and responsibility and sacrifice in the name of the cause plague the series. But far and away the biggest negative for me is the idea that a commander with pre-war ideas and tactics can show up, apply those ideas and tactics (which everybody has forgotten), and win. That is pretty much war in reverse of reality, where pre-war tactics go out the door after the first few bloody engagements and new tactics and counter-tactics are constantly developed. Armies and Navies evolve in war or they lose. They don’t regress to “run straight at them” blood baths. Even WWI, well known for such “run straight at them” tactics was full of attempts to get around that.
Summary: A long running, galaxy spanning war is headed towards Earth, and the alien alliance on the defensive sees the human race as a good chance to pull their irons out of the fire. Our military prowess and their technology and production abilities, its a match made in the heavens. Literally. All these races were genetic creations of the Aldenata, a very advance race that has since buggered off to nobody-knows-where, leaving their toys to run amok.
Highs: Excellent depth into the military, technological, political, and social aspects of this sort of upheaval, doubly so when the aliens hit Earth. There are few simple answers, and Earth’s allies clearly do not have their best interests at heart. And Bun-bun.
Lows: John Ringo hates city dwellers and will murder them wholesale given half a chance, a theme which recurs through his works. (That is why this book is “The Funeral.”) But anybody who lives in the country or on a farm possesses the wisdom of the ages and an illegal arms cache that would put many third world countries to shame. Civilians in general aren’t worth fighting for, but the military does it because honor, duty, country and so on. Series goes on forever. Easy to lose track of who belongs to which secret underground organization.
You Rate Them
Those are my basic recollections. As expected, the more recent my reading, the more detail I recall. You should not read anything into the fact that I have more lows than highs for these books. Things that work tend to just flow into the mix, while things that do not tend to fester and thus become more memorable. I would recommend them all, at least for those in search of an escapist space opera.
Now for the poll. Which of these series would you recommend?
As usual, there is the comments section below to add in what you might think of any of these or to call me out on the low quality or inaccuracy of any of my brief summaries.