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Leave your brain at home — you won't need it where this book is taking you. The plot is a pretty standard "aliens who are slightly more technologically advanced than humans invade Earth, and we handily kick their butts" story, with most of it feeling like it was lifted straight out of Niven and Pournelle's Footfall (especially the beginning). I didn't actually much like Footfall either, because it — like this book — leaned a bit too heavily into the whole macho, rah rah, woo humanity and especially the part of it that lives in America trope set; however, if that sort of stuff appeals to you, Footfall is at least a much better-written take on it. At the very least, Footfall doesn't stop every three paragraphs to give you a lengthy, boring, and completely irrelevant info dump on the exact kind of gun the protagonists are currently using to mow down entire alien armies.
I did not know about the "big twist" before I read the book, and let me just say, it does accomplish one thing: It pushes this book slightly out of "ugh, this is poorly written and boring" territory and into "so bad, it's good!" land. I didn't quite laugh out loud, but it was genuinely amusing, more than anything. If this were a better written story, perhaps the twist could have even worked, in a bizarre, nearly-surreal, or genuinely comedic kind of way. As it is, however, my first thought was that perhaps this book was written as a parody, with the final over-the-top twist meant to make it clear just how ridiculous this kind of plot really is. To be honest, I'm still not entirely sure — perhaps Weber did intend the book to be a parody of the whole "humanity, f*** yeah!" genre. Perhaps the painful gun-themed info dumps, the over-the-top, ridiculously bad-ass characters, and the final laughable twist are all meant to drive the point home, and we all just missed the joke. I think I'd prefer to believe that. But if Weber truly meant this book to be a somewhat-serious work of science fiction and fantasy, I'd say it's in dire need of a Mystery Science Theatre 3000 styled re-reading and commentary. Placed alongside classics like Space Mutiny and Hobgoblins, Out of the Dark would truly take its rightful place in the science fiction and fantasy canon.
I heard about this book and the twist ending a while ago. Eventually the temptation coupled with the sense that it would be either hilarious or awesome got the better of me. It was both.
So I suppose what I'm saying is that it's okay to go into this book knowing the spoiler. From the sounds of things it is one of those works where it can improve the experience, or maybe I'm unique in this matter. The Shonigairi can tell you a thing or two about the perils of assuming everyone thinks like you.
You know, when I selected Out of the Dark at my local library, I thought, Hey, this looks kinda cool. It looks like the "World War," series, which I like, and seems to have the "Humanity: Fuck Yeah!" message that I do so enjoy. Call me old fashioned, but I happen to like seeing self-righteous jerks get knocked off their high horse (I'm also a fan of the tropes Screw You Elves and Screw Destiny).
And you know what? I was right. It was basically World War in a modern setting, and the big, bad puppy aliens were essentially a fuzzy version of The Race. Humanity was indeed, "Fuck Yeah," and though we weren't the biggest, baddest dudes on the block, we were clearly getting there, and were about to explode onto the galactic scene as soon as we could get over that pesky "Not having a spaceship, FTL, artificial gravity, etc, etc, etc."
I'm not saying that this was a good story, though. The characters of Weber's self-insert family/commune were bland and uninteresting, and most of the story was fairly predictable. But then again, so is a lot of military sci-fi that I've read. We don't read that for the story, or the characters, we read it for the Dakka, for the awesome battles, sweet ships, to turn our brains off and just go with the explosions.
Until the twist, which I felt subverted the entire point of the book. The purpose of books like World War and Out Of The Dark is that, well, it shows that humanity is badass on its own. Sure, we don't have antigrav or Applied Phlebotinum, but we're still pretty cool.
Vampires. Led by Count Dracula. And they save the day.
I will freely admit that vampires are a bit of a Berserk Button for me, and that's part of the reason I don't like this book, but I feel it totally inverted the message of most of the book, which is that we're here, we're a race of badasses, we should be taken seriously. And then they ride in and save the day.
I'm sorry, but I was not pleased at all.
Surprisingly I'm not talking about the vampires. I'm referring to how we're supposed to believe that the battle against the Shongairi was ever hopeless or that the majority of humanity wouldn't surrender after watching our major cities get pulverized.
Every single battle up until the assault on Drac's village was a slaughter with the humans taking practically no casualties while the puppies were just butchered, even those who surrendered. You'd think the Shongairi would have had some experience dealing with guerrilla warfare considering that every other race they'd conquered was so much more primitive. Sure the guys in Afghanistan got nailed from orbit, but it wasn't shown, if any of the kinetic strikes were detailed I might have gotten some sense of suspense.
And no submission instinct? No submission instinct?! How does he think feudalism persisted so long? How do modern dictatorships work? Why did the Japanese surrender unconditionally after we nuked just two of their cities?!
There's a copy of this book in every library in Lancashire. Giving up my quest for Shadow Of Saganami and settling for this, it was a perfectly acceptable military scifi for the first 98% of the book.
Yes, the Gun Porn, Infodumps and so on were in full force, but it has "David Weber" on the cover so you knew that going in. There's brave last stands and noble sacrifices and daring ambushes and so on and so on and it's great, it's exactly what you were looking for, and there's a plague, will it destroy humanity, how are our heroes going to get out of this, there's only thirty pages left.. wait, what? Vampires? Really?
Saying that it illustrates the futility of resistance once your high orbitals are under enemy control in missing the point. I don't want to read about how we need to be saved by a mysterious and hitherto unmentioned force. It felt forced and clumsy, and destroyed my enjoyment of the book. My advice? Read it, and when you find yourself reading about the inexplicable slaughter of a Shongairi base, put the book down and make up your own ending. It'll be far more satisfying than "Vampires save the day!"
I kind of enjoyed this book, but I wouldn't put it on a recommendation list. The twist ending didn't really throw me. Not compared to plot holes like the assertion that most Class Two cultures had more nukes than humanity despite typically having a unified world state and a mentality that the weak did not fight the strong. (I mean why develop nukes if that's the case?) Or how a galactic Hegemony could exist as an institution if it can't operate faster than a multi-century timescale. Or Critical Research Failure on the robustness of humanity's electronic infrastructure. But I can simply chant the MST3K Mantra and get past all that.
No, the real flaw in the book was pacing — particularly all the hardware porn. I couldn't give a flip about comparing the muzzle velocity and weight of different ammo or the variations in load-out on various vehicles. Just get to blowing aliens up, already! In fact, I found myself more than once hoping the sections with the humans would end soon so that I could be back to reading the Shongairi trying to make sense of the quagmire they got themselves into. They were by far the most interesting characters in the story.
Pacing then swung to the other extreme in the last few chapters, where the shock of the twist was overshadowed by how rushed it felt compared to the stuttering pace of the earlier parts of the book. It's like his heart wasn't in it as much as gun-fondling.
That said, it's still a hard, military SF book at heart, and it's not too bad of a story of independent, resourceful badasses fighting back against an alien invasion that fails due to improper enemy military doctrine. Weber could've just stood to cut down on the loving, show-off descriptions of survival preparation and military hardware and get to the action and the human & alien drama more.
Plus, it would've been nice if the twist had come a couple of chapters earlier and we'd gotten to see more vampire ass-kicking rather than it all being an off-camera plot device. We're asked, "What Do You Mean Its Not Awesome?" and then never really shown much of it being awesome outside of one fight. It's revealed and then, "Bam!" — denouement and winding down. That leaves it feeling tacked on and Shyamalan-esque.
I mostly wrote this to post on another site, then decided it made a decent review as well with a little editing. Be warned, I'm not concerned about spoilers.
So, why did Weber do it? Why did he ignore his usual infodump style and pull vampires out of nowhere to finish off the book?
Because of rocks.
You'll notice that there was a progression. After the initial attack the first thing the aliens tried to pacify the planet with was warfare, which we did well defending against because the aliens were unprepared for our tactics and more advanced than expected technology. The next was a biological attack to wipe us out so they could at least use the planet for settlement. We 'might' have been able to prevent that, but at the cost of the force attacking the base, so the vampires stepped in. The last was to just write off the planet and hit it with kinetic strikes, which we had no defense against whatsoever, as the early pages showed.
Mainline humanity could. Not. Win. We can't win. We never can against an orbital enemy. Sure we could hurt them on the ground, but they still had spaceships and rocks, and we didn't. So to highlight that, Weber used a deus ex machina, the vampires, to show just how screwed we would be short of an intervention that defied explanation (you'll notice that aside from listing their characteristics, he makes none of his trademark infodumps regarding the vampires.) I think it was great, the best alien invasion of the technologically advanced type I've seen.
TL;DR The vampires aren't meant to be believable or realistic, they're meant to highlight that there is NO believable or realistic scenario in which we defeat aliens that have spaceships when we do not. Because the aliens have rocks.
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