Continuing with our series of JB’s deadline reading picks, I wanted to write a little about a series I’ve been enjoying hugely even as one recurring fault annoys the bejesus out of me. The Safehold series (First three titles: Off Armageddon Reef, By Schism Rent Asunder, and By Heresies Distressed. There are more).
I’ve been listening to the first two on Audible, but will switch to iBooks for the third because the narrator changes for some reason and I can see from the reviews that everyone lost their shit. Doesn’t mean the stand-in narrator is bad, just different and with audiobooks that can be enough to bump you out of the imagined world.
I picked up Armageddon Reef because I liked the name.
There, I said it.
Weber is a prolific author, and I’ve always meant to read his Honor Harrington series because space ships and sexy space ship captain.
But for some reason I found myself drawn to his other main sci-fi series – there’s another five or so besides Safehold. Reef started ‘zactly as I expected and wanted, with an enormous and unstoppable fleet of star faring space lizards bearing down on gallant little humanity and…
Destroying us utterly.
That’s not the book I bought. I wanted to see those space lizards carved up into handy bite sized casserole chunks. By laser beams!
But no. They defeat the hell out of us and a small convoy of ark ships scuttles away to rebuild the human race somewhere in farthest reaches of the galaxy. Okay. That was cool, I can wait a few books for those space lizards to get what’s coming.
I won’t go into plot spoiling details but the ark experiment goes a little off beam and next thing you know you’re reading a … fantasy novel. And not just a fantasy novel, but one set in a medieval theocracy with a rather uncompromising chapter dropping you right into the middle of some arcane point of Church politics. Verily did it vex me.
But stay with it. As jarring as the transition is, and as much I didn’t want to read a fantasy novel set in a medieval theocracy, the Safehold story does become so compelling that more than once I’ve found myself driving a few extra blocks to finish a chapter of the audiobook.
One surviving representative of old high tech Earth… er… survives. A woman, whose mind state is uploaded into a very, very lifelike android, which she has to reformat as a male android because, you know, medieval theocracy. Armageddon Reef then becomes the story of ‘Merlin’ (geddit?) guiding the young monarch of a tiny kingdom in revolt against the hoopleheads of the Church of God Awaiting.
Lots of splodey, lots of running around with swords, and lots of very enjoyable scenes of bad guys with swords getting carved up by a robot moving at inhuman speeds with inhuman strength. It asks the same questions that frame so much of the AoT books: how do you bootstrap technology and can you even do it if you don’t first change everyone's world view.
I will read the whole series in one form or another, even though I can now see it might take a long time to get back to those damned space lizards. I have but one qualm. A writer’s tic that afflicts Weber’s prose so much it actually jolts me out of the story a couple of times a chapter. It’s also personally cringe-making because it’s something I do enough in my own writing to feel very uncomfortable calling him out on it. (In fact, having identified what was annoying me so much in Armageddon Reef I went back through the manuscripts of all the books and ebooks I’m currently working on, wielding a very sharp knife).
It's characters laughing when they should just be talking.
And chuckling, when they should just be talking.
And smiling, when they should just be talking
And smiling when there’s no reason to smile because that tells us the character is being all ironic.
ENOUGH WITH THE FUCKING LAUGHING AND CHUCKLING AND IRONIC SMILEY FACES, DAVE!!!!
Elmore Leonard was a bear for this sort of thing. He said the only verb a writer needs for dialogue is ‘said’.
That’s a bit hard core for me, but if I could go through the Safehold books (and presumably all of Weber’s work), and make one small change that would amp up the awesome to 11, I'd do this one thing.
No character would ever smile, or chuckle or laugh unless they were sitting in the front row of a very good comedy show.
Other than that. I love these books. You should too.
This linkypoo goes to a hard copy sale page, not Kindle.