Cheeseburger Gothic

David Weber’s Safehold series

Posted March 18, 2014 into Books by John Birmingham


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.

But no!

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.



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.

29 Responses to ‘David Weber’s Safehold series’

DarrenBloomfield swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted March 18, 2014

*chuckles* and says "see what I did there?"

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insomniac reckons...

Posted March 18, 2014

The space lizards thing just seems like a set up for the medieval thingo, which also sounds a bit The Sparrow-y as well as Merlin-y.

"Let it go; they're gone", he smiled.

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w from brisbane is gonna tell you...

Posted March 18, 2014

"No laughing, smiling or chuckling?" he chortled.

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FormerlyKnownAsSimon mutters...

Posted March 18, 2014

Excellent. The planets have aligned - i just finished a book and was looking around for something to read. Check my library, and wow, four books listed under Weber. Even better, the books are the ones in the series. . . . . but then my arch nemesis raises his oversized ugly head. All borrowed. Not due for . . . . 2-3 weeks? There goes my theory he was a fellow Burger reader getting in ahead of me. Just some nerdy guy ahead of the curve. We could even be friends seeing they have some common interests, except for that little thing of always borrowing ahead of me (i refuse to entertain the notion that it is more than one person borrowing books in a smallish town library. Much prefer to think of them as some shadowy pimply guy dressed in a trenchcoat and wears a big hat to hide a misshapen face)

JB are you perchance slipping any pre reading info to someone living in Bathurst?

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Darth Greybeard mumbles...

Posted March 18, 2014

I would have preferred "Armageddon Reefers". (Waits for smiles, chuckles, laughter. Not a sausage. Armageddon outta here.)

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w from brisbane puts forth...

Posted March 18, 2014

Those terms 'he chuckled' etc are called "said bookisms" and they do warn against them. They particularly advise against the use of "he ejaculated".

However, it is interesting that John " mutters, asserts, puts forth, reckons, mumbles, mutters, has opinions thus, would have you know, ducks in to say, is gonna tell you,
swirls their brandy and claims" Birmingham has come out so strongly against the practice on his excellent blog.

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JBtoo would have you know...

Posted March 18, 2014

There is a journo (alleged) on my paper who writes like this. I always sub him back to said. He hates me.

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Phil ducks in to say...

Posted March 18, 2014

Maybe I'm overcome with excitement about something new to read, but I can't find any link to the book above.

Of course I will google / search amazon myself easily, but if a few cents from a JB affiliate link would be a painless way to put something back to this blog

John Birmingham swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted March 18, 2014

You don't get the little Amazon advert?

damian mumbles...

Posted March 18, 2014

Phil, if you run the adblock plugin, just click on the red stop sign and pick "don't run on pages from this domain" in the menu, then click "Exclude" on the popup window. You will then see Birmo's infrequent, topical and appropriate handful of Amazon links.

Phil would have you know...

Posted March 18, 2014

Yep, you sprung me, thanks for the tip. I have disabled Adblock for this site, and now see the link. Birmo, you could check in with Renai over at He put some cleverness in over there that borked the layout if you were running adblock, just the kind of reminder ingrates like me need to remember that some sites deserve the ad displaying support.

Bunyip has opinions thus...

Posted March 19, 2014

Seconded thanks, Damo.

Was wondering why I couldn't see anything. Techno-laggardness strikes again.

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Darth Greybeard mutters...

Posted March 18, 2014

I believe that Blarkon, should he still exist, is our resident expert on alien space lizards. What with him being Galactic Lizard Emperor and all. Though I must say that I found his human disguise quite unconvincing.

Bunyip puts forth...

Posted March 19, 2014

Wolfcat and Orin assured me he exists, but he's just got really good chameleon tech on his spacelizard battle armour. Which is why we never actually see him at any physical burgerii events.

But I think he had a hand in getting me home once after an unfortunate accident involving a bottle of whiskey and Therbs.

Paul_Nicholas_Boylan is gonna tell you...

Posted March 19, 2014

Blarkon once saved me from a mob of angry hippies somewhere in the vicinity of St. Kilda. I will forever be grateful.

Anthony mumbles...

Posted March 21, 2014

St Kilda hippies! Just yuppies wiht pretensios.

They only have pretend ones there. You need to come to the north of Melbourne for serious industrial-strength hippies.

Ours are so tough they wear stinging-nettles in their hair. And that's just the women.

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Legless mumbles...

Posted March 18, 2014

Read them all - including the one just published. Enjoyed them...

You can get the no-DRM ebook, in several formats, from Baen books.

Cheaper than Amazon.

As the books progress they get more and more 'splodey and the battles get bigger and bigger and the neat twists of the plot get twistier. Can't recommend these books enough.


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Peter in the bleaches puts forth...

Posted March 18, 2014

I haven't read the Safehold series but have read the Honor Harrington series (11 books to date). Lots of good splodeys and tech. His core characters get a bit predictable by book 7 however this is offset by the introduction of new characters. Some of his other series with other authors also have interesting story lines and splodeys.

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S.M. Stirling puts forth...

Posted March 19, 2014

"I shall try them," he chuckled with an ironic smile.

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Rhino mumbles...

Posted March 19, 2014

Yeah, the Rhino harummphed, I started out loving these books too but stopped reading the serie. Though, I still look at them longingly whenever they appear in my Amazon recommendations.

But by the 4th one I just kept thinking, C'mon Dave, can we move it along here a little bit? Are we ever going to see The Next Generation(s)?

I kept doing the "pace of the story" + "Weber's age" + "Weber's committments to other series" arithmetic and decided that we'll probably never see the end of the story.

Almost as if he fell so in love with this set of characters that he just can't let go.

I wanna laugh ... but there is no joy in this.

Paul_Nicholas_Boylan asserts...

Posted March 19, 2014

Didn't Dave Weber once comment here without anyone recognizing him until King Birmo pointed him out?

Or was that John Ringo?

w from brisbane asserts...

Posted March 19, 2014

I thought that was Max Weber.

Anthony mumbles...

Posted March 19, 2014

That was John Ringo I think. Another good 'splodey writer whose politics are totally wrong but whose books are bloody good.

The Weber series ae also damned good. If you want another good series, try the "Destroyermen" series by Taylor Anderson. Another series where ships go though a portal to an alternate world. his time an old destroyer to a seriously differnt world.

It's a genre that I'm particularly fond of and while JB is one of the best, you could try The "Lost Regiment" series by William Forstchen or even "The Ship that Sailed the Time Stream" by GC Edmondson (a Nebula Award nominee back inthe 60's).

Paul_Nicholas_Boylan has opinions thus...

Posted March 20, 2014

Alt History is my favorite genre. I am a big fan of the Destroyermen series and, Along with the Emberverse and Axis of Time, I hope it runs forever. I'll check out the other two you recommend.

Guru Bob would have you know...

Posted March 26, 2014

Ringo is totally addictive reading but his politics are horribly wrong on so many levels. Haven't they collaborated on a couple of series?

Quite enjoyed Weber's Hell's Gate series but still waiting for a conclusion.

The alien invasion book Out of the Dark was also really, really good until some characters inexplicably developed super powers... I think he had written himself into a corner on that one.

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Surtac mumbles...

Posted March 19, 2014

I tried the first Harrington book some years ago but was put off by the pivotal space battle being conducted in two dimensions only.

damian mutters...

Posted March 21, 2014

I read most of the Honor and Offer series as it was about 10 years ago. The battle tactics derive from it basically all being a kind of tribute to C.S. Forester's Horatio Hornblower novels. All the worldbuilding physics, the applied phlebotinum and handwavium lead to space battle tactics being exactly like 18th century naval tactics (except Weber seems to lack the concept of the weather gage, so you would have have to say it's exactly like *his understanding* of 18th century naval tactics... you should read Patrick O'Brian if you are interested in novels actually depicting 18th century naval combat tactics well). Then he moves on to wanting to replay the way aircraft carriers superceded battleships in WWII.

Having said all that, he seems to do bildungsroman quite well and is pretty good at character in general, only going wrong in his earlier novels where he tries a sort of political caricature... he lays it on so thick that unless you share his (in the early novels markedly right-wing) views it becomes basically incomprehensible. It's a common problem with writers getting used to being able to say whatever they like, I think with the good ones who eventually understand this effect and learn how it works with their writing... they generally end up changing their politics in the left direction markedly too.

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