June 27, 2005

The Honor of the Queen, by David Weber

This is the second of the Honor Harrington books, and though it has a few warts it's not at all bad.

Following her successful endeavours On Basilisk Station, Harrington is given command of a squadron carrying a Royal envoy to a nearby system. The Star Kingdom of Manticore is much smaller than the People's Republic of Haven with whom they will soon be at war, and Her Majesty's government is busily assembling an Alliance of other small star nations, especially those which lie between Manticore and Haven.

Two of these nations are the planets of Grayson and Masada, which orbit neighboring stars. Both planets were settled by a single colony ship; the colonists were all members of a sect called the Church of Humanity Unchained. The ship went first to the planet the colonists named Grayson, after Austin Grayson, the founder of their Church; later, there was a civil war and the losers (fanatical hard-liners), ejected from Grayson, went off to colonize nearby Masada.

Due to their religion, the Graysons hold to a wide variety of beliefs and practices that strike Manticorans as downright odd if not outright wrong. Polygamy is normal; and the protection of women is a cornerstone of society. There are many jobs (such as commanding warships) that women simply don't do on Grayson.

The arrival of Honor Harrington commanding an entire squadron, many of whose crewmembers are women, is rather a shock to Grayson society--and equally a shock to Harrington herself.

I have mixed emotions about the portrayal of religion in the Honor Harrington series; it's something of a Maguffin, something used to explain irrational behavior on the part of less enlightened people. To be fair, Weber does portray the Graysons warmly and positively for the most part; but at the same time, the Graysons he portrays most warmly and positively are precisely the ones who are most willing--or able, even if unwilling--to compromise their traditional mores in favor of more "modern" standards. Those who choose to hang on to those parts of Grayson tradition that Manticorans find objectionable are invariably the bad guys. As a religious conservative, I find that troubling, if typical.

All that said, there's a lot to like here, too; if you have any taste for military SF, it's well worth looking into.

Posted by Will Duquette at June 27, 2005 09:05 PM