The Service of the Sword by David Weber

Vertigo

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This collection of short stories (novellas really; 6 stories in around 450 pages) is something of a mixed bag. The first two stories – Promised Land by Jane Lindskold and With One Stone by Timothy Zahn – are moderately good. A Ship Named Francis by John Ringo and Victor Mitchell was dreadful; the best thing that can be said about it is how short it is. Let’s Go to Prague by John Ringo was entertaining but so improbable as to be laughable (it might have worked as a comic/graphic story… possibly), Fanatic by Eric Flint was actually quite good and the final story – The Service of the Sword by David Weber – was (finally) very good.

Many of the stories were riddled implausibility and inappropriate comparisons. The central premise of the Promised Land is a teenager who learns to pilot a starship purely from reading ‘the manual’ – please. A ship named Francis has every naval failure being ‘deliberately’ posted to the same ship – as if any navy would operate so stupidly – and then repeatedly goes on about being sent to ‘Siberia,’ this metaphor being used directly by the protagonists in dialogue; bear in mind these stories are set some two thousand years in the future and hundreds of light years from Earth, what chance is there that these people would even know where Siberia is, never mind having any knowledge of Stalin’s Siberian political exiles? Let’s Go to Prague has two of the top Manticoran deep cover agents deciding to sneek off and take their leave undercover in an enemy city on the basis that it will be more fun than going home; the idea that any member of such an organisation, never mind two of their top operatives, would ever do anything so starkly stupid is simply ridiculous. Even Eric Flint’s considerably better offering suffers similarly; he has one of his main character’s be, moderately believably, an expert on twentieth century Earth but then he just happens to find another two people that he just happens to be working closely with who are experts on twentieth century films; really, just what are the chances of finding three military personnel on a the same starship that share an in interest in the thousand year old films of a distant planet? It wasn’t necessary for the story and, as far as I could see, served only to show off the author’s knowledge of these things. Weber’s offering thankfully managed not to make the same mistakes.

Setting all the stories next to each other in the same book sadly demonstrates the difference in quality between Weber and the others. In particular Weber’s characters are truly three dimensional with each character showing both good and bad qualities and, most importantly, the many shades of grey between those extremes. The other author’s characters were all completely two dimensional, being generally either clearly good or clearly bad, and any character that has both is either all good with one token bit of bad or all bad with one token bit of good. I found the difference made painfully obvious by the placing of Weber’s story at the end of the book.

Apart from Ringo and Mitchell’s ‘A Ship Named Francis’ which was nothing more than a truly dreadful and utterly pointless series of anecdotes, this collection was enjoyable but certainly not satisfying.

3/5 stars (without Weber's story it would have been 2)
 
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