Many Ships and People

A Mighty Fortress is the first real slog, as far as I’m concerned.  It’s not quite as long as Off Armageddon Reef, but in the first book of any series everything is shiny and new and we’re not bored of it.  Also this volume contains naval battles in which it becomes difficult to tell which ship is on which side, and who captains each ship.  It’s here that I tend to start saying “David Weber, I understand that you like ships.  I can appreciate them too, but seriously, I don’t know what the halyards and clew lines are, and I’m not really sure that I care.”  (The man likes his nautical vocabulary.  I am quite indifferent.)

I also mentioned that we’d be seeing a jump in characters.  Instead of a mere ten pages, the cast of characters in A Mighty Fortress takes up twenty-one pages.  Again, we’re tracking a planet here, but that becomes more and more relevant as we go on.  New characters appear, and those who got a mere scene or two before get fleshed out.  Oh, and a number of people die, but that’s what happens when the focus of the series is a religiously-based war.

You can almost see a montage of decades going by, in our historical timeline, as the Safeholdian Industrial Revolution continues to advance.  Sure, it’s being pushed in some ways, but at this point the avalanche has begun and outside pressure isn’t truly necessary anymore.  Innovation is starting to run free, as we’ll see in the next few volumes.

Book four represents a turning point of sorts.  Up ’til now, Charis has led the arms race by a considerable margin, but here is where the forces of the Church and its subjects begin to make up ground.  Charis may have ruled the seas while no one else’s navy existed, but those forces are being rebuilt and they will contest the Charisian claim.  It’s interesting that no Charisian quotes the truism saying you can learn far more from defeat than from victory.  Then again, we can think of it like the recent World Series: if the team which ended up winning (Go Cubs!) had dominated from the start, it wouldn’t have been nearly as intense, as nerve-wrecking, and as exciting!

David Weber is a good author who understands that if our heroes have too easy a time of things, there’s no real investment for the reader.  Not to mention the “Joe must die” rule of books – killing off characters will hit your readers hard, but it will also make for a better story in the end.  I saw a movie some years back titled Stranger than Fiction, about a man who wakes up one day with a woman narrating his life.  (Yes, I’m going to spoil this entirely.)  He grows and develops as he tries to figure out what’s going on, and becomes a much more interesting person as he does so.  Unfortunately, this particular author is known for taking the blandest most boring characters, making them likable and fascinating, then killing them off.  So he’s doomed to die.  He meets the author finally and reads the manuscript (for the events are only occuring as they are typed up properly from the handwritten draft) and he, and everyone else, agrees that the story will be strongest if he dies.  Thus, when the author changes the ending to allow him to live, the movie itself suffers and doesn’t live up to its potential.  It’s kind of twisted, but aslo fascinating.

On an unrelated note, I’m also slightly upset with amazon.  For a month or more now, they’ve been telling me to expect the newest Safehold book between November 14th and 17th.  Then I get an email today – it’s coming on the 10th.  I won’t be ready!  I should be on the sixth book that day!  And I won’t be getting much reading done in Safehold this weekend – large hardcovers do not mix very well with conventions.  I will, however, take two or three other books with me, and will hopefully finish at least one while there.  But after I finish Safehold, it’ll be over to Elantra so I can read the other shiny new release coming on Thursday.

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