David Weber has Robert Jordan’s Disease   2 comments

If you don’t know who David Weber is and something about his extremely popular Honor Harrington series of space opera novels, quit reading now, or go look him up.  If you don’t know who Robert Jordan was and about his best-selling Wheel of Time epic fantasy novels, then quit reading now, or go look him up.

What follows is strictly my own critical opinion.  Since both of these writers are a million times more popular and well-known than I am or will ever be, consider the following rant to be just a coyote howling in the wilderness.  But, my gag reflex has been triggered (again) and I must either speak or throw up.

When I talk about Robert Jordan’s disease, I am not talking about the cardiac amyloidosis that took his life in 2007.  I was a fan of Mr. Jordan while he was writing Conan novels and creating the epic heroic fantasy known as The Wheel of Time.  He wrote 11 books in that series, of what was originally projected to be a trilogy, and had a 12th one in planning when he died.  I don’t suppose we’ll ever find out how the events concerning The Dragon Reborn ever turned out.

I noticed something that dismayed me about Jordan’s writing as time went on.  Each book got longer than the one before it, although the actual movement of the plot became shorter.  Less actually happened in the world, and it took longer to talk about it.  Why?  The simple explanation is that the number of characters involved in the novel kept increasing.  To give all the “major” characters their own scenes took more pages.  Worse yet, most of the new characters were female, and they spent all their on-page time bickering and belittling each other.  Every single woman in his epic fantasy had an overwhelming superiority complex, which, of course, he had to show in hundreds of pages of bitchy female infighting–all to the detriment of the main story. 

That’s not exactly wht is happening in Weber’s Honorverse series, now in its 12th novel with MISSION OF HONOR, but something very similar is going on, and it may make me swear off reading the series forever.  Do you hear me, Baen Books?  Don’t send me any more Weber novels about Honor Harrington.

In the beginning, the series focussed on Honor Harrington, a remarkably talented, smart, and lucky starship commander in the Royal Manticoran space navy.  She often found herself in combat with members of another star system–the so-called Republic of Haven.  What made the books enjoyable was the predicaments that Harrington got into, and how she got back out again.  Although Weber does like to have his characters think out loud while talking to other characters, there was plenty of action–at least in the beginning.

Times have changed.  Weber has introduced so many characters that the reader needs a scorecard, or perhaps a computer database or wiki to keep up with them.  In fact, there is a 14 page appendix at the end of the novel that lists the characters.  Fourteen pages with as many as 20 characters listed per page!  And just like Mr. Jordan’s characters, they all need their on-page time in the book.  And they mostly just talk to each other in dozens of little disconnected scenes that are somehow supposed to all fit together to make the novel.

And what do they talk about?  Interesting conversation has a lot to recommend it, but how interesting is it really, Mr. Weber, when all your characters, despite your elaborate and high-faluting concoctions of future names, may as well be the same person?  What do these dozens of characters spend page after page discussing? In your case it’s how stupid their opponents are, or occasionally, how stupid they aren’t.  This kind of comment comes up time after time:

“Now if only the idiot knew what the hell his precious Navy was up to, Kolokoltsov thought coldly.”  MISSION OF HONOR, p. 5.

“And if they’re still too stupid to accept the inevitable,” he shrugged, “we send in however much of the Battle Fleet it takes and squash them like a bug.”  MISSION OF HONOR, p. 21.  (There are 16 pages of conversation between these comments showing how stupid, self-serving and corrupt the Solarian ministers really are, and it’s not over yet.)

“Those civilian idiots can talk about “if” all they want to . . . p. 26.

“Matthew was firmly of the opinion that High Ridge’s idiotic foreign policy had done a great deal to provoke . . .” p. 49.

Just because I’ve stopped putting in quotes, don’t get the idea that the author has stopped talking about idiots.  Characters have their IQs compared (unfavorably) to their shoe sizes.  It goes on and on chapter after chapter.  Talk after talk, scene after scene, chapter after chapter, someone, somewhere is being called stupid.

And here’s my last quote: President Pritchart is talking to Queen Elizabeth (the heads of state of Haven and Manticore respectively). “Don’t you think it would be sort of stupid of either of us to let the other one go down and leave us all alone?”  That’s on page 583–the penultimate page of the book.  And the focus is still on stupid.

Believe it or not, Mr. Weber, there are authors who can go through entire books without calling anyone an idiot, and yet it pops up in your writing every dozen pages or so; sometimes less.  Are there some superiority complexes involved here?  Is it just the characters?  Or is it David Weber who thinks he’s the only smart one in the room?

Looks like Robert Jordan’s disease to me!  Not only has David Weber proliferated the number of characters that he needs for the novel, but he has fallen in love with them.  And they’re basically all the same–a bunch of politicos and military who think they are the only ones in the universe with even half a working brain.

You know, it is possible to be wrong without being stupid or corrupt.  It’s also possible to be right while being stupid and/or corrupt.  Everything is relative, isn’t it?

In a novel named after Honor Harrington, we first see her on page 30.  Doesn’t it seem like that is taking a little too long to introduce your protagonist?  Personally, I kind of like books that start out with a sentence like: “The sting of the horsefly’s bite saved Conan’s life.”  We know who our hero is and that he’s lucky in the very first sentence.

And here’s my second gripe.  With all this talking head action, we don’t see any actual space combat until page 258.  This is a series based on the combat of interstellar fleets, and we don’t get any combat until page 258!!!  Does that seem kind of incredible to you, dear Reader?  It boggles my mind.

Why doesn’t a real editor step in and tell him that he has Robert Jordan’s disease?  Why doesn’t someone tell him to stick to a story, anybody’s story!, instead of writing future history as a series of conversations by people who think someone else, usually a foe, is an idiot?

Don’t get me wrong!  I don’t hate David Weber.  I’ve been a fan for a couple of decades now.  He’s a superb master of the English language, he puts together gripping plots, and he knows his stuff scientifically.  His powers of invention are brilliant.  He has empathy for every side in combat. 

But, he has Robert Jordan’s disease, and I really wish he’d see a (writing) doctor and take the cure.  I’m now on page 466 of the novel, and there have been two (count them, two) significant space battles–both of them completely one-sided.  Finishing this book is going to be a feat of endurance for me–not pleasure, and as soon as I’m done, it’s off to Half-Price Books with it.  Perhaps Baen Books’ brilliant packaging of this novel will allow me to foist it off on some other poor shmuck of a space opera fan.

Truth in editorializing: I received MISSION OF HONOR as a free review copy.  I started to read it because I have read and enjoyed some of Weber’s earlier books.  Also, Baen sends me so many free books that I do feel I should review some of them from time to time.  And I feel I can’t be just a fountain of unrestricted praise in this blog.  Readers should, imho, read critically. 

Gack!  Robert Jordan’s disease–what a hideous fate for a terrific writer! 

Your mileage may vary.


Posted March 14, 2011 by atroll in Uncategorized

2 responses to “David Weber has Robert Jordan’s Disease

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  1. Brandon Sanderson is completing the ‘Wheel of Time’ saga using Robert Jordan’s notes. Two books have already been published.

  2. If you think HH has RJ disease (i dont think they are anywhere near that bad) you should avoid his safehold series because that one has definately gone that way.

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