BOOK REVIEW: A Call To Duty, by David Weber & Timothy Zahn

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Publisher: Baen

Genre: Space Opera/Military SF

Series: Manticore Ascendant (#1)

Pages: 508

Publication Date: 14/10/14

Verdict: 4/5

 

Travis Long has chosen a bad time to join the military. Not only are there threats from other empires, but some in the Manticore Star Kingdom don’t want a military at all…

 

When it comes to sprawling universes, I like to read things in internal chronological order. Obviously this can often be a difficult task. you only have to glance at the old Star Wars Expanded Universe to see how complicated timelines can get. Thankfully, David Weber’s Honorverse is a little less sprawling than that, but it still has numerous series and contributions from/collaborations with other authors. Of course, in the Uk it’s difficult to get a hold of the right books for that approach, so I’ve taken to dipping in and out. Having only read the first book in the Honor Harrington series (which I have reviewed here), I thought I’d take a brief detour to see the early years of the Manticore Star Kingdom.

Which brings us to Travis Long. As protagonists go, he’s certainly one of them. A by-the-books young man with not much to distinguish himself. He’s a character build I’ve seen dozens of times before, but he serves his purpose well. The other viewpoint characters are, to varying degrees, wrapped up in his story, yet Long is never driving the action. He’s pulled along just as the reader is.

Weber’s love of fictional technology is in full-swing here. The various means by which spaceships in the Honorverse achieve flight and maintain artificial gravity are key plot points, and full marks go to the authors for exploiting loopholes and quirks of technology established in earlier published novels. Zahn’s grasp of tactics, still best displayed in his Thrawn novels, brings a new edge to the Honorverse, and it’s rare for a book written collaboratively to have such flawless cohesion. I don’t think I’ve read a multi-author novel this seamless since Herbert and Anderson’s Dune works.

Like so much of Baen’s literary output, this is an all-action novel, filled with brave heroes, nefarious villains and an abundance of explosions. But for all its relative simplicity and predictable plotting, A Call to Duty remains a gripping story. It’s often a problem with prequels that you know where the story is headed, but Weber and Zahn prove that the journey can be just as fun as the destination. And I think that’s the key reason I enjoyed this book as much a I did. Because it’s fun. In the midst of all the heavier reading I’ve been doing of late, it’s a nice change to have a book that, even at five hundred pages, can be brisk and breezy. No, it’s not perfect, but I’m not looking for perfection.

It would be remiss of me not to mention the cover of this edition. Baen certainly have a reputation for their cover style, and this is no exception. A spacesuited figure jetting away from an exploding spaceship is undoubtedly a striking image. But more impressive is the fact that this is a scene directly lifted from the book. With that cover and the weight of a mass market paperback behind it, this is exactly the sort of book that got me into science fiction in the first place.

I’m not sure when I’ll get round to reading the next two instalments in this trilogy, or the rest of the Honorverse, but I hope to come across them sooner rather than later. With this little diversion, the Honorverse has never looked more appealing.

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