Inverarity (inverarity) wrote,

Book Review: Out of the Dark, by David Weber

One-line summary: Independence Day meets Dracula.

Yeah, seriously.

Okay, I suppose that summary might be considered a spoiler of sorts, unless you've actually read what's on the jacket, looked at the title, and put two and two together?

Earth is conquered. The Shongairi have arrived in force, and humanity’s cities lie in radioactive ruins. In mere minutes, over half the human race has died.

Now Master Sergeant Stephen Buchevsky, who thought he was being rotated home from his latest tour in Afghanistan, finds himself instead prowling the back country of the Balkans, dodging alien patrols and trying to organize the scattered survivors without getting killed.

His chances look bleak. The aliens have definitely underestimated human tenacity—but no amount of heroism can endlessly hold off overwhelming force.

Then, emerging from the mountains and forests of Eastern Europe, new allies present themselves to the ragtag human resistance. Predators, creatures of the night, human in form but inhumanly strong. Long Enemies of humanity…until now. Because now is the time to defend Earth.

So, yeah, invading aliens bomb the shit out of the Earth (by the way, the book description is inaccurate, since they bomb Earth's cities with "kinetic strikes" -- i.e., big rocks -- not nukes), occupy the planet, and then suddenly: vampires!

This was actually my first Weber novel. He's most famous for his Honor Harrington series, but frankly, I'm just not that interested in Horatio Hornblower in Space, so I've never read it. After reading this book, well... I'm not a huge fan of pure military sci-fi to begin with. I was intrigued by the idea, but left unimpressed by the execution.

Check out the hammering this book is taking on Amazon (which usually averages a higher rating than Goodreads):


Amazon: Average 2.5. Mode: 1 star.
Goodreads: Average 3.48. Mode: 3 stars.

I have never seen a new book by a fairly popular author get a majority of one-star reviews before. Most of the bad reviews are along the lines of "WTF, David Weber, vampires?!?"

I'd give it better than one star, but if this becomes a series, it's not exactly going to the top of my TBR stack.

So let me spell out all the reasons this book kinda fails.

Humans are the Special Snowflakes of the galaxy

We've seen this before. Humans, even though they're relatively primitive, amaze and astound the vastly more advanced aliens who've been tooling around the stars for millennia when they come to Earth, because we're just so fucking special that we do things no other race has ever done before. We're more flexible/less specialized or we're faster learners or we're so determined and our hearts are pure, or whatever, that we are able to somehow hold our own against vastly superior forces because the aliens just don't know what to make of us.

In Out of the Dark, the multi-species Hegemony first discovers Earth in the 15th century. A survey ship is watching the Battle of Agincourt from orbit, and the aliens are totally horrified and disgusted by how savage and violent humans are.

So they hand Earth over to the Shongairi, another race that horrifies and disgusts them for being so violent.

Hegemony bureaucracy is really, really, reeeeeeaaaallly slow, because the Shongairi colonization fleet doesn't arrive for six centuries. (No, the ships aren't slower-than-light: the Hegemony really does take that long to get things done.) And when they do arrive, in early 21st century, they are expecting humans to still be using bows and arrows, maybe experimenting with black powder. They are totally boggled that instead, they're dealing with natives who have nuclear power and laser-guided missiles. Apparently such a rapid rate of technological advancement is unprecedented in the entire history of the galaxy.

At least they weren't hacked by a Mac

You know how some authors make characters act really stupid when the plot needs them not to figure something out? Weber makes a whole race act like a bunch of dumbasses.

The Hegemony was utterly horrified that a few thousand humans carved each other up on a muddy field in France, but apparently they aren't horrified about turning humans over to a species that's willing to wipe out a third of Earth's population before they even announce their presence. Then the Shongairi land, and spend the next couple hundred pages being continually astonished that (a) humans are still fighting back, and (b) humans are fighting back with weapons that can hurt them.

The Shongairi have never fought a firearms-using culture before. They came to Earth expecting primitives with medieval technology, and instead find that we've got fighter jets and RPGs and heavy machine guns and personal sidearms that we're constantly being reminded are even better than the Shongairi weapons.

Even though the Shongairi sent scout ships ahead of the main fleet, who reported back to the fleet commander about this astonishing, unprecedented, unbelievable leap in technology humans had made over the past six hundred years, apparently all they tell their ground troops is that the natives might be "a little more advanced" than they thought, because there is battle after battle in which we get the internal monologue of a Shongairi commander going, "Oh, no way could these primitives possibly be a real threat-HOLY SHIT!" *dies*

Besides having a hard time wrapping their heads around anyone but them having guns, they also have a hard time wrapping their heads around aliens acting alien. They expect humans to surrender en masse when the government and military forces are destroyed, because that's what Shongairi would do. Humans don't, so the Shongairi spend lots of time scratching their heads going "Why don't these stupid primitives behave like us?"

Oddly enough, the Shongairi are very "human" in a lot of ways. Their culture is alien, but their psychology is perfectly understandable (as Weber describes it), and their motivations and values aren't all that alien. Which makes it all the more disappointing that they're so one-dimensional. While a few of the Shongairi try to understand humans, not a single one ever has a fleeting thought along the lines of "Maybe genocide and enslavement is... wrong?"

Bullets get as much characterization as people

We get a complete description of the guns and vehicles used by the humans, right down to the horsepower of the engines and the muzzle velocity and grain weight of the bullets. No one just carries a rifle -- we get the model number of every single piece of equipment. Sometimes Weber goes on for pages telling us how awesome the weapon the main character is using is.

Great if you like that sort of thing. Too bad the human characters aren't described in any greater detail.

The main characters are all gun-toting military Heinleinesque stereotypes who are essentially indistinguishable. There are some survivalists in North Carolina, an officer leading a band of raiders in New England, an American Marine in the Balkans, and a token foreigner who's a former Ukrainian soldier in Uzbekistan or somewhere. I don't really remember their names because they're all pretty much the same character. They wax noble about how their job is defending innocent civilians 'cause that's what all soldiers do, spare a few ragey tears for their families who were in one of the cities that got blown up, and then kill more Shongairi than wolverines killed Soviets. There were a few other characters, but they all died, and you don't care because they're the same dude anyway.


So imagine that vampires actually exist, and the Earth gets invaded by aliens. Intriguing premise, right?

In Out of the Dark, it's an afterthought that seems to come out of left field after several hundred pages of straight military sci-fi and Guns & Ammo porn. I can understand why any Weber fan who just started reading the book without any prior knowledge would be going "WTF?" when the undead show up. It's just like, "Oh, Earth has vampires, and they can totally p0wn an invading alien space fleet." Genre mash-ups can be done well, but you have to build the disparate elements into the story organically. This felt more like watching an episode of Law & Order where suddenly the killer turns out to be a werewolf. If you're not expecting the X-Files turn of events, of course you're going to be shaking your head trying to figure out what the writers were smoking.

(In fairness, if you were expecting it -- and I'm still going to insist this is not a spoiler because read the jacket cover -- then it's pretty obvious when the vampires first show up, though it's not until the very end that they actually come "out of the dark." And then it really is WTF?, believe me.)

Verdict: You may get a series out of this, David Weber, but I don't think you're going to get Will Smith starring in the movie. If the premise doesn't strike you as overwhelmingly silly and you love military SF, you can probably turn your brain off enough to enjoy this, but don't expect much beyond space invaders + vampires + lots of blowing shit up.
Tags: books, books that fail, reviews, science fiction, vampires don't sparkle!

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