Out of the Dark by David Weber
Review Summary: Wow. Did the author lose a bet? Everything was moving along fairly well until the surprise ending. *FULL REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS*
Wow. Did the author lose a bet? Everything was moving along fairly well until the surprise ending.
Weber does all right with this novel in terms of his human characters. They’re all relatively solid, and I appreciate that he managed to have heroes in the story with families that are intact, competent, and capable, rather than kidnapped, missing, or horribly murdered. So many novels (including several of Weber’s) tend to use a character’s family members solely as motivators in revenge/rescue operations that it was pleasant to see this version.
The plot is interesting enough, and moves inexorably toward what looks like the inevitable wiping out of the human race at the hands of an ambitious, technologically advanced, albeit unimaginative, bureaucratic and intolerant alien confederation… until finally Weber unveils his quite literal deus ex machina and blows all of the credibility he’s built into the story and characters right out the water. (*SPOILER ALERT*) When all hope is lost, none other than Dracula rises up and saves humanity from the aliens. Dracula, people.
Aside from that one tiny little glitch in the story’s plotline, Weber’s doing some interesting things here, with his idea of a confederation of technologically advanced races whose ancestors more closely aligned to the pack and herd mentalities than ours did, and the resulting psychological differences that such a culture clash brings – mainly in their inability understand humanity’s unwillingness to roll over and accept the new hierarchical structure of the herd/pack once the aliens show up and demonstrate their superior firepower. Weber’s theory that our primate-based familial bonds are integral to our human culture (and conflicts) in this respect is something I haven’t seen floated in a SFF novel before, and I’d like to see more along this tact. The idea feeds into the corollary idea in the novel that a culture with the ability to bombard a planet with kinetic weapons – and no experience with gorilla warfare (pardon the pun) because of their cultural blind spots of the pack/herd mentality – might not have the same kind of brutal hand-to-hand mentality, tactics and equipment that we do, which is where the meat of the action is for the story.
So, despite the astonishingly horrible ending, I unfortunately still really like parts of what the author is doing here. The audacity of this ending, though, is going to haunt me to my grave, and I’m sure I’ll be trying to fit some sort of rational explanation to it forever. Was the author high when he submitted the plot outline? Did he lose a bet, or create a “What will you give me if I…” bet with one of his buddies? Was he trying to make some sort of point that we need to develop our own space power because otherwise our only hope in the event of an alien invasion – fetishized gun nuts or not – is for a creepy supernatural revenant from mythology to save us? I’m not sure I really want to know. I’ll give him this – its definitely a memorable ending.