Oct 13, 2010

A Bad Review

I've been a little quiet the past few days while puzzling over the review of David Weber's Out of the Dark. It's not a problem specific to the book, nor is is indicative of the book's quality.  It's a common occurrence - it just takes a few days for me to figure out how to put my feelings into words.
So while I was busy not reviewing Out of the Dark, I decided to waste some time on Twitter. Where I saw this:

@torbooks - RT @BSCreview: Out of the Dark by David Weber – review http://bit.ly/cjC0xM

I decided to take a look at the "review" and was very surprised at what I found over at BSCReview.

Who’s the reigning King of Military Science Fiction? David Weber, author of the Honor Harrington, novels, is certainly a contender for the crown with his ultra-realistic descriptions of weapons and battle strategies, and his suspenseful, colorful descriptions of warfare and battles against alien foes. His newest novel, Out of the Dark,

is sure to add to his well justified fame. Though not an Honor Harrington novel, it is a superb stand-alone thriller about the invasion of the Earth in the near future by the Shongairi, a race of carnivorous beings bent on colonizing the planet and enslaving humanity.

The Galactic Hegemony, an organization made up of civilized sentient races, has decided that humans are nothing more than blood-thirsty savages. They are omnivores seemingly bent on their own destruction, and have no hope of attaining any higher level of intelligence or civilization. The Earth is thus marked for colonization by the Shongairi. Whatever happens to the humans is of little or no import to the Hegemony once the decision has been made, though the centaur-like Barthonis, who made the fateful judgment, secretly wouldn’t mind if the Shongairi get more than they bargained for.

The Barthonis, an herbivorous race, based their judgment on viewing an extremely bloody battle King Henry of England had against France, in which his forces succeeded despite being vastly outnumbered, because he held the better ground and employed better battle tactics. They just see it as a pointlessly violent battle, which would be extreme to their way of thinking even if carnivores like the Shongairi were the participants. The Survey Team calls our planet KU-197-20.

This opening scene of the battle is their justification that it is morally justifiable to subjugate humanity. They realize that it will be several hundred years before the Shongairi can reach the Earth and begin their conquest, and that things can change during that time, but they don’t believe that humanity will have been able to attain a much higher degree of sophistication, intelligence, and civilization even given the rather long interim time period until the point when the Shongairi arrive.

The Shongairi find that humanity has changed much more than the they or the Galactic Hegemony team had anticipated. In fact, though we still engage in extreme instances of violence, pointless wars, and we have no One Government type of world, in many ways humanity has attained a Level Two civilization. They decide to continue on with their plans, though, and to try to hide the truth about humanity’s unprecedented speed at attaining this higher level by destroying any evidence that might suggest this, after they conquer the Earth and humanity bows down to them as their masters.

Out of the Dark originally began as a novella in the anthology Warriors, which was reviewed here at BSC (but not by me). The main character of the novella is also one of the novel’s main characters, Master Sergeant Stephen Buchevsky. He believes that he is going to be rotated home from his latest tour in Afghanistan. Instead, Buchevsky finds himself in Romania, prowling the back country of the Balkans, dodging alien patrols and trying to organize the scattered survivors without getting killed.

David Weber expanded greatly on the original story, and the novel is told from multiple POVs. Humanity is much more tenacious than the Shongairi had thought they’d be. Despite the world’s main military bases and most of its major cities having been destroyed by energy weapons that make it seem as if they’d been wiped out by nuclear bombs, our surviving military forces valiantly fight back. They use, for instance, F-22′s and Abrams and Bradley tanks to inflict casualties on the Shongairi, and they make up an impressive resistance movement. The Shongairi have never had to combat anyone who had achieved a Level Two civilization before. Their armor wasn’t built to stand up to spent-uranium ammunition, and their combat strategies never had to develop a high level of nuance, because they had always faced foes that had offered comparatively little resistance. As the author notes, in the Shongairi’s defense:

It wasn’t their fault. This wasn’t the kind of battle they’d been trained to fight. Not the kind of combat their vehicles had been built to survive or their doctrine had been framed to confront.

The survivalist efforts of the Dvorak and Wilson families, as well as the battle scenes, were the two biggest factors in my enjoyment of the novel. Former Marine Dave Dvorak and Rob Wilson run a shooting range, and they have been steadily making improvements on a massive cabin in the Nantohal National Forest in North Carolina over the decades. The cabin has been in the Dvorak family for a long time, and both clans gather up their impressive array of guns and other belongings and head to it upon hearing about the alien invasion. A quote I really liked and thought was amusing regarding Dvorak and Wilson is one told by some of their friends, that they “were both politically somewhere to the right of Attila the Hun, although possibly still to the left of Genghis Khan.”

Out of the Dark by David Weber is Military SF at its best. It’s a novel that gives one hope that if worst came to worst, and we were invaded by a technologically superior race, we would give them all the fight they wanted, and more, even if Washington, DC, was bombed back into the Stone Age.

Oh, and then there are the other heroes that come to humanity’s aid, though they have generally considered us to be prey items….When it comes to the defense of the Earth, and kicking some Shongairi butt, certain differences can be put temporarily aside. If you’re a fan of the Honor Harrington, novels, or Military SF in general, you’re going to want to add the very compelling and page-turning Out of the Dark to your reading lists.

Now, I typically wouldn't quote whole articles verbatim but it's necessary to illustrate my point. By color coding for Opinions/Reviews, Facts about the book/author, Summary of the book, and Quotes it should be very easy to see the breakdown of this so-called review. And this is being extremely generous when labeling review statements. And I understand why Tor is promoting the article - it's basically an elevator pitch stapled to an outline of the first five chapters. But to call it a review?

Ignoring the deep thoughts of "page-turning," "ultra realistic" and "compelling" in the introduction and conclusion of the review, the actual review content boils down to a single sentence:
The survivalist efforts of the Dvorak and Wilson families, as well as the battle scenes, were the two biggest factors in my enjoyment of the novel.

That's it. Now there are some generalizations about David Weber and his status in the military SF subgenre. Oh and the fact that Weber wrote The Honor Harrington Novels. Well at least BSCReview read the cover. Or at least the front of it. If they had read the back, they might have realized that the same book they describe as a "superb stand-alone thriller" is also the "stunning launch of a new military series." I love stand-alone series. And Democrublicans.

From poking around their site it's clear that BSCReview is interested in making money and little else. I don't necessarily disagree with the overall tone of the piece. Out of the Dark is an enjoyable novel (saving my full thoughts for the review) but there is no way you can consider this a legitimate review by any definition of the word. And I would hope that any respectable book reviewer can see why.

Look for a real review of Out of the Dark in the near future.


  1. I really take issue with reviews that are just rehashing the plot of the book, like this one. You are right, it's obvious why TOR is pimping it...

    Anyway, looking forward to your review.

  2. I'm not sure why this surprised you since the majority of online reviews follow this format. Sorting the wheat from the chaff is a real slog.

  3. What I am suprised with and sad about is that it's exactly these reviews that get attention and the web hits, when others that have way better content are overlooked, criminally at that. It's okay for me that the BSCrew is in it for the money, since anyrhing can be a business, but at least the quality of their content could have been better.

  4. Wait, money? For book reviews? What in tarnation...

    I like what you've done here, Yeti. Your colour coding agenda may yet terrify me into being a better critic; good lessons to be reminded of and there are plenty of bloggers, naming no names, who could do with several highlighters up their asses in that regard.

  5. I'm not sure that I'm with this recent seeming trend of reviewing reviews, but anyway...

    Once upon a time I was a reviewer for BSC (mostly back when it was still FantasyBookSpot), I basically cut my involvment because I didn't like the direction it was going in. Everything was about hits (and the next important thing seemed to be getting media passes to conventions - especially porn conventions).

  6. @Sarah - I have no problem with Tor mentioning it really.

    @everythingisnice - It doesn't surprise me, thats why I'm tired of it and wanted to call attention to it.

    @Harry Markov - I don't fault BSC for monetizing their site, I fault them for calling this a review

    @Niall - You're next, scotty...

    @Neth - I'm not going to make a point of it, I just started reading the review and got 75% of the way through before I saw anything that transcended a third grade book review.

  7. Truth be told, I've done worse when I still wrote for BSC :P

  8. That 'review' would fit right in on SFRevu.

  9. Just saw D. Weber at a signing a couple of nights ago. This is EXACTLY what he did. Spoilers EVERYWHERE. I don't even need to read OOTD now, because he gave away everything at the event. He also told us the plot of several other upcoming books, end spoilers, character twists, who is the good guy/bad guy, and how he's going to correct all the mistakes the Harry Potter series made, by writing a new version.


    Perhaps the reviewer is just taking a cue from Mr. Weber's own style? Whatever it is, I just know that, if I want to keep reading his books, I should NEVER go to another D. Weber signing event again.

  10. Oi Aiden my reviews have been on SFRevu :P

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