Review of TORCH OF FREEDOM by David Weber and Eric Flint
Baen, November 2009
The planet Torch has overthrown its slave-holders and now the slaves run the planet and are inviting slaves from all over the galaxy to join them. Manpower, the company responsible for genetic slavery is angry but the slaves don't mind that...they seek to destroy Manpower and the horrible institution of slavery itself. Still, their ambitions exceed their military power, even though their teenage queen, Berry, is of the Manticore royal family and super-spy Victor Cachat of Haven intends to do what he can to preserve the young republic.
Although Manpower is a problem, Haven's analysts are beginning to pick up hints of a bigger issue. No company, not even one as big and bureaucratic as Manpower, would make the kind of decisions, the long term investments, that Manpower is making. Ultimately, Cachat and Anton Zilwicki decide they have to go to Mesa, where Manpower is headquartered, and determine who is playing Manpower like a pupet. That, not the company, is the real enemy. 'Everyone' knows that Mesa's military is a joke, that it isn't really a government at all but a coalition of the mega-corporations who own the planet. Of course, what everyone knows just might be what Mesa wants them to believe.
Within the Solarian League, factions battle for power and the Governor of the Maya Sector is developing a secret fleet...supposedly to protect his portion of the frontier against piracy, but actually with larger goals in mind. Another secret fleet, that of the Haven government in exile, is also in training, preparing to serve their Manpower paymasters in exchange for the equipment and supplies they need to take the war back to Haven, to throw out the counter-revolutionaries and set the revolution back on track.
Then there are the cutsy story lines. Queen Berry can't get a date. A group of teens from an orbital amusement park get to play spy. A wormhole probe goes horribly wrong. Treecats save the day. We even have a cameo appearance by Honor Harrington.
There's a lot to like and dislike about this story. Let's start with the likes. First, authors David Weber and Eric Flint do a good job making most of the primary actors sympathetic in the context of their goals and motivation. I thought the sections dealing with the Haven Fleet in Exile were particularly well done. While we know that State Security was a thug organization (consider the initials, after all), Weber/Flint help us understand the survivors, fighting what they know to be a lost cause when they could have chosen simply to slip away. Second, Weber/Flint look at terroristic action as something complex. Yes, the Audubon Ballroom uses terror tactics. Is terror justified in cases where the enemy has vastly more power and is also responsible for billions of humans being born into slavery? It's not a question that Weber/Flint actually answer (perhaps its a question that can't be answered), but it's the kind of question that should be posed in speculative fiction.
On the downside, we have the Weber/Flint style choice of informing the readers of everything through long paragraphs of dialogue. Perhaps in the future, people will talk like this, endlessly lecturing one another. It's not a future I look forward to. Then there are a number of threads that are begun but not really taken up in the context of this six hundred page volume. Was the whole wormhole section simply there to remind us that Mesa has deep plans? Or will it go somewhere in another volume? Did we really need the teens from the orbital amusement park? Will we see them again, or were they thrown in to give young readers someone to identify with? Does Queen Berry have to be so icky-sweet? And can we ever again have space battles that don't read like statistical tables (nine zillion missiles were launched. Two zillion went off target. Interceptors took care of another x zillion. Point defences nearly finished them off, leaving only y zillion to slam into the battle cruiser, blasting it into oblivion.) I'm prepared to believe that future space battles will be statistics exercises. I'd just as soon skip the math and let the gunnery teams handle that, however.
Despite the flaws, I found TORCH OF FREEDOM worth the read. In fact, the anti-slavery side of the Honor Universe is now, from my standpoint, by far the most interesting line out there.
Too generous? Too stingy. Or did I miss the whole point? Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. I'll publish the best letters I get so let me know if I can use your name.
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