Thursday, January 15, 2015

Book Review: Safehold by David Weber

It is truly an astonishing sensation to be delivered into the playground of someone's mind.  To watch as the person takes the dough, shapes a world, creates everything in that world, molds it into existence.  In essence, he is emulating God.  I know I've used that idea many times, and it is no more true than reading David Weber's Safehold Series.  The first book is titled Off Armageddon Reef.  I actually purchased the audiobook a few years ago and just sat it on my shelf, never really getting around to it.  It languished there, moving from shelf to shelf just to get it out of the way of other books I collected and haven't read yet.  And then last year, when I needed something to keep me awake as I drove to Dallas, Texas to an interview, to begin a new chapter in my life, I brought along the 25 CD set and immersed myself in the scenery of the interstate, and the scenery of Safehold.

Briefly, Safehold is the last remaining planet that is home to the Human Race. Destroyed by an alien race called the Gbaba, who could detect any technological power sources coming from any planet mankind should try and hide in, the Terran Federation decided that the only way to survive was to create a world where technology would be non-existent.  In other words, mankind would be put back into medieval times.  In order to keep things this way for the centuries needed to make sure the alien race would leave Terran space, the creators of this world made a religion (with themselves as Gods and Archangels) that specifically forbid innovation.  It is to this world that Merlin Athrawes awakes from a 900 year old hibernation.  He becomes, basically, Martin Luther, and challenges the Church of God Awaiting, albeit more subtly. 

As I said, Safehold is David Weber's playground.  He has written many more novels that take place in other worlds, in other universes, with other authors, but this one he's written alone, and I get the feeling that this world is his to become a Clockmaker God.  In other words, he created Safehold, with the rules and religion and people and circumstances, and then he lets it run.  The action comes as he sees it, as would happen naturally.  The conversations and innovations come slowly, over time, and he's done a magnificent job so far.  There are currently 7 books, with book 8 coming out September 8th, 2015. I can't wait for book 8 to arrive, so I can continue the journey through Safehold.

So now that I've gushed about the series, which is great for Sci-fi, Fantasy, Historical, and Military book lovers alike, here are the problems with the series.  First off, the series is *his* playground, so there's no editing of lengthy and sometimes boring conversations about weapon builds, historical and religious descriptions of the character's ancestors, etc... but while reading the books, you must realize that this is *his* world, and that to change it to suit his readers would go against what I feel is almost a work done as a writing exercise.  I think that Weber creates some of his other books to make money, to exercise his craft, to share his worlds with others, but for Safehold, it is Weber's world to tinker with, and we are simply along for the ride.  The main evidence I see of this is in the book structures.  There are no typical climaxes and then resolutions of each book, simply a continuation of the world from one book to the next, as if you could combine the whole saga into one long tome.   Most authors have these worlds, ones where you can exist inside the world if you want, but it's the author's work, and he or she will do whatever it is they want to do.  For Anne McCaffrey, Pern was that realm, although she had others.  Tolkien always had Middle Earth, and that was his sole realm-creation.  Even for fantasy writers, where they might have more than one series, I think there's always one that they feel most at home.  I know I could easily live inside Pern, or Middle Earth, and now Safehold.

The second major problem is that, having seen the inside of the books, I couldn't read them anyway. I say this because David Weber has a very annoying habit in this book of replacing vowels with "y's". For instance, the antagonist of the book is "Zhaspahr Clyntahn" and his second in command, "Wyllym Rayno." The names, only having looked at them in the book, would kill me.  I can't stand reading Fantasy novels where, by the time I've read the jacket and seen all the weird names, my eyes have glossed over and I can't stand to finish reading even that. Thus is it most fortunate that I have "read" all 7 books as Audio Books.  It is good to consult the maps in the books (they are online as well) from time to time, but I've taken to "reading" them on the way to work, or on long trips, or just sitting in my apartment with no television on.  In fact, I've gotten along quite well without cable TV because of my Audio Books.  I can be entertained without paying $100's to the cable company.  So, if I were to go into detail about the characters, I would write them as I have heard them pronounced. "Jaspar Clyntan" (the problem here is that without the Y, you read Clinton, and think of the past president.) and "William Rano"

One other note, if you decide to "read" the books as Audio, which I wholeheartedly recommend.  The narrators change, which, when book 3 came along and the person was different, I had myself a minor conniption. All of them, save one, does a fair job.  The British narrator for book 5 did a fair job, although he muffed the pronunciations somewhat ("Charis," instead of "Karis," as every other speaker had done).  But I could overlook that.  It's book 6 that drove me nuts.  The narrator did a wonderful job with female roles, and children roles, but when he started yelling "FIRE" during the battle scenes, it was funny.  The guy simply couldn't do battle scenes, and it made a war hilarious.  But if you can overlook that one, the rest are magnificently done, and kept me awake all during my travels.

There comes a time in your life when you need Fantasy worlds.  I don't know where I would be today if it hadn't been for J.R.R. Tolkien.  I have lived hours of my life in Pern, and I could go on living there, if I had to.  I would say the same for Safehold, and the times in my life when I could listen to the conversations between Emperor Caleb, Empress Charlean, and Merlin, plus a whole host of other really "good" good guys, were worth every minute.  I rather much like my fantasy stories where the good guys are good and the bad guys are stupid.  And being a Christian, much of the conversations with Archbishop Michael and the others, are as good sermons as you're ever likely to hear on a planet called Earth.  I guess I shall now be Awaiting book 8, and doing so with baited breath.    

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