Staff Review: A Call to Duty

A Call to Duty [Book One of the Manticore Ascendant series] by David Weber and Timothy Zahn

Weber is a master of military science fiction, and is best known for his Honor Harrington series, which is a science fiction take on such things as the Horatio Hornblower series. Timothy Zahn is well-known for his Star Wars novels. This collaboration worked surprisingly well, as they begin a new series within the established Harrington “universe” for which Weber has written many novels and stories.

This distant prequel to the Honor Harrington stories is an attempt to explain how the Star Kingdom of Manticore became such an odd duck, a small world with a large space navy and a vast trading empire. This requires a few stretches of the imagination, such as the reasons for becoming a kingdom in the first place, but the story itself is interesting.

The first parts of the story set up two of the characters that will be the focal points of this spinoff series, one joining the navy and the other a politician, both growing in skill and level of authority over the course of this first volume. The basic idea of this volume is that the politicians of Manticore want to dismantle much of the little-used space navy in favor of projects on the ground. The idea of choosing between “guns and butter” is a problem both new and old, but in this case Weber and Zahn [and their co-writer, who is not listed on the cover for goofy reasons explained inside] actually present both sides in an interesting fashion. Unfortunately, the “butter” side of the equation is represented mostly by people who are later shown to be either corrupt or nitwits, which weakens the balance of the arguments in a heavy-handed way. Sadly, some pro-military folks are unable to see that some anti-military folks aren’t dishonest or idiots. This is not the only military SF work to get caught in that philosophical trap. But I digress.

Overall, the book is well-written and well-paced, and thanks to the efforts of the phantom co-author, it keeps on track as an error-free prequel, with a number of cute bits for the longtime Honor Harrington fans, but enough of an entry point for readers who wish to begin here.

-Nick S., Central Library