The Galactic Hegemony has been around a long time, and it likes stability–the kind of stability that member species like the aggressive, carnivorous Shongairi tend to disturb. So when the Hegemony Survey Force encountered a world whose so-called “sentients”—”humans,” they called themselves—were almost as bad as the Shongairi themselves, it seemed reasonable to use the Shongairi to neutralize them before they could become a second threat to galactic peace. And if the Shongairi took a few knocks in the process, all the better.
Now, Earth is conquered. The Shongairi have arrived in force, and humanity’s cities lie in radioactive ruins. In mere minutes, more than half the human race has died.
Master Sergeant Stephen Buchevsky, who thought he was being rotated home from his latest tour in Afghanistan, finds himself instead prowling the back country of the Balkans, dodging alien patrols and trying to organize scattered survivors without getting killed. And in the southeastern US, firearms instructor and former Marine Dave Dvorak finds himself at the center of a growing network of resistance—putting his extended family at lethal risk, but what else can you do?
On the face of it, Buchevsky’s and Dvorak’s chances look bleak, as do prospects for the rest of the surviving human race. But it may well be that Shongairi and the Hegemony alike have underestimated the inhabitants of that strange planet called Earth…
David Weber is a name that I’m sure everyone has heard of, even if you’re like me and haven’t read anything by him before. He’s the author of the Honor Harrington books, an ongoing Military SF series, that are published by Baen as well as the Safehold series published by Tor. I’ve always wanted to read something by him but for many reasons have not yet got around to it. Fortunately that changed with the release of Out of the Dark, a military SF story set in the near future that focuses on an alien invasion of Earth. Oh, and there are vampires in it. Sounds good to me!
Out of the Dark started life as a short story in the Warrioirs anthology and has been expanded to full novel-size length. I think it needed to be a full length novel, the subject matter cries out for a decent sized story and has so much going for it that I wanted more!
So, the story behind Out of the Dark is a fairly straightforward one – alien invasion. The Galactic Hegemony visits Earth 400 years ago and what they discover appals them, the violence they see is simply unknown to them amongst its members. Well, apart from the Shongairi, but they’re carnivores and it’s expected that their nature will lead to violence. But humans are omnivores, and it’s unheard of that a civilisation prospers with the history Earth has. A decision is made to allow the Shongairi to take Earth as its own colony and take the humans as a client (slave) race. But what they haven’t expected is that Earth’s technological progress is much faster than the normal galactic progress and when the Shongairi arrive at Earth expecting no more than a level 5 or 6 civilisation, they have a shock that humans are now at level 2. This provides a problem for them – a level 2 civilisation is protected under Hegenomy rules, but with them being here they decide to go ahead with their invasion anyway, and if they can’t take humans as a client race then they’ll wipe them out completely. But they don’t expect humanity to unite and fight back.
David Weber has managed to combined modern warfare and alien invasion in an exciting manner here, with the story following many routes showing just how formidable a force humans can be with there limited technology compared to the Shongairi. When the first strike takes place and eliminated pretty much every military base on the planet, along with major cities across the globe, the Shongairi believe they’ve won and it’s only a matter of time before humanity surrender. Weber portrays the sheer stubbornness of humans so well, from air strikes against the landing vehicles to military operations against Shongairi ground crew, and also guerrilla warfare from small pockets of resistance – it all reads in a very real way and is completely engrossing. To say that Weber knows his military stuff – from guns to vehicles and tactics – would be a severe undestatement, he’s a master of it and it fits in exceptionally with the story.
There are quite a few characters throughout Out of the Dark, many come and go as Weber shows us incidents between the humans and Shongairi, but there are a few main characters whose plot is followed right from the start. Dave Dvorak is one of these characters who, along with his friends and family, have been converting an old mountain getaway into a terrorist proof safehold in case the worst happens. They end up using it when the Shongairi attack and become a central contact point in their area. Dvorak’s military history and love of guns (he runs a shooting range) pays dividends, and he’s a character that is instantly likable. He’s a family man, but one that won’t idly stand by while the Shongairi destroy the human race. Another is Stephen Buchevsky, on duty in Europe and in flight when the attacks start. He, and the crew he is with, end up stranded in Europe and left to do what they can to survive. It’s nice to see a military man such as Buchevsky in this situation and he deals with it in a confident manner. He ends up teaming with a local group of renegades to protect the people in the region and he has clear leadership qualities throughout.
I mentioned vampires before, but it is unfair to say that they are the main focus – they aren’t, and this aspect only comes into play heavily late in the story. When they first turn up you know what they are, but their true identity isn’t revealed straight away. It’s quite interesting to see Weber bring them into play effectively and without them sounding like the typical movie vampires, they’re different and work all the more because of it. I’ll also say the same about the alien Shongairi – they’re worked into the story so well that this doesn’t feel like an Independence Day impersonator, more like a proper modern day alien invasion rather than the glamorised Hollywood offerings.
While I hugely enjoyed Out of the Dark, I had one issue with it – that of pacing. The first three quarters of the story progresses steadily, building up the tension and invasion to a point where it is starting to really pay off. It’s the last quarter that this pacing seems to go out of the window, the story moves along way too quickly for my liking and could have been so much more with a few more chapters. I won’t spoil the ending, but it takes a step from the believable to verging on the extreme in the way that it all comes to a conclusion. It ends well, but more exploration and description would have elevated that little more.
Bottom line – this is an exceptional Military SF novel and for the most part delivers on everything possible. The couple of issues I had with the latter half of the novel aren’t bad enough to ruin it, and Out of the Dark should be a book on any military SF fan’s to-read list. I’ve read my fair share of books in this genre and nobody does it like David Weber.