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Hell's Gate Library Binding – November 11, 2008
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|Library Binding, November 11, 2008||
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From Publishers Weekly
Magic and high tech collide in this exciting military SF novel from bestseller Weber (War of Honor) and Evans (Far Edge of Darkness), the first of a new series. Two human societies, the Sharona and the Union of Arcana, have evolved in parallel universes without encountering another civilization, human or otherwise. The Sharona exhibit a level of technology roughly analogous to the late 19th century, with psionic abilities thrown in for seasoning, but the Arcana have harnessed magical energies down to the consumer level. Astonishingly, it's the magical society that suffers the greater shock when one of their companies encounters a small Sharona civilian survey team and is almost annihilated by the enemy's repeating firearms. The authors treat both societies sympathetically and realistically, with human vices and virtues evenly distributed. The narrative bogs down slightly under the weight of the world building necessary for later installments, but is uncompromising in sacrificing even strong, sympathetic characters to the demands of the plot. (Nov.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Mass Market Paperback edition.
About the Author
David Weber is author of the New York Times best-selling Honor Harrington series as well as Path of the Fury, Mutineers’ Moon and The Armageddon Inheritance and other popular novels. With Steve White, he is the author of Insurrection, Crusade, In Death Ground, and the New York Times best seller The Shiva Option, all novels based on his Starfire SF strategy game. His latest New YorkTimes best seller is 1634: The Baltic War, a collaboration with Eric Flint (Baen).
Linda Evans is coauthor with John Ringo of The Road to Damascus and with Robert Asprin of four novels in the Time Scout series for Baen, and has also collaborated with Asprin on the recent For King & Country. An expert on weapons both modern and ancient, she puts her expertise to good use in her science fiction. She has also written the novel Far Edge of Darkness (Baen), and several short novels for volumes in Baen’s popular Bolo series. She lives in Archer, FL. --This text refers to the Mass Market Paperback edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
So who knows if the book was great or not? I've read the Honor Harrington and Safehold series by Mr. Weber and enjoyed them immensely. But the fact that neither Amazon nor the publisher have adequate quality control in place to ensure the product is usable.is quite disappointing. I expect better quality from Amazon. If I were Mr. Weber I would be annoyed that neither can deliver his product with a reliable result.
That's a lot of "ifs," and the authors take an uncomfortably long time setting the scene. It doesn't help that neither human civilization uses names, military ranks, gods, or countries anything like our own common usage.
The reader is left to wallow in that welter of the unfamiliar, trying to set two different imaginary worlds into place mentally, before the story can truly commence. The only help is that one group of humans use "Talents" (ESP-like magical gifts), and supplement them with mechanisms like trains, artillery pieces, and dynamite. The other group uses "Gifts" (spell-magic talents they can use themselves, or code into personal crystals—"PCs"—for use by the non-Gifted), as well as modified organisms like dragons.
Oh, yes, and there are sentient apes and cetaceans in one of the multiverses. Sigh.
Previous writers who took on the multiverse concept left one side to the familiar. Think of H. Beam Piper with "Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen" (Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen (Kalvan series)), or Wen Spencer's "Tinker" (Tinker (Elfhome Book 1)) in the Elfhome novels. Eric Flint's Ring of Fire novels started with a single town swapped into an unfamiliar alternate time and place in "1632" (1632 (Ring of Fire Series)).
In the Weber/Evans "Hell's Gate" series, we have to stretch to encompass good and bad guys for both sides of the conflict in a totally alien battlefield. Furthermore, the geography of each multiverse is the same as our own mundane Earth. It makes the battleground and home worlds in which these two cultures contend eerily familiar, but just different enough to delay and defeat the reader's attempt to assign places to a familiar globe.
If the novel shares a common failing with other Weber tales, it is the black-and white nature of the various opponents: good guys are not only good, but stellar (even holy!); bad guys are not simply mistaken, but married to evil. Yet as with the "Honor Harrington" and "Safehold" oeuvres, there are enough of each on both sides of the conflict to keep it real.
More real than this is the "fog of war" that develops when these two civilizations meet. Although each had the firm intention to keep any eventual encounter peaceful, that intent does not survive the actual contact. "Guns" begin to blaze, people die on both sides, and it doesn't even need conspiracies of disinformation and propaganda from both civilizations to spin the conflict out of control: "Once hostility begins to grow, simple clarity of communication isn't enough to make it magically disappear. If two nations have a tradition of dislike, if they treat one another to public displays of discourtesy or petulance, if they get into the habit of denigrating one another in efforts to sway international diplomatic opinion to favor their side in some dispute, misunderstandings and flares of temper can occur quickly, particularly during times of increased stress."
This is the opening of a new series, so we should not expect the good guys to tidily win before the end. Even so, there is an appalling number of characters in whom we have invested interest who die in horrific ways—some of them before the tale is really underway.
Yet despite its complexities, clumsy phrasing, and slight stereotyping, despite all the discomforts and delays, the story itself is compelling. We see how the misunderstandings contribute to disaster. We want the Prince to defeat the plans of his evil father-in-law, we want the Talented couple to survive as POWs, we really want the evil general and his sadistic minions to pay for their crimes.
And we're dying to know what the whales plan to do!
I found several things helpful in keeping the two civilizations straight in my mind:
*The group with ESP Talents (the "mechanicals" as I call them) give their veterans the right to use the honorific "chan" in their names. The other civilization (or "magics") has a cultural group that includes the honorific "vos" in their surnames, but it isn't a reliable way to spot them in the narrative, especially since these folks may be hiding their Gifts.
*"Dragoons" belong to the mechanicals, "Dragons" to the magics.
*A couple of blank projection-maps helped me keep the geography of the two groups straight. Since the mineral wealth is common from one universe to another, silver and gold lodes and oilfields help site the places discussed. Obvious geographic landmarks like Gibraltar, the Mediterranean and Black Seas, Niagara Falls, gulfs and straits and island continents, all help to position the alien location-names on an understandable map.
Frankly the book was tedious to read and I flipped through many many pages. At the end I was left with a cliff-hanger, which to me is a book version of "bait and switch": you have to buy the next volume to see what happens.
Just to put this into context, of the hundreds of books that I have bought from Amazon, this is the first that I felt so strongly about to actually write a review.
Great political intrigue. Good guys trying to do the right thing under increasingly difficult circumstances. Gravy sucking pigs that you desperately wish become dragon food someday. Yes, they have dragons. Culture clash between vastly divergent, believable, human societies. A very fun read!