Baen, Weber, and Fire Season

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David Weber is the poster boy of the dreaded “Baen taint”.  For those outside the publishing and writing worlds, Baen books dares to publish science fiction and fantasy authors who are struggling with the social stigma of libertarian or conservative ideas.  Christians are, shockingly, also allowed to take themselves seriously if they have something to say.  The taint, then is the fact that once published by Baen it is almost impossible for such an author to get a contract with any of the other normal publishing houses where rational (atheist, leftist, progressive) authors work.

Weber’s writing is hit-and-miss.  His characters are bold and dynamic.  His world-building is excellent and woven with elements from American and European history.

One of David Weber’s better productions in recent years is a young adult series set in the universe of his Honor Harrington noveles.  During the early years of the planet Stephanie Harrington is the first human ever adopted by a treecat.  It combines the expansive wonder of the Honorverse with an aware development and life with nature that matches Jim Kjelgaard’s Big Red and subsequent books, which were a childhood delight of mine growing up near farmlands and forests in Ohio.

Fire Season, the second book in Weber’s Star Kingdom series, deals with Stephanie’s first years in the planet’s Ranger service.  Weber is a fine author on his own but he does better in collaboration.  Fire Season is the first book in the Star Kingdom series written as a collaboration.  Jane Lindskold, author of the Wolf and the Firekeeper series tempers Weber’s historical and military strengths with some feminine awareness and a return to some of the relational sensitivity that Weber provided in the first few Honor Harrington books but faded into the background of his broader opera.

This is a young adult book about a girl about to turn fifteen, so some of the conflicts here are predictable.  Stephanie struggles to fit in, to socialize, and is surprised by her first real romantic interest.  The struggles to understand divergent cultures with the treecats and off-world scientists as well as her fellow colonists in the melting pot of a new world are standard fare but done well enough to be interesting rather than tedious.

Academic dishonesty and ambition are frequent themes of Weber’s work, which is not so much anti-authoritarian as it is willing to portray both traditional conservative and liberal bastions of power as equally capable of wrongdoing or failure.

Fire Season is a man-versus-nature story where the heavily forested planet of Sphinx.  Fire season has come and on a world where everyone lives in or near trees, both humans and treecats are going to learn more about one another in their quest to survive, while a team of off-world scientists show up, searching for the treecats’ secrets and not afraid to break a few rules to find them.

Fire Season is a solid, well-paced story that gives a human touch to a vibrant sci-fi world.  Weber’s collaborative works (with the horrific exception of the Multiverse War series with Linda Evans) avoid Weber’s long-winded quagmires and bring out the richness of his story.  Fire Season is a solid, entertaining young adult book worth anyone’s time.

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