A Short Victorious War is the third book in David Weber’s Honor Harrington series published April 1994, by Baen Books. This story kicks off the confrontation eluded to in the first two books between Haven and Manticore. Haven needs a short victorious war to deflect their proles (unemployed masses) from panicking over frozen basic living stipend expenditures. Manticore makes the perfect victim it’s rich and it lies directly in Havens path to the Silesian Confederacy, their obvious next big target. But Manticore has been preparing for this for twenty years, maybe not always willingly or with grace but they have been building up their navy since before their current Queen took the throne. And they aren’t going to just roll over and give up when raiders are at their shores.
The title eludes to a real world historical quote by the Russian Minister of the Interior Vyacheslav von Plehve who is credited with one of the two opening quotes of the book:
“What this country needs is a short, victorious war to stem the tide of revolution.”
He is to have said this on the eve of the Russo-Japanese War which, while relatively short didn’t end up going so well for the Russians and did let the Japanese emerge as a new military power in global politics in the early years of the 20th century.
The other quote makes the somewhat on-the-nose point that thinking a short victorious war is something to wish for as a solution to a country’s internal problems is as wrong as it is foolish:
“The belief in the possibility of a short decisive war appears to be one of the most ancient and dangerous of human illusions.”
Robert Wilson Lynd was an Irish writer and poet and a Sinn Féin activist.
It’s not the only bit of on-the-nose points that Weber makes in this book and I’d like to touch on a few others because they are there for a reason.
The leader of the brewing populist revolution that’s evolving throughout the book is a man named Robert Stanton Pierre, or Rob S. Pierre. In real history, Maximilien Robespierre was best known for his role in the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror where he was named as a member of the powerful Committee of Public Safety. Remember that phrase. You’ll need it later.
Not altogether a bad guy, Robespierre campaigned on behalf of the poor and for universal male suffrage and the abolition of slavery. He earned the nickname of l’Incorruptible in his steadfast advocacy of the goals and beliefs of the left-wing bourgeoisie (middle class). And he was also very much opposed to capital punishment!
…But did play an important role in getting his king beheaded.
Another nod to historical figures lies in the character of Oscar St. Just. Historically Louis Antoine de Saint-Just was a close personal friend of Maximilien Robespierre and also played a pivotal role in having Louis XIV executed. He also helped draft the French Constitution of 1793. There are a lot of commonalities and he’s well worth reading up on. The third most prominent Jacobin member after Robespierre and St. Just would be Georges Danton. Although I’d argue that Cordelia Ransom is the bridging character between Haven’s brief French Revolution period and what comes after. I don’t want to spoil that for you so I’ll let that lie for now.
On the one hand, it can seem a bit cheap that Weber so blatantly uses historical people and happenings to mold his future-set plot around. And while I agree it could be less obvious I do like the point he makes about humanity. We do tend to repeat our mistakes. In fact, the whole notion of us learning from history is pretty much bushwah. If we’re looking at overall themes for this series that feels like an important one to mention.
A few weeks ago I gushed about On Basilisk Station not having a romance plot and I reiterated that point last week in The Honor Of The Queen. We’re in book three now and Honor is finally getting some space sugar. And it’s sweet, almost sad and about as sweaty as a damp handshake. Well, this story isn’t about Captain Kirk and his amorous adventures in space so don’t expect steamy sex scenes. It’s about a naval officer, a war and which human values are worth fighting for and will always be worth fighting for.
That’s not to say I am opposed to sex in books or movies. I’m not. Love the stuff! So long as it’s in the story for a reason and not just thrown in because sweaty time attracts readers or viewers. That’s one thing you can’t accuse Weber of.
The rapist, the coward, the douche-canoe.
We get to learn more about Pavel Young and his history with Honor. He really is the epitome of a douche-canoe. Cowardly, envious, wanton, salacious, and self-entitled Pavel Young enjoys the dubitable honor of being a poster boy for sins. Oh and spoiler alert: His rich dad is a prominent member of the Conservative party, big surprise there. The Youngs couldn’t be more cookie-cutter as your typical capitalist fat cats who are convinced they can get away with murder if they just grease the right palms and damn near always do too. So it’s interesting to have someone like that on the side of the “angels” while the Havenites are about to find out what too much of that very sort of people in charge inevitably leads to.
A good story must have you recognize that there is no such thing as “The Good Guys” or their bad counterparts. It’s just people. They may trend toward differing politics or beliefs but you can always find scumbags in even the outwardly most humane groups and the opposite will also hold true. And that’s something else that Weber revisits often to remind us. Generalizations will lead you astray.
Honor Does Not Save The World Alone
We’ve met a few of the people in charge of the Manticoran navy before but we get a much deeper look into the workings of the admiralty in A Short Victorious War and it is clear that this isn’t, cannot be a story about a lone commander upon whose slender shoulders rests the fate of the galaxy. Please read that last part in your mind in the voice of Epic Voice Guy.
White Haven, Mark Sarnov, Thomas Caparelli, Patricia Givens and yes even Admiral Parks are all important cast members that will reappear throughout the series, some more than others all of which are shaping the Manticoran response to Havenite aggression. It makes for a much fuller, much more realistic story than the lone hero thing we’ve been fed a lot of in entertainment in the past decade or two.
The pay-off of any Honor book comes in the form of the final showdown. In this case, the battles and particularly the final one is edge-of-your-seat hair-raising action as the combatant’s batter at each other like feral dogs. Mistakes are made and risks are taken and being able to peek onto the bridge of ships on both sides only adds to the crescendo of the action.
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