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Book Review: Out of the Dark by David Weber

Genre: Apocalyptic Fiction, Alien Invasion, Vampires, Military SF
Hardcover: 384 pages
Publisher: Tor Books
Publication Date: September 28, 2010
ISBN-10: 0765324121
ISBN-13: 978-0765324122
Author Website: David Weber

The beginning of a new military SF series, Out of the Dark by David Weber combines vampires, military thrillers, and alien invasions for a powerful exploration of human nature and action-packed adventure.

The story begins with a survey expedition from a galactic empire known as the Hegemony. As they watch, the great Battle of Agincourt unfolds before their eyes. But to these herbivorous surveyors, it is incomprehensible that Henry the V would continue to battle against such impossible odds. With this incredulity, Weber sets the entire tone of the novel, which is built around the notion that the omnivorous sentient species known as “humans” is incomprehensible to the largely herbivorous member states of the Hegemony. But there is one exception. The carnivorous Shongarii see an opportunity for expansion and a warrior-slave race in the humans, and they arrive with the intent to conquer the whole of humanity. However, our rapid technological progress in the 1500 years from the time of survey to their arrival takes them by surprise. Where the alien invaders expect a technological society of black powder and steam using industrialism, they find instead our twenty-first century weaponry, similar to and in some cases superior to their own. Earth wide guerilla warfare breaks out when our greatest cities and half of Earth’s population is destroyed in one great barrage of kinetic energy by the invading Shongarii.

The tale follows many different perspectives, including those of the alien commander, some of his subordinates, an extended family of South Carolina survivalists, an American soldier on his way home from Afghanistan who is stranded in Romania, a battalion of U.S. soldiers stuck in Afghanistan, a Russian soldier-engineer, and an F-22 fighter pilot. Each of these perspectives weaves in and out of each other throughout the novel, giving the reader multiple perspectives of the Northern Hemisphere guerilla warfare the humans enact against the dog-like Shongarii.

The story is laced with acronyms for weapons, organizations, and vehicles of the military structure of American and Russian forces. Military enthusiasts and gun lovers will likely eat up the lovingly written descriptions written by Weber of the powerful arsenal of the most industrialized nations of the world. Though at times the acronym dropping and my own lack of gun knowledge led to some of these digressions being distracting, the end effect on even this pacifistic reviewer was to heighten the tension. Would humanity’s guns be enough? How does a human tank stand up against its comparable Shongarii vehicle? Reading Out of the Dark has taught me more about guns, and modern warfare then I ever thought I would know, and I marvel at humanity’s ingenuity and technological prowess (as well as our ability to be the creators of our own destruction).

But the story is not just about the guns. It is also an exploration of the psychology of warfare. One of the primary reasons that humanity is even able to fight back against the pack mentality of the Shongarii is the inability of the Shongarii leadership to understand what drives and motivates us. Weber also looks at the mindset and tactical structures of guerilla warfare, presenting multiple situations in which the humans and Shongarii are pitted against one another in battle. It is this dichotomy of psychology that drives many of the events of the story as the pack mentality comes against the individualism of the human brain. The Shongarii are left in scramble mode as they attempt to subdue a planet of beings unlike any they have ever encountered before.

Most of Out of the Dark is a description of a series of battles, usually from both the perspective of the humans and the Shongarii commanders. Readers may find that the tale is only a series of through descriptions of warfare technology coupled with descriptions of its use in battle. If battle scenes and modern warfare and are not of interest to you, you may find that the majority of this novel is not to your liking.

For those wondering about the vampires, let me just say that though they are an integral (almost deus ex machina) part of the novel, they do not really appear until the story is almost at its end. Fans of vampire stories are not going to find the vampires worked throughout the tale, but rather only find that the second race of sentient beings on Earth comes to the fore only very late in the novel. Weber focuses most of the novel’s energy on the human fight against the Shongarii, on showcasing the indomitable human spirit. And for good reason, as it is this and the vampires combined which give humanity hope that it may be able to win out against the invaders.

Out of the Dark is the tale humanity fighting back with modern weaponry and unique psychology against more a more powerful space-faring race of carnivorous aliens. But even the hunter can become the hunted. It is a spectacular tale, wonderfully complex in the telling, full of all the details that make military thrillers so entertaining with a mix of fantasy (vampires) and science fiction (aliens) that make it unique in content. I for one am highly anticipating a sequel, hopefully with an origin story of the vampire race included, along with a description perhaps of what happened in the Southern Hemisphere of the Earth during the alien attack. Highly, highly recommended fiction for everyone.