Out of the Dark
Out of the Dark is a novel that is far too straightforward to be entirely successful. For those that don’t know Out of the Dark is an intelligently written alien invasion penned by military-sf master David Weber. The Hegemony, a council of alien races capable of interstellar travel, are horrified by the brutality and violence of the recently discovered human race have. In response they have allowed the Shongari, one of the most war-like and less-respected members of the Hegemony, to send a fleet to Earth for “colonization.” What ensues is a very straightforward invasion story that touches upon the classic themes that subgenre has come to be known for: underground resistances, underestimation of human capabilities by a more “advanced” species, and the unification of different people and groups in light of a common threat are just some of the familiar elements Weber employs in the majority of Out of the Dark.
Where Out of the Dark stands, particularly in its advertising, is the inclusion of vampires. Yes, you read that right. When humanity’s back is to the wall it is the vampires that rise up to aid in humanity’s defense. Which is, to put it mildly, ridiculous. I don’t mean that in a bad way. I’m totally willing to embrace the ridiculous in the name of awesome. The problem seems to be that I’m not sure Weber is similarly willing. While Out of the Dark is certainly a competent alien invasion/resistance novel for the first three-quarters of the text; it takes a sharp turn towards B-movie-ville in the final quarter. Now, that b-movie vibe is pretty fantastic but considerably less so given the dire tone and straight-faced storytelling of the majority of the novel.
I’m heading into spoiler territory, it’s hard to discuss the vampire-laden section of the novel without it, so bear with me here. Those I haven’t scared away from the novel by the above comments would still due well to check it out for themselves. This is still a classic Weber sci-fi novel to start and if the addition of craziness to that model tickles your fancy I think you’ll have a good time with Out of the Dark. Now, for everyone else, hit the jump for some more spoiler laden discussion.
OK. So vampires. Not just any vampires. The big man himself is their leader. Yup, Vlad himself takes up the charge to fight back the Shongari. And these vampires don’t seem to be the vampirism is a disease type either. They have just about all the earmarks of over-the-top supernatural style vampires. Yet, at the same time, many of the conventional aspects of vampire myth don’t hold true. Weber makes Vlad into an interesting characters despite the relatively short screen time. He casts him as man who was a monster long before he entered the ranks of the undead and one whose long centuries have seen him come to regret his past indelicacies. I like that characterization; the idea of Vlad as a monster learning, with a real drive I might add, to be human makes for some interesting reading. Unfortunately, it doesn’t make for much interesting reading since that concept is only introduced somewhere in the last thirty pages or so.
The decision to introduce vampires so late in the novel after some solid groundwork in creating a believable science fictional universe seems intended to increase the shock value of their sudden appearance. While that shock certainly holds true for the aliens who suddenly find themselves on the defensive it is less true for the reader; particularly one like myself who picked up the novel on the promise of vampires. Once the vampires are introduced into the mix the novel moves rapidly towards a conclusion; adopting a frenetic pace that lends the proceedings an air of vitality that the earlier sections of the novel (barring the battle scenes) lacked. The desperate Shongari command trying to figure out who or what has been destroying their bases is a particularly nice touch; illuminating who outside their frame of reference the potentially supernatural vampire threat truly is.
What Out of the Dark has is two fairly well executed narratives. The tried and true tale of humanity struggling against an alien invasion and completely out of left field: badass vampires saving humanity from an alien invasion. But those two narratives are far too separate to be entirely successful as a whole. Weber spends too much time with the first part and too long with characters who seem to have little to do with the humans and vampires versus aliens part of the story that each of those narratives short changes the other. What results isn’t a mess but it certainly something of a let down.
All that being said I still find myself hoping the Weber continues the story. Now that the cat is out of the bag, so to speak, I’m curious to see how things change for both humanity and the Hegemony. While a part of me hopes, as I hoped for Out of the Dark, for some crazy over-the-top no-holds-barred B-movie type action I would do well, as would other readers, to remember that thrill-a-minute action has never been something I’ve seen Weber pull off. The man can write the hell out of grandiose action scenes, no argument there, but his tendency for pacing is towards the deliberate and would behoove readers to remember that going into Out of the Dark and, one hopes, beyond.