Worlds of Weber: Ms. Midshipwoman Harrington and Other Stories, by David Weber

Ellen Klages wrote a short story called “In the House of Seven Librarians” in the Firebirds Rising anthology, obesity edited by Sharyn November. I very much enjoyed this story, sanitary but I’m pretty bad at remembering to follow up by looking for books by authors I like in anthologies. However, illness the clearance rack in used bookstores is my friend. I paid fifty cents for this one, but I might even pay full price for the sequel. Anyway, Ms. Klages was born in Ohio (my turf!) but currently lives in San Francisco. She collects old toys and writes short stories; she’s also still working on the sequel, which might come out this year.

Dewey (I won’t even tell you what it’s short for) Kerrigan’s grandmother has just been put into a nursing home; her mother left a long time ago, so she is to go live with her father. She travels quite a distance on train to go live with him; he lives and works in Los Alamos, a town that doesn’t exist. It’s 1943, and Dewey’s father (along with a lot of other people) is working on the atomic bomb, although the kids don’t know that. She doesn’t make friends with the girls very quickly; they’re awfully catty, especially since Dewey has one leg that’s shorter than the other, and is interested in mechanical engineering and math. There’s another girl who’s sort of a misfit as well — Suze. When Dewey’s father has to leave for a couple weeks to go to Washington, D.C., Dewey stays with Suze’s family. Suze doesn’t like her, because she’s weird, but will they eventually get along? And, uh, what’s the ‘gadget’ they’re working on?

Dewey’s ten when the book starts; however, when she relocates to Los Alamos, they put her in algebra with the eighth-graders. This, of course, doesn’t help her social integration much. Although it bothers her a little, though, she has such a rich life outside of school and enjoys being at Los Alamos so much that it seems a small price to pay. Finally, she has many smart people around her and she can ask them questions. Finally, she meets female scientists, and isn’t (at least by the adults) ostracized or patronized for being interested in the sciences. She invents several different devices over the course of the book, including a radio-alarm clock and a couple of little robot-things. In many ways, she’s happier living in the strange, isolated world of Los Alamos than she ever was before.

As much as I loved Dewey as a character (and I found her delightfully nerdy), there were other characters I enjoyed as well. Suze’s mother, Mrs. (Terry) Gordon, is a scientist (a chemist) there, and I love that the main adult female that we see is one who is a full partner in the world of Los Alamos. She’s not support staff (although I will never, ever make fun of support staff, since they do all the work) and she’s an excellent mentor/role model for Dewey, as well as a great mother for Suze. Dewey’s father is a bright point of brilliance, as well; he does everything he can to encourage her. And honestly, how can one possibly hate a children’s book with Richard Feynman as a character?

Readers will most likely already know that the adults in the book are working on the Manhattan Project. Well, I say that mostly because it mentions “Manhattan Project” in the front-jacket matter; I have no real idea what ten-year-olds know about atomic bombs. Due to the fact that I did know that Feynman and Oppenheimer worked on the atomic bomb, as well as knowing that Los Alamos was where they did it, and various other clues, a good deal of the suspense of the book was elided. I didn’t think it ruined the book at all; I think it would be awfully frustrating to read it without knowing about the end of World War II. In any case, younger readers might have a good deal to research and to discuss with others. 5/5 stars.
Review by <a href=”http://www.livejournal.com/users/dragonpaws”>DP</a>

Probably best-known for his hard-scifi series starring Honor Harrington, visit this
David Weber is a classic science fiction writer of the old school. His stories investigate the ways in which humans are changed by the technology they invent and the new experiences, medicine
decisions and possibilities opened to them by the discovery of interstellar travel, artificial intelligence, time travel or non-human forms of life. <em>Worlds of Weber</em> is a new Subterranean Press collection of 9 previously-published short stories and novellas. The collection is a kind of appetizer sampler, representing not a particular culinary idea but the style of an entire restaurant. Weber fans may find this collection an ideal gateway drug for creating new fans, as almost every story included is only the first of a series or the germinating seed for a larger novel. It will be released in October of this year. <!–more–>

A triumvirate of stories (“A Beautiful Friendship,” “Miles to Go,” and “The Traitor”) focus on the partnership of man and the other, a partnership made possible by the forces of technology. In “Miles to Go” and “The Traitor,” Weber focuses on artificially intelligent, sentient war machines, built to protect planets and fight battles at speeds the human brain could not fathom. But with sentience comes emotions; as the machines bond with their human allies, they become capable of greater courage, and greater sacrifice, than either machine or creator had imagined. “A Beautiful Friendship” also explores the ability of emotion to inspire a bond as it tells the story of first contact between humans and treecats, a sentient, tree-dwelling alien species discovered in the Harrington universe.

“In the Navy,” “Sir George and the Dragon,” and “Sword Brother” exemplify Weber’s belief in the resourcefulness of human beings and the goodness of human culture, particularly male human beings and Western culture. “In the Navy” sees a small American town transported in time and place to Medieval Germany, while “Sir George and the Dragon,” an offshoot of David Drake’s universe in “Ranks of Bronze” and “Foreign Legions,” shows us the life of a group of medieval English soldiers captured by aliens on their way to France. In “Sword Brother,” Weber goes topical, as magic summons a burned-out military man (and his LAV-25) from Iraq to fight in a magical battle between Good and Evil. In all of these situations, the transported people eventually triumph through their adaptability, reinforcing or rediscovering their strongly-held values. “In the Navy” is a traditional paean to men who are too tough, too hard, too driven to fit in well in modern society; in the harshness of Weber’s medieval setting, these “manly” men flourish while others founder. “Sir George and the Dragon” is a story any good Anglophile will enjoy, as the stout English bowmen outsmart their morally crude, though technologically advanced, alien captor. And in “Sword Brother,” our hero joins with the forces of good, fights evil (in the form of icky bug-like creatures, deadly-but-hot women, and slimy-looking men) and comes to a realization about his moral purpose in Iraq.

“The Captain from Kirkbean” may be the most interesting story in the mix, because it is the least sfnal. The story includes both of Weber’s main themes: the resourcefulness of man’s spirit and the role of technology in shaping human experience, but it plays out these themes in a straight-up, O’Brien-esque Napoleonic sea-battle. There is science (since the story takes place entirely on a warship and the action hinges partially on the capabilities of the English and French ships), and it is certainly fiction, but in this case the unknown that is discovered is the unknown of the sea and the people who fight on her. The story and treatment are familiar, but placing the tale in an otherwise clearly sfnal anthology raises the question of what, exactly, we mean when we say “science fiction.”

Of the other stories, there is less to say. “Ms. Midshipwoman Harrington” introduces us to Honor Harrington at the beginning of her service and in all her glory; it’s a typical coming-of-age story as the plucky Harrington triumphs over harassment, discrimination, prejudice, and space-borne attackers on her first military cruise. “A Certain Talent” is a rogue’s tale and the tale of a rogue; one gets the feeling it was included in this anthology simply because it had no better fit anywhere else. Overall, the stories in this anthology are like the science-fiction equivalent of comfort food; familiar and safe, with no sharp corners or surprising tastes to cause discomfort or inspire questioning. In the <em>Worlds of Weber</em>, humanity has been good and will continue to be good, as long as men are brave and the bad guys are obvious.
Review by DP

Probably best-known for his hard-scifi series starring Honor Harrington, treatment
David Weber is a classic science fiction writer of the old school. His stories investigate the ways in which humans are changed by the technology they invent and the new experiences, thumb
decisions and possibilities opened to them by the discovery of interstellar travel, artificial intelligence, time travel or non-human forms of life. Worlds of Weber is a new Subterranean Press collection of 9 previously-published short stories and novellas. The collection is a kind of appetizer sampler, representing not a particular culinary idea but the style of an entire restaurant. Weber fans may find this collection an ideal gateway drug for creating new fans, as almost every story included is only the first of a series or the germinating seed for a larger novel. It will be released in October of this year. Continue reading Worlds of Weber: Ms. Midshipwoman Harrington and Other Stories, by David Weber