On The Bookshelf: Out of the Dark by David Weber (Spoilers!)
by David Weber
Much like one of David Weber’s previous novels, The Excalibur Alternative, humanity is discovered by a galactic civilization and treated very, very badly. In that novel a small force of English longbowmen and men-at-arms on their way to fight in France during the Hundred Years War are abducted by highly advanced aliens and used as slave soldiers on planets where it isn’t legal for them to employ high-tech weaponry.
Out of the Dark also starts at the battle of Agincourt as seen from the perspective of a survey mission from a technologically advanced galactic civilization, the Galactic Hegemony. The members of the survey crew, a race evolved from herd animal herbivores, are horrified by the ferocity and brutality of the “humans” that inhabit planet KU-197-20. The next aliens to visit Earth are the Shongairi.
The Shongairi are not herbivores. The are, in fact, the only race of carnivores in the Galactic Hegemony. They are pack hunters and see themselves as true predators. Frankly, the Shongairi frighten the other members of the Hegemony. They are expansionist and militant. To appease them, the Hegemony allows the Shongairi to conquer and occupy planets with primitive inhabitants. Apparently the Shongairi have done this many times before and they have gotten very good at it. Soon the Shongairi arrive at Earth with a colonization fleet. What they were expecting were humans at approximately an early 1600’s level of technology, but what they find is 21st century Earth. Apparently, our level of technological advancement is off the chart compared to anything else the Hegemony has experienced. Technically, by Hegemony standards, Earth has reached a high enough level of technology where it should be protected until it discovers hyperspace capability and is offered membership in the Hegemony. The Shongairi decide to ignore that and invade anyway as they had hoped to use humans as a client race, turning our ferocity toward their own ends as cannon fodder, now they see as even more valuable our innovative ability and hope to harness that as well. They have never invaded a planet with our level of technology before, but seeing as we are still primitives compared to them (and that they have the forces necessary to conquer two more planets after ours on hand) they decide to go ahead and attack.
I won’t go into the details of the invasion except to say that hubris is the word of the day for the invaders. The Shongairi are able to, in most ways, completely destroy any form of organized resistance. Yes, the Shongairi lose an entire army’s worth of soldiers and equipment when a quartet of F-22s get the drop on a huge formation of massive, unarmed alien landing craft. Yes, a battalion of U.S. armor and mechanized infantry savages an entire brigade of Shongairi ground forces. Yes, guerilla fighters are able to inflict horribly costly ambushes time and again. However, the Shongairi still hold the orbitals and continuously drop Kinetic Energy Weapons (KEWs, essentially rocks) on any population center near these points of resistance. The Shongairi, for the most part aren’t winning, but in spite of the pain inflicted by casualties and destroyed equipment, they also aren’t really losing.
On the ground, humans are tactically much more proficient than the Shongairi. Our technology doesn’t match theirs, but there is a huge asymmetry between our man-portable systems, and the sort of bows-and-arrows-type resistance the existing Shongairi equipment is designed to deal with. One of the characters even makes the remark that at some point humans are going to be too much trouble and expense to deal with and the Shongairi will just get rid of the lot of us and keep the planet.
Then the inevitable plot-twist (biggest spoilers are after this point).
One of the viewpoint characters is a Marine NCO who was on a military flight into Italy before the initial Shongairi bombardment that destroyed most military bases and major population centers around the world. They fly north to get out of danger and eventually crash-land in Serbia and make their way into Romania where they meet another group of fighters protecting some isolated villages. The leader of this group turns out to be a bit more than he seems. In fact, after the Shongairi eventually invade and destroy those villages he goes a little nuts, you see, he spent a very, very, long time trying to forget the blood lust that made him famous. Oh yes, his real name is Vlad Dracul and he is a vampire, and the Shongairi have really, really pissed him off.
In this way, the name Out of the Dark has a double meaning. First, the alien invasion from the darkness of deep space, but also the counter-strike from the darkness of human myth and legend. Dracula, using his supernatural abilities and recruiting others to form a small army of vampires, begin to destroy Shongairi bases one after another. They even ride shuttles up to the orbiting Shongairi ships and take them over. In the end, humanity is left with Shongairi orbital factories capable of producing a Hegemony level industrial base, Dreadnought class starships capable of turning a planet to rubble, neural-education devices containing all existing Hegemony science and technology information, and a really bad attitude toward the galactic civilization that hung a big target on their home planet.
I expect, like The Excalibur Alternative, Out of the Dark will be a one book stand-alone, but I kind of wish it wasn’t. Aliens and spaceships and vampires, oh my!