liz_marcs (liz_marcs) wrote,

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Whatever happened to Honor Harrington?

What is it about female heroes? Why is it that in some long-running fiction series the things that made those characters special get Mary Sue'd out of existence?

I'm being serious here.

It seems that with alomst every book series I get into, a lot of these wonderfully flawed creations end up serving as stand-ins for the author (even if the author is male) and becoming just a little too godlike in the universes they inhabit.

Why why why why why why?

It's a given that there's a lot of Mary Sue-ing and Marty Stu-ing in fanfic. You all know the definition so I won't rant about it here. To an extent, the reason for that is pretty understandable. You have a very broad cross-section of people--all with variable abilities to write plot, character, dialogue, or just plain know the rules of grammar--taking a show or a book or a movie that was created by someone else and building on that. Plus, generally speaking, people who write fanfic tend to be die-hard fans first. So the urge to polish up what the author feels is an "unappreciated character" or insert a Mary Sue or Marty Stu into the story to interact with said "unappreciated character" can be pretty strong in some quarters. Sometimes it takes a hell of a lot of work for the fanfic author to avoid the trap and I'll be the first to admit that it's an easy trap to fall into.

But somehow I expect authors who publish long-running series and manage to make a living off the book spines of original fiction to be slightly better than that.

Right now, my ire is directed at David Weber because of what he's done with Honor Harrington. A year ago I was annoyed with Laurel K. Hamilton for what she's done with Anita Blake. Before that, I really wanted to strangle Carl Hiaasen because of the Marty Stu he's pulled with Skink (just about all of his novels now have a Skink-like character even if they don't have the name, including his clever young adult book Hoot).

I live in fear of what Jasper Fforde is going to do to Tuesday Next.

I mean, c'mon, I don't think I could handle Tuesday Next becoming the next great professional Mary Sue.

I'm not saying that all authors fall into that trap. Janet Evanovich's Staphanie Plum remains steadfastly screwed up (thank heavens). Terry Pratchett clearly has a love-on for certain characters, but they remain flawed and stubborn and imperfect. JK Rowling Mary Sues and Marty Stus no one, not even Harry.

See, I can understand getting a love-on for a character. I just don't want the author to make them the paragon, or rather whatever passes as the paragon in their universe.

Which brings me to Honor.

Honor, Honor, Honor...what has David done to you? I remember watching Buffy season S7, hugging On Baslisk Station through Field of Dishonor to my chest and weeping.

Joss Whedon, technically speaking, is a better writer. But he manages to reduce Buffy to a cypher and a martinet by the end of S7. She had shown good leadership skills in S3, or rather, she had shown she was learning good leadership skills by the end of that season. S4 we had Buffy learning how to listen to her advisors as they prepared to deal with Adam. Mid-S5, we had Buffy effectively standing up to the Watcher's Council and forcing them to play things her way as she finally showed an understanding of power and the use of power. The rootrot of Buffy starting to loose her ability to lead started near the end of S5. I mean, c'mon threatening to kill your allies if they even consider the logical idea that killing Dawn might be the way to go if you want to stop Glory? Can you think of a slightly better argument before issuing that threat? Okay, fine. She was under a lot of pressure, I can understand that. But that downward spiral continued until the end of S7 with no real progress back to Buffy as good leader being shown.

By the time the end of S7 rolled around, it made you wonder why Buffy was still breathing since she showed not one stitch of the leadership skills that she had when she was 18. Buffy became right by writer's fiat, with not one logical reason being shown why she was right or why she reached the conclusions she did. Plus, Buffy's plan isn't what saved the day. In fact, it made completely no sense. Open the closed Hellmouth? Let all those thousands of trapped Turok-Hans out of their prison? And the line's being held by a handful of Potentials who may become activated Slayers assuming Willow might be able to pull of a spell in mid-battle? A spell that could cause a lot of damage to Willow or make her vulnerable to attack?


And let's not get into the fact that the day was actually saved by Angel, a character from another show on another network, delivering an amulet that came from what could be at best considered a questionable source, and Spike, who wore the damn thing even though no one knew what it actually did.

Hooookay then.

What I got from that is that Buffy's boyfriends saved her bacon before she really screwed the pooch. And all those girls just got whacked with power they didn't ask for or even necessarily want. But that's okay, because Buffy who bitched about it for seven years is right when the Shadow Men were wrong because she is well...Buffy. And if we believe her characterization in the last season of Angel, instead of taking responsibility for activating all those Potentials, she's decided to party it up and leave the clean-up to everyone else.

*bangs head*

Joss seemed to take delight in proving women don't know how to handle real power in the past three years. Quick, name one female character with real power that didn't implode during that time--that's right. Anya and Lilah, and even Anya stumbled. Plus, we all know what happened to them, don't we? Furthermore, ME kept painting them as being wrong. Very obviously, women can't lead for shit either in Joss's world view, let alone deal with conflicting opinions that don't fall precisely in step with the right-thinking.

It's sad that I read the last two seasons of Buffy like that, isn't it? I know the lesson Joss Whedon was trying to put forward. I just think he failed on its face because of the way Buffy was written by ME the last two years of Buffy and the last year of Angel.

But along comes Weber, David-fucking-Weber, who wrote Honor Harrington, the character Buffy should've been. When we first meet her in On Baslisk Station, she's an outsider, she's slightly stronger than the average human because of her childhood on a high gravity planet, she deals uneasily with the military and societal heirarchy, she hates politics, she's captaining her first ship and first command, her troops are surly and aren't sure she's right for the job, the people she's working with are unmotivated at best, her equipment and her ship are just shy of being mothballed, she has almost nothing by way of resources, and she's more often than not at the wrong end of powerplays and personal vendettas.

However, Honor in On Baslisk Station pulls through not by pretending to be uber-special, not by coddling people in positions of power or authority, and not by pulling rank. She wins simply by getting everyone under her command to live up to their potential. She instills discipline, yes, but she doesn't ask them to do more than their duty. She encourages the people she has to deal with on the civilian side of things by simply being open to good suggestions and ideas. She doesn't speechify. She doesn't bully. She doesn't put people under her command down. She doesn't deliver even well-deserved smackdowns of her immediate subordinates in front of the enlisted men and women.

In short, she manages to survive a high pressure situation and avert a sneak attack from Haven simply by keeping her head cool and thinking things through rationally. She trusts her lieutenants (lieutenants she didn't know, incidently) to know their jobs and what to do. She leads by example, not by speechifying.

In my humble opinion, that's real feminism. Weber is, if nothing else, big on getting ahead because people are capable, not because they're born seshul or born men. Being born speshul does give you certain advantages for education and leadership training, as he shows in the personages of Benjamin Mayhew, the Protector of Grayson, and Queen Elizabeth, the head of state for Manticore (imagine this people: Elizbeth is head of a powerful empire and she isn't lilly white).

I loved me Honor. And as I watched the deconstruction of Buffy, without the requisite rescue and rebuilding of the character, all I could think was this: We need Honor Harrington. We need her very, very badly.

God help me: Joss needed more David Weber in him. Weber can be a snob and a reverse snob all rolled into one, he can be an elitist of the highest order, but there's no chance in hell we'd have Buffy pulling the crap she did in S7 on her friends and "inner circle." Then again, if Weber were in charge, Spike would've been dusted early in S5 (Weber seems to have serious issues with men who behave badly, as the character of the now-dead Pavel Young can attest, especially considering the cadet-school incident between Young and Harrington is eeeeeeerily similar to the incident between Spike and Buffy in 'Seeing Red'--a scene in a book that was written looong before 'Seeing Red' was). Not a bad thing for some of us, but definitely a bad thing for other people.

What makes it especially heart-breaking is this very brutal assessment of Weber: technically speaking, he's not the world's greatest writer. I'd even debate whether he's technically a good writer. I give him at best a passable grade. However, as painful as some of the prose is, Weber has put a hella lot of thought into the Honor-verse. There's a lot of attention and detail (I'd even say too much detail spelled out over and over and over and over again) on weaponry, naval manuevers, government systems, the fine art of diplomacy and politics, ect.

The Honor-verse is engrossing because of such great detail. You know exactly where the Manticorans are coming from, the Graysons, the Havenites, and now the Andies. You have a pretty good idea what the Solarian League is and the Silesian Confederacy. There's this great interplay of power, diplomacy, military readiness, politics, everything that would go into running empires of variable sizes, all fighting to become top dog in their corner of the universe.

This is actually great stuff.

But as the Honor Harrington series winds on, the books get longer, the detail level even more minute. Do I really need 10 pages from every single re-occuring character in every single empire spelling out every single thing I've already read since the beginning of the series? Do I really need 10 pages without the single break of a conversation giving me every single detail about the political situation on every single planet within these empires?

No. I really, really don't. And the fact that Weber does this without any respect for narrative flow (such as introducing a flashback without telling you it's a flashback) drives me positively up the wall.

It doesn't help that philosophically speaking I probably occupy a space so far away from David Weber's Reaganite-Hawkish stance that it isn't even funny. However, even if we politically agreed I'd still be screaming at War of Honor that I don't want or need to hear about his philosophies of "good government," philosophies that are distressingly clear because all the "good guys" have the same philosophy and all the "bad guys" are very clearly not just wrong, but personally corrupt.

Right around In Enemy Hands, although the rot started setting in right around Flag in Exile, it occured to me that there were some simple rules in the Honor-verse:

1. Honor is always right

2. People who love Honor are always right

3. All god-fearin', right thinkin' people love Honor

4. Treecats only hook up with the specialist people in the universe

5. The treecats love Honor because she's uber-special

6. The treecats love Honor's family because they're all special and one of her ancestors was the first person to ever be adopted by a treecat

7. The treecats love Honor so much that they even sent a little colony with her from Sphinx to Grayson so they could start "Treecat West" or something

8. In case you missed that Honor was special: she holds royal titles on not just one, but TWO planets, and is an admiral in not just one by TWO navies

9. Honor is the most decorated soldier alive on not just one, but TWO planets

10. Let's not forget, Honor comes from 'umble beginnings gov'nor. So she got her titles, wealth, land, and widespread love because she earned it, not because she was born to it

11. People who don't think Honor is as great as the invention of the wheel are always corrupt and wrong

12. If the author takes a liking to a character who doesn't like Honor, they will very quickly learn to like, maybe even love Honor, even if in previous books they've been shown to have some pretty good reasons for not liking her

I miss the beginning of the series when right-thinking people could believe that Honor was a maniac and a menace. I miss the beginning of the series when right-thinking people had good reason to consider Honor a loose canon.

I miss it when Honor could be flat-out wrong. As it stands with the later books, even when Honor is wrong, it turns out that she is right in her wrongness.

I'm not even a quarter of the way through War of Honor, and I'm beginning to get annoyed with Honor in a big way. I'm pretty sure it's a bad sign that I'm rooting for the Havenites. And I'm pretty sure it's a bad sign that I've latched on to Shannon Foraker, Honor's opposite number on the Haven side, as my favorite character.

This is sad: Honor seems to have stopped being feminist and has become Mary Sue-ish.

Shannon Foraker, excuse me, Admiral Foraker who merely has a commission in one navy and holds no titles, seems to retain that sheen that I once reserved for Honor.

I loves me Shannon Foraker...

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