Review: Treecat Wars by David Weber and Jane Lindskold

Treecat Wars by David Weber and Jane LindskoldFormat read: ebook provided by NetGalley
Formats available: ebook, hardcover
Genre: YA science fiction
Series: Honorverse: Stephanie Harrington, #3
Length: 288 pages
Publisher: Baen
Date Released: October 1, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository

The fires are out, but the trouble’s just beginning for the treecats

On pioneer planet Sphinx, ruined lands and the approach of winter force the now Landless Clan to seek new territory. They have one big problem—there’s nowhere to go. Worse, their efforts to find a new home awaken the enmity of the closest treecat clan—a stronger group who’s not giving up a single branch without a fight

Stephanie Harrington, the treecats’ greatest advocate, is off to Manticore for extensive training—and up to her ears in challenges there. That leaves only Stephanie’s best friends, Jessica and Anders, to save the treecats from themselves. And now a group of xenoanthropologists is once again after the great secret of the treecats—that they are intelligent, empathic telepaths—and their agenda will lead to nothing less that treecat exploitation.

Finally, Jessica and Anders face problems of their own, including their growing attraction to one another. It is an attraction that seems a betrayal of Stephanie Harrington, the best friend either of them have ever had.

My Review:

Stephanie Harrington may be a bit too close to perfect, but the treecats finally reveal themselves as being all too human in this third book of the YA spinoff of David Weber’s Honor Harrington series.

Beautiful Friendship by David WeberIn A Beautiful Friendship, the first book in the series, Stephanie Harrington is the 11-year-old who not only outsmarts her parents and all the other adults on Sphinx, but also manages to out-clever the fully sentient native treecat species that has successfully evaded humans for a couple of centuries by the time that Stephanie comes along.

Fire Season continues the theme of the treecats and the teenagers both being a bit too good to be true, and anyone who underestimates one or the other getting their comeuppance by way of a planet that is still way more frontier than settled.

In Treecat Wars, while the theme of human political machinations being evil definitely gets played to the hilt, we see the full range of treecat intelligence. They are every bit as intelligent as we are. The problem with having a high level of intelligence is that they are also capable of low-cunning and of going insane, just like us.

The treecats in this series who are point-of-view characters, Climbs Quickly and Dirt Grubber, call themselves “The People”, and refer to individuals as “Persons”. Individual “Persons” can lose their way, and when they are Elders, they can lead a whole clan astray. After a fire season, when food is scarce, treecats compete for resources, just as humans do. In this unsettled time, one treecat murders another, and starts a misguided war.

Meanwhile, humans are attempting to control how the universe at large perceived the treecats. They are sentient. But are they as intelligent as humans? Should they be protected? If so, in what way? History shows that protected native species and tribes do not fare well. Are the treecats dangerous? They are economically dangerous to those who believed that Sphinx was uninhabited.

Some people will stop at nothing to eliminate any threat to their supposed superiority. If they can’t find a way to portray the treecats and their partners negatively, they may resort to something more permanent.

Escape Rating B+: I read through the entire series at warp speed. Stephanie is a bit of a Mary Sue, and there is a bit too much teenage angst at the end, but overall, it’s just too much fun reading about the treecats. I could have skipped the humans and just read about the cats and been perfectly happy.

There were a ton of hints that there was a vast conspiracy of anti-cat humans who were just plain evil, but all we got were hints. The ones we saw were either one-dimensional or very easily converted. I suspect another book.

The treecat characters were more multi-dimensional than any of the human characters, and that was just fine. More treecats!

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Transplanted Revolutionary Values

They always say that freedom isn’t free. Sometimes we forget that the United States of America was a grand experiment when it was first formed.  No country had ever tried to actually implement the novel idea of widespread democracy before, even on the somewhat limited basis upon which our Founding Fathers made their attempt in 1776. It was limited based on the standards we have now. I could not have voted. I am female, and that would have disqualified me. And gender was not the only restriction in the 1700’s. The Declaration of Independence was a start, not an end.

History doesn’t allow “do-overs”. Time marches on, and we all live with the results. But alternate history is the art of speculating about the “what-ifs”. What if history had marched down a different path? Alternately, no pun intended, what if something like the American Revolution happened on some other world? Science-fictionally speaking, of course.

Eric Flint’s 1632 series is one of the most fun alternate history series that I’ve run across. The first book in the series is 1632, but Flint kept going. Independence Day brought it to mind because the story is about transplanting middle-American values, virtues and gumption to an extremely unlikely time and place, and recreating the practical parts of the United States somewhere and somewhen they should never have been. In the opening of 1632, Grantville, West Virginia is in the middle of celebrating a wedding between the younger sister of the local president of the United Mine Workers of America and the son of one of the wealthiest steel families from Pittsburgh.  A lot of college friends and their families have come to this small and otherwise slowly dying town in West Virginia coal country, population 5,000 hardy souls, augmenting the mix of professionals and regular folks just enough to make things interesting when the disaster happens. Grantville and its environs get scooped out of the ground in  late 20th century America and deposited in Thuringia, in western Saxony, in 1632, in the middle of the Thirty Years’ War.

Why is this fun? Because the inhabitants don’t just sit on their hands and cry about what they’ve lost. They realize pretty quickly that they are in it for the long haul, and that the history in the books in the high school library they brought with them has been changed, forever. There is a major politcal fight about values. Will they be an exclusionary enclave, or will they openly expose American values, like democracy and freedom and religious tolerance, to the surrounding area, knowing that those ideas and values are somewhere between revolutionary and heretical in the 1600s? How much history will they manipulate? For a little while, they know who lives and who dies, and how to prevent it. What should they do? How much of an industrial revolution should they start, and how much can they maintain? The lessons in the “art of the possible” were fascinating.

Some Revolutions are born in fire. David Weber’s space opera series of the adventures of Honor Harrington has grown to contain some stories that are sidebars to Honor’s main story arc. Among the stories in what is referred to as the Honorverse is the story of the liberation of the slave planet Torch from the slave-masters corporation, Mesa. In Crown of Slaves, the opening of the story, incompetence on the part of one Star Empire’s ministers, plus an assassination of the person who was the voice of conscience of another, impatience on the part of a third, hyper-competent spying on the part of a fourth, and terrorism and kidnapping by the understandably radical freed slaves’ organization leads to the creation of Torch.  In Torch of Freedom, the second book, the newly-freed slaves must defend their freedom from their former masters and learn to become a government instead of a radical terrorist group. The second is sometimes more difficult than the first.

And last, but not least, Robert A. Heinlein’s Moon is a Harsh Mistress. This was the last of his four Hugo award winners for best novel. The concept is not unfamiliar. If man colonized the moon and then used it as a penal colony, what would happen? The science of why it would be a one-way, multigenerational trip is probably way off, but long-distance penal colonies have certainly been done before. Australia being the best known example, but Georgia was also a penal colony. And if the penal colony was a multigenerational one-way trip, so that a sentence condemned future generations to indentured servitude with no way out, what would the eventual result be? Revolution?

There are four main characters in Moon. Manny, a computer technician who discovers late one night that the computer he has been working on all these years has actually become self aware. Wyoming Knot, known as Wyoh, a young political agitator who has spent her entire life traveling from colony to drum up support for a revolution. The Professor, an elderly academic, recently committed to the Moon, who has realized that the Lunar economy/ecology is running on empty. And finally, Mike, the self-aware computer. Mike might be Data’s great-grandfather, or at least a great-uncle. Mike wants to save his friends, now that he knows what friendship is. He will save them no matter what it might cost him. And Mike, just like Data, can calculate the exact odds of success–or failure.

If anyone ever says, “TANSTAAFL” to you, and you wonder where it comes from, it’s from Moon. It’s an abbreviation for “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch”. There wasn’t for Mike, and it’s still true.