The Excalibur Alternative by David Weber is based on the short story Sir George and the Dragon. It’s a story of Englishmen ripped out of their timeline by an advanced alien civilization and forced to fight battles on their behalf on other worlds.
Like sometimes happens with short stories expanded to novel length, this book slows considerably in the middle and suffers bouts of over-long self-examination and overwrought exposition. Setting those parts aside, though, the rest of the book is a lot of fun.
The concept of transplanted ancient earth warriors has been done before (namely the excellent Misplaced Legion/Videssos Cycle by Harry Turtledove), but it is done very well here. The characters are richly drawn and sympathetic. The aliens are very alien in their appearance, if not as much in their thoughts and actions, however inscrutable they may appear. The battles are exciting, if one-sided.
As Weber sometimes does, he throws in a pretty big game changer or two about three-quarters of the way through the novel. Things move pretty quickly and decisively at that point and lead to a thrilling if somewhat predictable conclusion.
I’m a big fan of Weber’s and have never failed to be entertained by one of his books. Sometimes, however, it seems as if he is trying to cram an entire series into one book. He starts off with a great plot concept, slowly plays it out, and then suddenly introduces rapid changes and a big conclusion. He has either the seeds of an extended series or the foundation of a single non-stop action book, but with inconsistent pacing manages an uncomfortable marriage of the two.
The Excalibur Alternative is a fun read and definitely worth the time. It may leave you with the feeling it could have been much more than it is. Recommended read. 3.5 stars