Epic story so vast, it cannot be contained within one 13-volume (so far) book series. To follow all the events, you need to read two multiple-volume spin-off series as well. Anthologies and prequels are optional, but helpful. Technical companions – co-written by experts, often with professional naval background – highly recommended, so that you won’t be lost during 100-pages long battle scenes.
Porn for military s/f nerds.
It’s fitting to write about David Weber soon after my O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin post, because this is Nelson in space kind of series. Even if Nelson in question happens to be female. Who survives her Trafalgar, due to popular demand, author wanted her to die in her moment of glory and the story was supposed to continue with her children as protagonists. But some heroes are stronger than authors who invented them and Weber was forced to change his plans.
The structure is similar to that of Aubrey/Maturin or Horatio Hornblower. Naval career developing through multiple adventures, main characters and loads of supporting ones, deadly enemies and local political opponents, struggles on the battlefield and in corridors of Admiralty. Weber has more grandiose plans for his protagonists than O’Brian, and in this he’s a bit like Clancy. Because for all the similarities between Honor and Aubrey, Hornblower or indeed Nelson, she is also a reluctant Jack Ryan. And that is spoiler enough, for these in the know.
A short introduction to the world of Honor.
I won’t go beyond first several books, I don’t want to spoil too much. Basically, the space is early XIX-cent. world plus Solarian League. So what are Honorverse analogues of major Napoleonic-era powers?
Star Kingdom of Manticore, Honor’s homeland, is a rising trade and naval power, liberal-conservative monarchy (with dynasty limited in power but active, to a degree similar to XVIII-cent. Britain), where political and economic power is to a high degree hereditary, but personal freedom is universally guaranteed and meritocracy is usually a rule. That’s the theory. Honor’s advancement proves it, but constant obstacles on her way – remind us that no all is well. The good guys.
Republic of Haven, or revolutionary (and, later Napoleonic/stalinist) France. They got their politics and economics all wrong and they compensate by attacking their neighbours. Until they meet the good guys. Large scale space war ensues. They are some nice, if misguided, people among them, which will become important later in the series.
Andermani Empire. Sino/German star empire, militaristic but relatively small, eager to expand but generally sympathetic towards the good guys.
Silesian Confederacy. Slightly Polish part of the universe with places like Breslau, Posnan, Sachsen and Tumult. Just as Haven warns us of the atrocities of totalitarianism and collectivism, Silesia shows the dangers of anarchy and not enough central government. You know, pay your taxes and waive your flag every now and then or you’ll end up like them 😉
And one power with no XIX-cent. equivalent. The Solarian League. This universe’s giant. Bigger than all the rest put together, but totally ineffective due to being a combination of Democrat’s Federal Government (as seen by Republicans) and EU bureaucracy (as seen by the UKIP). Shows us the dangers of having too many officials and not enough patriotism.
Heh, a series Robert Kaplan would have liked had he been into s/f… but I’ve heard there are some people in Sweden reading Weber without distaste, so it can’t be that bad 😉 I mention Kaplan on purpose, Harrington is a neo-con in space. Democratic imperialism that works well, if only because it’s written by its great supporter…
Yeah, politics of David Weber… Clancy in space, indeed. But he’s not asking for your votes, he writes books. And this model works for a lengthy space opera. And the kind of thrillers early Clancy wrote. So even now, I don’t mind. Because…
Space battles are great!!! Internally consistent, sophisticated and cinematic model of space warfare is the main selling point of the series. Technology, all levels of military strategy, operational art of war, and action… all is there. Weber created it, but he has helpers, dedicated fans, and among them many experienced real-life naval officers and analysts. And if pros enjoy it to such a degree, that means something to me.
And the whole formula of military career of exceptional individual as a series of book-length stories works also. Writing isn’t great, but good characters are likeable, villains are deplorable, military bureaucracy is portrayed in all good traditions of military fiction, military as society within society (as seen by their own eyes) – fun to read. Most of the times. Sometimes my teeth hurt, it has the air of… tv-series JAG I’d say. If Manticoran Navy existed, they’d support the series all the way 😉
And the historical analogies… that also works. I suspect that many fans started reading history to better understand the Honorverse. Model is simplistic, but well suited to provide background for that kind of intrigue and adventure.
It would make a great animated series… CGI will never be cheap enough to make live action version affordable, but 10-season 250-episode animation… probably done by the Japanese in this style… I’d pay to see that.
For now – you can read about it. First books in the series – for free, from the Baen Free Library. Baen, Weber’s publisher, is a great company with a very interesting business model, I got an official dvd with dozens of free books with one of my hardcovers 🙂
Score: 8/10 [for most of the series, there are some weaker volumes]
Series was revisited in a later post. Suffice to say, I’m not enjoying the new novels as much. I still likes the early ones though. When you stop with Honor, is up to you 😉