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Tuesday, June 1, 2010

An Invitation to David Weber's Honorverse (by Liviu Suciu)


Read FBC Interview with David Weber (mostly Safehold, but a bit about Honorverse too)

INTRODUCTION:
The Honorverse occupies a special place in my affection. I have been a huge fan since I have discovered the first several books in 1994 and I have been rereading the series books quite a lot across time. Today the series is still my co-#1 ongoing one irrespective of genre and each new novel is a highly, highly anticipated one. I find myself visiting Baen's Webscriptions 5 times a day when I know there is the possibility of a Honorverse e-arc for sale.

The series also represented a bunch of firsts for me as acquiring books go - first ever new hardcover bought by me in this country (
Honor Among Enemies (HAE), 1996), first e-arc bought (At All Costs (AAC), 2005 - it was also the first e-arc sold by Baen), first final draft bought as an electronic edition (Storm from the Shadows (SftS) 2008 - here the story is that the author posted it by mistake on Baen's Bar and while it was taken down soon, there was a huge clamor from people who heard of it but did not get it to have it *now*, so graciously the author and Baen offered that version for sale).

Since the series is standing currently at 16 novels and 4 anthologies, it is very hard to do a reasonable length post and talk meaningfully about it, so here I will just provide an "invitation" to explore it and see if it's for you. I have recently finished a read-through of all the novels except for the two Torch ones and I was surprised how well the early novels stood the test of time so far, while the middle ones that originally seemed quite transitional are enhanced by knowing what comes next since I could appreciate the masterful plotting of the author in full.

Next I plan to review the best single novel of the series for me and one of my top 5 sf novels of the 00's,
At All Costs (2005) which essentially ends the series as originally envisioned, and then review the duology Storm From the Shadows/Mission of Honor (MoH), books that form the two halves of a huge novel that gets the new series going - this was originally envisioned to start some decades later and feature Honor's children as main characters but it was moved back in time to flow naturally from the first part.

In parallel with those two, there is a third novel
Torch of Freedom (ToF)/Eric Flint and David Weber, published in late 2009, in-between SftS and MoH and whose events are simultaneous with parts of SftS and MoH but it is more of a side novel for now and its main impact on the story so far is recounted in Mission of Honor, though I expect that thread to get fully wrapped into the main one soon, the way the Talbot thread started in The Shadow of Saganami became the main thread in Storm from the Shadows.

There is a comprehensive list of the hundreds of Honorverse named characters HERE and of the tens of locations HERE. All series books up to SftS are available freely in electronic form in the Baen CD's HERE.

NOVELS:
As opposed to many series that stick to one format - whether epic multi-cast or main hero in repeat action - the Honorverse has evolved dramatically over its lifetime, evolution that imho accounts a lot for its continuing success. But before I present the novels in view of this "evolution", I want to emphasize several aspects of the series that tie into the above.

The main societal fact of the Honorverse is the availability of "Prolong" - in most of its interstellar polities at least - which as the name implies leads to a human life-span of 200+ years, most of it fully productive; there are several versions of Prolong with the first still used on the moderately backward planets extending life "only" into the mid 100's - the fully backward one have no prolong of course - but on the main polities of the series,
Manticore, Haven and the human space giant The Solarian League, people in their 40's are in their early young adulthood so when the series starts in OBS, Honor is about 40 and on her first cruiser command as a junior Captain in Manticore's navy. MoH the latest novel takes place some 22 years later after two unparalleled brutal naval wars between the Star Kingdom of Manticore and its allies and the three Havenite regimes that succeed one another quite violently.

The main historical fact of the Honorverse is that while they take place ~4000 AD aka ~1900 Post Diaspora (2103 AD is 1 PD), the actual societies involved except for the humongous
Solarian League are much younger at about 5-600 years of existence. The author has included many appendixes in the novels including a rough time line and the main reason for the discrepancy between the League's 1900 years of history and the "neo-barbs" - which cover the rest of the human polities including Manticore and Haven - 5-600 is that while ftl travel (hyperspace + much later wormhole) has been invented, that took time (first ftl in 770's PD but unsafe until a new development in the 1200's PD) so many colonies were settled by cryogenic sub-light starships and those obviously took quite a lot of time to travel the hundreds of light years from Earth to Manticore or Haven for example.

On the local level the salient fact about Manticore is its famous wormhole junction with lots of termini that allows fast access to widely scattered points in human space and made Manticore the second biggest commercial power after the League and the wealthiest per capita one.

On the personal level the one most important fact about Honor herself is that she is the "adopted" human of the tele-empath sentient treecat Nimitz who originates on Honor's home planer of Sphinx, the second largest of the three inhabited worlds in the Manticore binary system. The Honorverse is mostly a humans-only series, with the various sentient aliens like the Treecats or the Medusans at lower levels of development, though of course various treecats play important roles in the novels.

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The Honor Single Adventure Novels; snippets of action elsewhere

1. On Basilisk Station (1992) - (~1900-1 PD)

2. The Honor of the Queen (1993) - two years later from OBS (~1903 PD)

3. The Short Victorious War (1994) - one year later from THotQ (~1904-5 PD)

4. Field of Dishonor (1994) - follows immediately after TSVW and concludes the first "chapter" of Honor's life and of the series (~1905-6 PD)

5. Flag in Exile (1995) - 6 months later after FoD (~1906-7 PD)

6. Honor Among Enemies (1996) - one year later after FiE (~1908-1910 PD)

7. In Enemy Hands (1997) - some months later after HAE (~1911 PD)

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The Tapestry Novels; Honor main lead in the main thread but a lot of action elsewhere

8. Echoes of Honor (1998) - follows immediately after IEH (~1911-1913 PD)

9. Ashes of Victory (2000) - follows immediately after EoH (~1913-1915 PD)

10. War of Honor (2002) - 4 years later after AoV (~1919-1920 PD)

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The Action in Multiple Interconnected and Superposing Threads:

While there is no controversy about the ordering of the first 10-all-or-mostly Honor novels, from then on the situation changes with the introduction of multiple theaters of action and threads that originally were conceived as "side-novels" to prepare the ground for the second "Honor's Children" series, but now since the author continued the original cast Honorverse and scrapped the idea of a 20 year gap, that "side-novels" became a misnomer since everything ties into one unified main arc. So I will use chronological order with some short explanations.

11. Crown of Slaves (2003) with Eric Flint - in-between AoV and MoH (~1917-~1918 PD)
Torch and Maya Sector; first view in depth of the genetic slave trade and of the Solarian League outside short stories; Victor Cachat of Haven and Anton Zilwicky of Manticore lead a large cast quite different from the rest of the series so far

12. The Shadow of Saganami (2004) - simultaneous with AAC (~1920-1921 PD)
Talbot sector and first view of the super villains in action; the new generation in the thick of things

13. At All Costs (2005) - follows WoH; essentially ends the "original series" - the t's are crossed and i's are dotted so to speak in Mission of Honor, but At All Costs is the "dramatic" (both literally and figuratively) end of the first Honorverse (~1920-1921 PD)

14. Storm from the Shadows ( 2009) - starts in the timeline of AAC, follows some months after (late 1920 - late 1921 PD); back to Talbot

15. Torch of Freedom (2009) with Eric Flint - starts after CoS and then it's more of less simultaneous with SftS and MoH (~late 1919 - April 1922)
More Torch, Maya sector and finally we get to see the "evil superhumans/genetic slavers" on their home ground of Mesa as regular people having dinner at home as families, fretting about kids and all

16. Mission of Honor (June 2010) - starts in the timeline of SftS and some months after AAC, takes the series about one month after the end of ToF and effectively ends the original series, but events have superseded that dramatically so we are now in uncharted territories (~late 1921- May 1922 PD)

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ANTHOLOGIES:

More Than Honor (1998) David Weber, David Drake, and S. M. Stirling plus a Honorverse background history

Background stories; fun but not essential

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Worlds of Honor (1999) David Weber (two), Linda Evans, Jane Lindskold and Roland J. Green.

More background stories; one important story about Queen Elizabeth's ascension after the assassination of her father

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Changer of Worlds (2001) David Weber (three) and Eric Flint.

Crucial anthology; Honor at 20 (~1880 PD) as a midshipwoman, the final showdown in Haven's capital of Nouveau Paris alluded but missing from AoV, Victor Cachat and the Zilwickies on Earth and the first glimpse of the "super villains" in action

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The Service of the Sword (April 2003) David Weber, Jane Lindskold, Timothy Zahn, John Ringo, and Victor Mitchel, Eric Flint

More background stories but two crucial ones also (Victor Cachat as agent of the People's Republic and unusual pirates on a middle of nowhere planet)

3 comments:

Angelo said...

16 books and a cast of hundreds sure make it really daunting for someone like me, who never read a Honor Harrington novel.

I'm afraid that it can also hint that it's a series that has been stretched thin due to its sucess, although probably that's not the case or you would have mentioned it.

Liviu said...

I understand how hard is to devote the time to get into such a long series; there are some later books like Crown of Slaves and The Shadow of Saganami that give a taste of the later series (and all available for free electronically as mentioned in the post) and can be read more or less independently.

Also while Honorverse is an apt overall name, the "original as intended by the author" series which basically consists of books 1-10 plus At All Costs is done and finished, just that the new series that was intended to start later was moved back to flow from this one, so in a very definite sense we are now in Honorverse 2 where Honor herself while still around is a central character but not the main focus.

I have no idea how long this new series will go since as mentioned Mission of Honor ends the transition outlined a while ago so I have no idea where we go next except in very vague terms, but I expect something like 5-6 more novels at least

Jon said...

@Angelo - If you're daunted by the size of the series, check out On Basilisk Station to begin with, and if you like it, buy one of the recent hardbacks. Baen books has been including a CD with the entire Honorverse in ebook format - I think they're still doing it. That way, you can enjoy all of the books for a minimal cost. As a matter of fact, OBS is available from the Baen free library right now in ebook format. No risk at all to read it, except you might become seriously addicted.

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