Cover of On Basilisk Station, "Introducing Honor Harrington"

David Weber introduced Honor Harrington & launched the “Honorverse” in On Basilisk Station

Back in 1992, David Weber started a series of highly popular books about a female Horatio Hornblower-like character named Honor Harrington in On Basilisk Station. In the first eleven books, which came out roughly yearly, the emphasis is on highly technical military science fiction. Honor is an officer in the Royal Manticoran Navy of the Star Kingdom of Manticore, which is a kind of British-style constitutional monarchy fighting for its life against the People’s Republic of Haven, which is a sort of French Revolutionary Republic gone Stalinist.

The Manticoran aristocracy, while hereditary, is supplemented by meritorious additions to that same aristocracy from commoners who deserve promotion, Honor herself among them. Politically, the message in those first eleven books is pretty clear: conservative, at least somewhat democratic constitutional democracy Good, revolutionary leftist dictatorship Bad, although the Havenite characters are often quite sympathetic and realistic fictional people. Meanwhile, ever lurking in the background, is the Solarian League, an extremely powerful and populous interstellar country with its capital on Old Chicago, on Old Earth, that is unabashedly corporatist, whose leaders pay only lip service to the old Federal Constitution. This should sound familiar.

Then, in September 2003, with the publication of Crown of Slaves, the political story strongly shifted. Weber was writing this during the run up to the Iraq War, and it shows. While out-and-out slavery is almost universally banned, officially anyway, certain renegade transtellar, ie multinational, corporations do profit handsomely from real human slavery. And if there’s one thing that the Star Kingdom of Manticore and the People’s Republic of Haven have in common, it’s a genuine hatred of slavery and a contempt for the hypocritical Solarian League that doesn’t really do anything to stamp it out because too many of its leaders are profiting from the slave trade in one way or the other.

The most egregrious of these transtellar corporations is called Manpower, Inc. It’s no coincidence that it bears the same name of one of America’s biggest temporary employment agencies. Based on a planet called Mesa, Manpower turns out to be controlled by a group of people who believe in eugenics, and have been breeding different genetic lines of human beings, from Huxley-esque alpha lines to genetic slaves, for centuries. In Crown of Slaves (wonderfully co-written with Eric Flint) and its sequel, Torch of Freedom, the slaves successfully revolt on one planet, aided and abetted by two colorful secret agents of both the Star Kingdom and the People’s Republic, Anton Zilwicki and Victor Cachat, respectively.

Meanwhile, the wars drag on, with Honor Harrington rising to the rank of Admiral among many feats of military derring-do in the finest Horatio Hornblower tradition, and eventually the People’s Republic is overthrown by its own people and the Old Republic of Haven is restored. Then things get really interesting.

Beginning in 2010, with Mission of Honor, followed by A Rising Thunder, Shadow of Freedom, and A Cauldron of Ghosts (the latter two also co-authored by Eric Flint), the attention shifts to the nefarious eugenics nazis of the secret “Mesan Alignment” and the corrupt Solarian League. The Solarians are clearly Americans, and its corrupt, lying, self-righteous, sociopathic and arrogant government officials come straight out our own headlines of the last few years.

As Ursula K. LeGuin once said, “Science fiction is not about the future, or the past; it’s about the present.”

The last few novels focus on the corrupt and arrogant Solarian League starting an undeclared (of course!) war against the Star Kingdom, which becomes the Star Empire, of Manticore, because its leaders are either being manipulated by or at least passively cooperating with the Mesan eugenics wackjobs. Meanwhile, the restored Republic of Haven decides the Solarian League and the Mesan Alignment deserve to be firmly opposed, and forms a military alliance with Manticore, much to the horror and outrage of those wonderful villains.

Not all Solarians are assholes, but the most sympathetic characters are pretty much ordinary military and intelligence people who just don’t know what the hell they can do, but I have the feeling that one or more of them might turn into an Edward Snowden. Stay tuned.

Anyway, while I find Weber’s frequently lengthy descriptions of future theoretical technology tiresome at times, the very human characters and their interactions, ranging from wheels-within-wheels plotting to genuine warmth and stubbornly courageous moral stands, make it all very worthwhile. The one alien species, the telempathic treecats, with their wry observations of  silly “two-leg” behavior, are icing on the cake.

And all of the books are fast-moving with tight plots. Reading them is like watching a movie in your own mind, at least for me. I recommend them to all science fiction lovers, and the recent novels, which can be understood without reading the first ten or so, for their scathing political parallels to our own times.

Ohio Barbarian

Ohio Barbarian