I’ve now finished reading the Honor Harrington “Honorverse” space opera series. Mostly, as I’m sure you can tell by my reviews, I’ve been impressed. I thought some books were better than others, and like many fans, I became impatient with sections that were repeated between books.
But as a writer, I began to notice things. Like how those repeated scenes were always told from different points of view. Like how the events of one book changed the course of other books, even when those events were happening simultaneously. In the last few books of the series, not all of which directly featured Honor Harrington, Weber even started separating groups of chapters by month and date, so that you could track when simultaneous events were taking place.
I began to wonder at his process. I started to see exactly how grand in scope the tale was that he was telling. In great space opera tradition, the fates of worlds turned on single decisions, and the scale of the events was breathtaking.
I don’t know David Weber, so I can’t speak to exactly how his process works. But I began to visualize a writer sitting in his office, realizing what a huge undertaking he had decided to embrace. Realizing there would be no way he could fit all the events of even a single month into a single book, because the result would have been not just a brick, but a cinderblock. Realizing that the art form of the novel was as insufficient to the task ahead of him as it was to Lord of the Rings.
I can see him thinking about it, and realizing he was telling at least three stories simultaneously that all intertwined.
So I see him putting headings onto whiteboards. “Honor,” for all the parts of Honor Harrington’s personal story. “Torch,” for all the parts that involved Victor Cachat and Anton Zilwicki. “Saganami,” for all the Saganami Island graduate-related tales, including Mike Henke, Honor’s best friend. And then I see him getting out a bunch of Post-It Notes and putting the various events under the appropriate headings.
I imagine he started with the Honor Harrington material, because she was his first major character and his world is largely seen through her eyes. Then it was easy enough to separate the Cachat and Zilwicki material, especially since that series is co-written with Eric Flint, and they’d have to be in agreement about what went into those books and what didn’t. “Saganami” would have to encompass everything else.
So then he would have played around with those Post-Its, deciding on where to end one story and begin another within those categories. He dropped the hints about the beginnings of this grand tale in War of Honor (2002,) and then began to release them in a loosely alternating schedule:
- Crown of Slaves (Torch)–2003
- The Shadow of Saganami (Saganami)–2004
- At All Costs (Honor)–2005
- Torch of Freedom (Torch)–2009
- Storm from the Shadows (Saganami)–2009
- Mission of Honor (Honor)–2010
- A Rising Thunder (Honor)–2012
- Shadow of Freedom (Saganami)–2013
- Cauldron of Ghosts (Torch)–2014
- Shadow of Victory (Saganami)–2016
- Uncompromising Honor (Honor)–2018
You may have noticed some long blanks in there between dates, but Weber was far from idle. In that time he also wrote several short stories that appeared in anthologies, the Treecat Wars series, and the Manticore Ascendant series, which may have been his way of working through processes that related to the new role of the treecats and of ONI, much in the same way that I think Fire & Blood was George R.R. Martin’s way of working through ideas about the Targaryans that he needs to know, even if the reader doesn’t, to finish the last couple of A Song of Ice and Fire books.
Looking at this, I realized that Weber has been grossly underestimated. This isn’t a bunch of novels, some of which are better written than others, many of which rehash the same material, as his critics have said.
This is one big story.
So I thought, “What would happen if I read it that way?”
I determined to re-read these last several books, with their entwining storylines, in true chronological order. That is, I would try to read them in order of the events being described, even jumping between books as necessary!
I am aided in this process by the Honorverse Fandom Website, which lists the books as they appear in chronological order, and then a loose chronology of events, in different places on its site. So thank you for that!
If you’d like to follow my progress, I’m going to be blogging about it. Feel free to start your prep by getting caught up on the prior Honor Harrington books, and then read Crown of Slaves. because very little of that book overlaps, as far as I can tell, with other events. It takes place about one year before the intertwining saga begins to unfold, but it is absolutely essential if you want to keep up with what’s going on, because it was the beginning.
There is at least one short story that takes place in the middle of the chronology, but I’ll be skipping it because it doesn’t directly relate to the overall story. It does give context on what happened to Grayson after Operation Oyster Bay, so you might choose to read it anyway for that purpose.
You may also enjoy reading a few of the short stories to give you some context:
- From the Highlands (Changer of Worlds) – introduces Anton and Helen Zilwicki, Victor Cachat, and the future Queen Berry.
- Fanatic (Service of the Sword) – introduces Victor Cachat in more detail.
- The Service of the Sword (Service of the Sword) – introduces Abigail Hearns and Captain Oversteegan.
Other than that, what you need to know is that Honor Harrington is an Admiral in the Royal Manticoran Navy, who rose through the ranks, and to political power on her own world and a patriarchal theocracy called Grayson, by means of her own luck and heroism. The early books are very much in the feel of C.S. Forester. Honor is a deliberate Horatio Hornblower parallel, and the RMN is the Royal Navy.
They have been at war for many years with the People’s Republic of Haven, a sort of a Stalinist France, which has recently experienced a revolution (a la French Revolution) and become the Republic of Haven. They declared a ceasefire with Manticore while the revolution was settling in, and even worked together with Manticore to aid the people of the fledgling star-nation of Torch (see Crown of Slaves.)
It looked like they might finally make peace (note: France and Britain’s relationship during the American Revolution has many parallels.) but a right wing government was elected to Manticore’s Constitutional Monarchist Parliament (lots of prescient parallels to the Trump administration!) and they alienated allies and treated Haven rudely.
Eventually they went back to war over discrepancies in their diplomatic exchange, and both sides blamed the other for the dishonesty. What they don’t know, but the reader does, is that a Havenite official who prospered under the old regime, with the aid of a contact in the Manitcoran government who was working for a third party, deliberately altered the contents of the diplomatic exchanges to heighten tensions.
In my next post, we’ll begin in November 1919 Post Diaspora (from Earth,) with the first few chapters of Torch of Freedom. Once we’re done with that, we’ll be reading The Shadow of Saganami and At All Costs pretty much simultaneously.
Let’s be about it!