I’m re-reading the last ten books in the Honorverse space opera series by David Weber in true chronological order. That is to say, I am reading it all as if it were one big story, not several separate books, in the order in which the events described took place (as much as possible.) I will even be skipping around between books as necessary. If you’d like some insight into why I’m doing that, and what I recommend you read before we begin (if you’d like to follow along,) please see my other posts in this series:
Prerequisites: War of Honor, Crown of Slaves
Suggested: “Service of the Sword” from Service of the Sword.
Books Required for this Post: The Shadow of Saganami, At All Costs
The Kingdom of Manticore is once again at war with the Republic of Haven. Unbeknownst to the characters, but knownst to us, Havenite Secretary of State Arnold Giancola has altered diplomatic correspondence between the two star-nations to raise tensions between them in order to increase his own power base by undermining President Eloise Pritchart and her administration. He was aided and abetted by a contact within the elected right wing High Ridge government in Manticore who was manipulating events for her own reasons, encouraged by a third party. Neither nation really wants to fight, but they feel they have no choice.
In the meantime, systems in the Verge known as the Talbott Cluster, have petitioned for annexation by the Star Kingdom of Manticore, who recently discovered a major wormhole nexus, the Lynx Terminus, in their region of space– again as a consequence of the events on Torch. This is in part motivated by the lurking threat of the Office of Frontier Security (Solarian League,) which has a habit of gobbling up nearby systems into their vast empire and then exploiting them, always under the pretext of having been invited in to “help maintain order.” The Talbott Cluster systems believe that Manticore will be able to protect them from Frontier Security.
I remind you that my idea of the sequence of events at this point is probably, in part, inaccurate. I am making my best guess. If someone is out there who’s better at crunching the numbers than I am, and you can tell that I am in error, please let me know and I’ll make the changes.
I’m basing my estimation of the timeline on a few things:
- On the Honorverse Fandom Wiki, a chronological reading order of the books is posted. It tells me that:
- Torch of Freedom begins November 1919 PD;
- The Shadow of Saganami begins June 1920 PD;
- At All Costs begins July 1920 PD;
- The Shadow of Saganami ends July 1921 PD;
- At All Costs ends August 1921 PD;
- Storm from the Shadows begins December 1920 PD.
- On the same wiki, a loose chronology of events is posted. It gives me a series of significant events (though often without a lot of information) and at least the rough date at which they occur. Some of these events are retold in different points of view between books. Even when they aren’t, they are often referred to in other books, and have effects which reverberate through all books. They can be used as checkpoints to line up dates, and as cross-references.
- All other times are estimates based roughly on the speed of ship travel or on how long I think it would take to accomplish specific tasks. These are often not mentioned specifically, and therefore represent my best guess.
- Manpower, a transstellar corporation that produces genetically-engineered slaves against interstellar law as observed (at least by lip service) in most star-nations, operating out of the planet Mesa, has recently lost a slave planet to a slave liberation movement. Now called Torch, its new Queen, Berry Zilwicki, is concerned about the fate of her people. Her father, Anton Zilwicki, super-spook of Manticore, and a family friend, Victor Cachat, super-spook of Haven, whose governments have agreed to cooperate on Torch despite being at war, know that Manpower should not be sustainable in a hostile universe, and they have too many resources for the size of what they seem to be. They have decided to go to the planet Mesa to find out what’s really going on.
- Sector Governor Oravil Barregos of the Maya Sector (Frontier Security,) and Admiral Luiz Rozsak of the Maya Sector, are conspiring to build a navy in secret that will allow the Maya Sector to break off from the Solarian League and stay independent.
- Zachariah McBride, tech geek, and his brother Jack, a spook, are both deep inside “the Onion,” which is the secret layer within layers of the Mesan Alignment conspiracy. We know it has something to do with genetic engineering, and all those within the Onion are genetically-engineered supermen like Khan’s people in Star Trek.
- A Mesan Alignment tech named Herlander Simoes is asked, along with his wife, to raise a child who is the result of an experimental gene complex. Children so engineered are super math geniuses, but usually degenerate into an extreme form of autism before they reach adolescence. It is hoped that being raised with other math geniuses will help to prevent that from happening.
June 1920 PD – The Shadow of Saganami, Prologue to Chapter 4 – In the Prologue, we are reintroduced to Captain Aivars Terekhov, whom we’ve met in previous Honor Harrington books, and we learn that he is suffering from PTSD that comes from having fought his ships bravely in an impossible situation. He wakes up from a flashback nightmare, and we learn he is now going back to active duty.
In Chapter 1, a new class graduates from Saganami Island. Honor Harrington is the one who gives them their final speech, about the extraordinary self-sacrifice of Captain Saganami, and how they may be called upon one day to make that choice. So I think we get an idea about how the book is likely to end.
This class includes Helen Zilwicki, whom we have met before. We also re-meet Lieutenant Abigail Hearns of the Grayson Space Navy, who is serving aboard the ship the new Saganami grads are reporting to, under Captain Terekhov.
We are also told about the situation in the Talbott Cluster, where their squadron is being assigned, to aid Baroness Medusa and Admiral Khumalo in putting in a good show and protecting the sector. Khumalo express his concern that Terekov may not yet have recovered from the shock of his experience enough to do his duty, and we are shown that Khumalo is a by-the-book kind of man. This combination likely does not bode well.
July 1920 PD – At All Costs, Prologue through Chapter 1 – In the Prologue, Haven launches a probing attack against the Manticoran ally Alizon, which gives Weber a chance to explain the tactical and strategic situation to us through Havenite eyes. We learn that they don’t intend to destroy Manticore, just force them into a situation in which Haven can dictate peace terms.
In Chapter 1 we catch up with Honor having a rare family moment, where she reads a story to her nieces and nephews on Grayson. The book she reads is important to the story, but unless you have read the book (which I have not,) I find that Weber’s references are largely lost. The Protector of Grayson strongly suggests to Honor that she might want to make her own heir to her Steading soon, so that it minimizes the disruption in the life of her much-younger sister, who is her current heir. They are talking about the imminent death of Howard Clinkscales, a character we’ve gotten to know and appreciate in previous books.
July 1920 PD – At All Costs, Chapter 2 – We meet some bad guys! Aldona Asinimovna meets with her superior, Albercht Detweiler, in some secret library on Mesa to meet with a bunch of people to discuss the Talbott Cluster. Asinimovna and Isabel Bardasano are called to account for the situation getting so out of hand on Torch.
Apparently Manpower has a special interest in its local wormhole junction. The Strategy Committee of Manpower did not anticipate Manticore and Haven working together because they have been shooting at each other after a while. They also didn’t like how they had stopped shooting at each other prior to the event. Their ally in Manticore, Descroix, remains in place in return for financial support and access to their intelligence, but she was unwilling to work against the ceasefire. They were displeased by the triumph of the Havenite revolutionary government under Pritchart, but pleased by the Manticore High Ridge administration’s political tone-deafness.
Technodyne wanted access to Manticoran tech through Erewhon. They started stepping up action at Torch (then called Verdant Vista) to draw out anti-piracy activity from Erewhon so they could pounce on the anti-pirate craft and take them out (and study their tech.) They hoped to antagonize Erewhon against Manticore because they knew the High Ridge government would decline to intervene, and they intended to offer Erewhon tech and ships through Technodyne to defend themselves when they withdrew from their alliance with Manticore. Instead, when the break happened, Erewhon went to Haven, thanks to the work of Governor Barregos.
Zilwicki and Cachat, apparently, partially neutralized Descroix by removing her access to blackmail files against many Manticoran nobles and officials, and then she disappeared, which was probably Asinimovna’s doing.
Are you still following? I know it’s complex. The TL;DR version is that this Strategy Committee on Mesa has been manipulating everything that’s happened in the past few books behind the scenes for their own reasons, including the resumption of hostilities between Manticore and Haven, the pressure on the situation that led to Torch, and the Erewhonese breaking from their alignment with Manticore. But things haven’t gone exactly the way they wanted. Torch’s liberation and Erewhon’s alliance with Haven were not part of their plans, and those events played out that way because of the actions of Cachat and Zilwicki.
We learn this Strategy Committee has something to do with five centuries of genetic engineering and something out of ancient history called the Slav Supremacists. They and they ancestors have been planning for some big goal, and they view Manticore and Haven as the biggest threats to that goal. They are happy the two are shooting at each other again, but they don’t want them to expand into Talbott. They still don’t have any Manty Naval hardware, though, which they want.
They mention that an operation is already underway to destabilize the situation in Talbott. Another operation is underway to work out some deal with Mannerheim so that armed takeover of the Torch system can proceed.
They also discuss something called Operation Rat Poison, which Bardasano is responsible for. They discuss now Bardasano and Asinimovna are to meet with Verrochio, and warn them about how they’ll have to deal with various members of his group. (This helped me to construct this timeline, because I know that meeting happened after this one.) They are to keep an eye on Valery Ottweiler, to see if he should be “brought fully in.” We learn that Operation Rat Poison will involve the use of some new, almost impossible to detect nanotech in an assassination, but Bardasano has some reservations, since it is largely untested in the field.
July (?) 1920 PD – The Shadow of Saganami, Chapter 5 – We meet more bad guys as they sit around discussing their plans for the Talbott Cluster, and the “neobarbs” of Manticore (short for “neo-barbarians.”) They are wearing the latest Solarian fashions, surrounded by tasteful luxury (which is often a hint we’re dealing with bad guys in Weber’s books:
- Commissioner Lorcan Verrochio, Frontier Security Commissioner of the Madras Sector, which is near the Talbott Cluster.
- Aldona Anisimovna – Manpower operative and full member of their Board of Directors.
- Isabel Bardasano – Cadet member of the Jessyk Combine, which is actually owned by Manpower.
- Volkhart Kalokainos – Representative of Kalokainos Shipping, who clearly views the annexation as a threat.
- Vice-Commissioner Hongbo Junyan – Whom we know is manipulating his superior, and has been good at doing so for years, and it has something to do with Manpower because Anisimovna knows about it.
- Valery Ottweiler – Representative of the Government of Mesa.
- Brigadier General Francisca Yucel , Commander of the local Solarian Gendarmerie, who has a reputation for being “willfully brutal.”
- Izrok Levakonic, Representative of Technodyne Industries
We learn that the bad guys recognize that Manticoran policies would be bad for their plans of exploiting the Cluster, that Mesa’s government is a wholly-owned subsidiary of its transstellar corporations, and that the Solarian Government is deeply penetrated by Mesan transstellar agents. We learn that they view Manticore as a special threat because of its advanced tech and its proximity to Old Earth (just a week away through wormholes.) Or at least, this is the apparent motivation that Asinimovna and Bardasano are using to justify their involvement to their erstwhile “allies.”
They decide to aid fringe factions within the Cluster who are willing to take violent exception to their planets joining Manticore, knowing that the unrest and resistance to annexation that would create, would give Frontier Security an excuse to “intervene” under the pretext that they meant to ensure that the annexation vote was fairly and properly counted (which, of course, they would then manipulate.) They believe it will be easy to manipulate Solarian public opinion against the Manticorans, who are already unpopular due to their war with Haven and the established Havenite propaganda machine.
They also hope to provoke a direct military confrontation with forces of the Solarian League. We learn that Bardasano and Asinimovna are plotting to destroy Manticore and bring great harm to Haven as well, and they and Ottweiler also plan to “have a talk with their friend Roberto Tyler” about providing him with Technodyne equipment for a potential armed conflict.
This is a very important chapter. Don’t make the mistake of skimming over the villains doing their mustache-twirling. I did on the first round, and regretted it for the next several books. I kept asking, “Wait; who is this guy, again?”
Read in this way, we guess that the “Mesan Alignment” is the conspiracy motivating the Mesan Strategy Committee. And we see that Zilwicki and Cachat are absolutely right; something is rotten in Manpower. Clearly, Manpower is the direct arm of the Mesan Alignment, and many other Mesan transstellar corporations are either directly involved or being manipulated by them.
But we have no other hints about this conspiracy; just that it has something to do with genetic engineering and probably a genetic supremacy movement, and that it exists. We know it controls a lot of things it shouldn’t on Mesa and has a lot of fingers in a lot, a lot, of pies. But what are they hoping to accomplish and why? And why do they view Manticore and Haven as such threats? We have no idea.
Manpower’s motivations, we thought we understood. They’re evil corporate bastards who don’t view human beings as anything other than tools and equipment. We get that; that’s what large corporations are all about, after all. This is just a bit extreme.
I can’t help but wonder, did Weber consider pronunciation when he came up with this idea? “Mesan” sounds a lot like “Mason” when you say it aloud… And I have to compliment him on the way he distributed this information between books. I had no idea that he’d given us all of this, this soon, until I did this blog post. Remember, while we are reading in chronological order, At All Costs was not published until a year after The Shadow of Saganami, even though the meeting on Mesa it described happened before the meeting with Verrochio, and Torch of Freedom wasn’t published for four years after that. Bloody clever!
Is your head spinning yet? Mine is! I think we’ll leave off here for now, and resume with At All Costs, Chapter 3, and The Shadow of Saganami, Chapter 6, next time.