More than Honor by David Weber (ed.)
Cover art by David Mattingly
Published by Baen Books
Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel
In this volume, the first of a series of anthologies of stories set in the Honorverse, David Weber presents three novellas set in the universe of Honor Harrington. However, none of them deal directly with Honor herself. Instead they explore other aspects of the universe, whether its past or parts of the galaxy far removed from Honor's activities.
David Weber's own contribution, "A Beautiful Friendship," deals with an indicent that Honor alluded to -- the discovery of the treecats by one of her distant ancestors, Stephanie Harrington. However, we don't get only the humanocentric side of the story. We also get to see it from the viewpoint of the treecats, and in particular of Climbs Quckly, the treecat who adopted her. As a result, we get a real appreciation for the culture of a people who could easily be mistaken for mere beasts by a less perceptive individual from a culture that placed less value on acknowledging the rights of other intelligent species.
One of the long-standing themes in science fiction has been the problem of recognizing another intelligent species as being intelligent, especially if they lack advanced technology and do not look that similar to humans. Years ago H. Beam Piper dealt with the issue in his Little Fuzzy, in which the Federation established a simple "talk and make a fire" criterion for recognizing a low-tech native species. However, the Fuzzies spoke at a pitch too high for human ears to perceive (and the humans of Piper's world apparently no longer kept dogs, who can hear several octaves beyond the range of human hearing), and because they were clad in warm fur and their natural diet did not require cooking, they had never developed the art of creating and maintaining a fire. Thus it was only by a set of fortuitous circumstances set in motion by an old prospector who was taken by these charming little creatures that they did not end up being scooped up for the petshop trade and their homeworld looted for its minerals by a powerful conglomerate.
In the case of Sphinx, large tracts of it were already nature preserve by the simple virtue of being wilderness nearly impossible to settle. But having first contact be with a young woman who was apt to be protective was clearly either a stroke of luck or of genius. By giving us the perspective of Climbs Quickly as well as that of Stephanie Harrington, we can see that it wasn't entirely luck on the treecats' part.
David Drake's contribution, "The Grand Tour," is based loosely upon the archeology of the Near East during the time of the Napoleonic Wars, and particularly the activities of British and French archeologists in Egypt. The protagonist, Sir Hakon Nessler, is a Manticorian nobleman and a dilettante archaeologist. He has come to a world called Hope, at the edge of nowhere, to view a ruin known as the Six Crystal Pillars. It is one of the mysterious artefacts left behind by a vanished race of starfarers known to humanity as the Alphans, because they are believed to have been the galaxy's first space-based civilization. However, warfare and human greed threaten to destroy the ruins even as he is on the verge of deciphering the secrets of the crystals which are thought to be some kind of sophisticated memory storage system.
On one hand, the parallels to the discovery and decipherment of the Rosetta Stone, which permitted the understanding of not one but three systems of ancient Egyptian writing (in addition to the famous heiroglyphics which everybody immediately associates with Ancient Egypt, it also provided the key to the hieratic and demotic systems of writing) seem a little too obvious. On the other hand, I'm not entirely comfortable with the idea of a being who is supposed to be a member of a much decayed version of the Alphan race being able to correctly identify the required frequency to resolve the images, on unfamiliar human equipment no less. This is one point at which my suspension of disbelief was strained to the limit.
"A Whiff of Grapeshot" by S. M. Stirling deals with the Leveller Uprising on Haven, and how it was brutally put down at the cost of untold millions of lives. This is one of the most dark and uncompromising stories in the collection, dealing as it does almost entirely with the villains of the series. As such, it has no really sympathetic characters, only ones who are less distasteful. It was quite honestly the one story in the anthology which I have had no real desire to re-read, having given it only the most superficial of readings the first time over. However, it certainly does help to explain some events that happen in the novels.
In addition to the three works of fiction, there is a lengthy essay by David Weber on the background of the Honor Harrington universe, and in particular the technological and political infrastructure of the societies in the novels. Here for the first time we see the full story of how the colonists of Manticore transformed their society into a constitutional monarchy, loosely modeled upon that of the United Kingdom, but with certain elements clearly drawn from American precedents (for instance, there are no sacerdotal overtones to kingship, and there is even a provision for the impeachment of a king turned criminal). In addition there is the only comprehensive discussion I have ever seen of the relative power of the various classes of starship, arranged in tables for easy reference. I wish I could have had it to hand while reading some of the earlier volumes in the series.
Table of Contents
- A Beautiful Friendship by David Weber
- A Grand Tour by David Drake
- A Whiff of Grapeshot by S. M. Stirling
- The Universe of Honor Harrington by David Weber
Review posted March 19, 2009
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