Worlds of Honor by David Weber, ed.
Cover art by David Mattingly
Published by Baen Books
Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel
The overwhelming success of the Honorverse has made David Weber the flagship author of Baen Books. One of the reasons for that success was the sense of a lived-in universe that extended beyond the boundaries of the stories.
As a result, readers soon began to clamor for more information on the people and events that were only hinted at in the published novels. However, many of them were not of a scope that would support a complete novel in its own right. As a result, Jim Baen decided it was time to expand the franchise beyond the limits of the novels. He'd had considerable success with the Man-Kzin Wars series of anthologies set in Larry Niven's Known Space universe, so it wasn't that hard to propose to David Weber that it was time to open the Honorverse to carefully selected professional writers who could tell some of the stories behind the stories. In addition, it would offer Weber the opportunity to tell some of the smaller stories about his own characters.
The first such anthology, More than Honor, succeeded far beyond their expectations. Thus both Jim Baen and David Weber agreed that it should become the first of a series. As a result, this volume was brought out, beginning a tradition that has since grown to six volumes with no sign of any loss of interest. David Weber is the author of two pieces, while the other three are done by other authors.
The opening story, "The Stray" by Linda Evans, is a murder mystery with a twist -- the treecats know the identity of the murderer, but how can they communicate that information to the humans? The protagonist, Dr. Scott MacDallan, is a doctor on Sphinx who is in the middle of delivering a baby when he's hammered by a wave of emotion not his own. It's coming from Fisher, the treecat who adopted him about a year earlier.
Even as he's torn between the demands of two responsibilities, his patient tells him to invite the treecat in. Fisher's nimble truehands can work the door, so he doesn't have any trouble coming in once he's informed that entering is acceptable. But when he communicates his distress more clearly, Scott's dilemma is even worse -- someone out there is in distress and needs help, but how can he leave his present patient to help a new one.
And then one of the family's children calls out that there's a treecat out there, sick or injured. With his patient's permission -- nay, direct command -- he heads out to check out on this rare and elusive creature. With Fisher at his side, he is able to convince the wounded treecat that he is trustworthy, and soon sees the creature is indeed injured, the dark stains on its fur dried blood. So he takes the little stray inside to tend, and it gobbles up food as if starving.
Then it comes time to go hunting. Something out there, perhaps a hexapuma or a peak bear, wounded that treecat, and it may well be lingering in range of human settlements. But the more Scott thinks about it, the wounded treecat's behavior doesn't match with an unpleasant encounter with some of Sphinx's nastier wildlife. For starters, why is the poor creature so afraid of aircars?
And then he finds the wreck. Within the smashed vehicle are three bodies in a state of advanced decomposition. In spite of the stench, the treecat runs to the remains of the co-pilot, grief plain in its body language. A call to the local air traffic control tower reveals that a cargo aircar did indeed go down a few days earlier.
And then the point of view shifts from human to the members of the local treecat clan. As telepaths they are less likely to violence among themselves, but they are not angels. They have known murders, usually at the claws of a mentally ill member of the clan, and thus they understand what they have witnessed in terms of a mind so unbalanced that it endangers all those around it, both its fellow two-legs and the People.
But the two-legs do not have the ability to hear the mind voices of the People. Some of them seem to be able to catch a faint echo of them, but there is no way to simply tell them the situation as one would with a member of another clan. And worse, the two-leg who is trying to find out the situation is going into danger.
It comes to a very satisfying conclusion, and we get a sense of how many humans had a sense from the very beginning that treecats were more than just cute little native feline-equivalents. Linda Evans shows a keen awareness of the psychology of beings who think as well as any human, but not like a human.
David Weber's first contribution, "What Price Dreams?" is another treecat story, dealing with the first member of Manticoran royalty to be adopted by a treecat. Crown Princess Adrienne has come to Sphinx on a formal visit, and she's badgering her bodyguard about whether she'll get to see any treecats. She's heard about these mysterious indigenous quasi-felines, but is warned that they will not present themselves upon command and she must accept that she may not see any.
And then once again we have a point of view shift to a treecat, in this case Seeker of Dreams, who has become equally fascinated with the strange technological species who have set up residence upon the world of the People. He wants to bond with one of them, but his elders warn him that to do so is to condemn himself to an early death, for the humans' lives are painfully brief in comparison with those of the People.
Except he's coming into a very charged situation -- Princess Adrienne's father, King Roger II, is a reformer of the centralizing sort. He's determinedly pruned back a number of established interests among the aristocracy, and now he's turned his eyes upon the Sphinx Forest Service. However, they've remained determinedly independent in spite of all his efforts to bring them to heel. As a result, he has attracted the interest of the sort of people who are willing to use extra-legal violence to attain their goals. Their first attempt killed his wife the Queen, but instead of abandoning his royal obligations to put his family life back in order, King Roger has dived into le metier du roi with single-minded fierceness.
But what would happen if the Royal Heir were to be harmed as well? Could it be just the thing to break through that wall and shatter him so utterly that he would be rendered quite unable to threaten other entrenched interests?
Except for one problem they hadn't reckoned on, for the simple reason that it is a closely guarded secret of a handful of treecat adoptees -- the ability of treecats to read the minds of other sophonts. And thus royal princess and treecat are propelled on a collision course that will change the royal family's view of the SFS and those cute little furry creatures who bear such a curious resemblance to Terran housecats but are in fact so much more.
"Queen's Gambit" by Jane Lindskold deals with the truth behind the grav-skiing "accident" that killed King Roger III, the father of Honor's sovereign, Elizabeth III. There is a brief appearance by the tenth Earl of North Hollow (Lord Pavel Young's father) which leaves the reader wondering just what role he may have played in this incident, or what his interests might have been.
The author makes a wise choice in avoiding dwelling on the accident itself. It is over and done with in little over a page, so that we the readers experience with the characters the suddenness of unexpected mortality felling a young and well-loved sovereign, but it doesn't cross the line to bathos. Immediately we move to his daughter Elizabeth, all of eighteen and technically not yet old enough to legally assume the powers of the queenship which has suddenly and unexpectedly fallen upon her slender shoulders.
However, the fact that she is legally constrained to have a regent until her twenty-first birthday is not going to stop her from what she determines to be the right thing to do. Starting with finding out just what happened to her father and when she discovered that the "accident" was no happenstance, by avenging his death, either by bringing his killers to justice or, should that prove impossible, politically neutralizing them for good. Here we see the forging of the woman whom treecats called the Soul of Steel.
"The Hard Way Home," David Weber's second contribution, deals with Honor herself, in an earlier part of her career when she's still young and unconfident in her own abilities. It begins with a young brother and sister coming to Gryphon from their home in a corporate mining habitat in the Unicorn asteroids. They're on a school skiing trip, and everything seems to be routine until a tremor under the ski lift turns into a catastrophic failure.
Meanwhile, Honor Harrington is also on Gryphon as part of a routine training exercise. when she sees the collapse of the ski lift and the surrounding buildings, she know that it's the time for immediate action if they are to save any of the people caught in the disaster. However, her best efforts are being stymied by one of the aristocratic friends of her old enemy Lord Pavel Young. Somehow he just doesn't happen to have the resources to do a proper search of the hardest-hit areas, in particular the beginner slops where it's most likely that younger survivors will be found.
But Honor is determined to do what is right, even if she has to put her Navy career on the line to do it. And she has an ally that her enemies scorn -- her beloved treecat Nimitz, whose empathic sense can detect life and consciousness when even the most sophisticated instruments cannot.
The final story, Roland J. Green's "Deck Load Strike," is unfortunately the weakest, being primarily a wartime ghost story. One could argue that it doesn't really need to be set in the Honor Harrington universe, or even a generic sf universe. Also, having ghosts (or at least some form of survival of consciousness after the death of the body) being presented as real clashes with the rest of the Honor Harrington universe, which seems to be purely rational and materialistic. Yes, there's the treecat telepathy, but even it is presented as being primarily a neurological and quantum phenomenon, not a metaphysical or supernatural one.
One of the most frequent motifs in Western ghost stories is that of the spirit which continues to perform the tasks it did in mortal life, whether out of habit or because of some debt it must discharge. Often the story goes that our protagonists are on a lonely road or in a desperate battle or otherwise in an out-of-the-ordinary situation when they are joined and assisted by a mysterious stranger. Only afterward, when they relate their experience to someone, is the stranger recognized -- as a person who died some years earlier, often in a situation related in some way to what the ghost performed in the story.
This story isn't exactly a reprise of the familiar form of that motif, since the author does make the advanced medical technology of the Honorverse an important part of the story. But it's still enough of a ghost story that it doesn't really sit comfortably within the Honorverse in my mind.
Overall, the stories are all good, even if I have to question how much one of them is indeed an Honorverse story.
Table of Contents
- "The Stray" by Linda Evans
- "What Price Dreams?" by David Weber
- "Queen's Gambit" by Jane Lindskold
- "The Hard Way Home" by David Weber
- "Deck Load Strike" by Roland J. Green
Review posted October 8, 2014.
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