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Author David Weber, "Honor Harrington"

David Weber
Honor Harrington

And Introduction to:
NO MAN'S LAND


04-21-2011: MilSciFi.com interviews author David Weber, creator of the Honor Harrington series.

MilSciFi: "Welcome. Honor Harrington is one of the best-known characters and series in military science fiction. For those not yet familiar with it, can you tell us a bit about the series and your inspiration for it?"

Weber: "Well, by this time the series is up to around seventeen novels and either four or five anthologies of short fiction. Most of the novels are solo works by me, although there are three collaborative novels with Eric Flint (which are three of my favorites in the entire series, in a lot of ways, but don't tell Eric that). The protagonist — surprise!— is a female officer in the Royal Manticoran Navy by the name of Honor Harrington. Manticore is a small but wealthy constitutional monarchy with a political and social tradition of personal freedom, which finds itself at war with the much larger (but much less economically developed) and authoritarian People's Republic of Haven for the first dozen novels or so. The books are not simply the story of Honor Harrington, but also of an interstellar war — the reasons it's being fought, why there are very few "bad guys" on either side (and quite a few "good guys" on both sides), and how human beings caught up in the middle of all that do their best to hang onto their humanity, their sense of honor, and their responsibilities to one another and to themselves.
            The "inspiration" for the series came largely from the fact that Jim Baen asked me to propose a series. That was back in 1991 or early 1992. Essentially, everything I'd been doing at that point (I had only two or three novels actually in print at the time but three more already sold to Baen, I think) was turning into a series anyway, so he thought it might be a good idea to go ahead and plan a series from the outset. I pitched several ideas, one of which was the "Honorverse," as it's come to be called.

            I wanted a framework which would give me a conflict between the kind of open, individualistic political system I admired and the collectivist, state-centered political system I despised, and one which would let me put sympathetic characters into both. I actually started out thinking about using
Rome and Carthage for my historical template, but in the end I decided that the decades of conflict between England and France in the Napoleonic era offered a better one, even though the political systems I'd envisioned weren't perfect fits for either side in the Napoleonic Wars. The Star Kingdom of Manticore became a bit more aristocracy-dominated than in my original concept for the series when I decided to use England as my "small, wealthy naval power" versus my "great big, economically ramshackle, continental power," but I never really identified either Manticore or Haven as closely with their "historical models" as some of my readers thought I had. In fact, I deliberately suggested a greater degree of identification (especially in the earlier novels) than I intended because I hoped it would keep people from guessing where I intended to ultimately take the storyline."

MilSciFi: "What lead you to choose a female protagonist?"

Weber: "People ask me all the time why I chose a female protagonist, and the answer is always the same: I don't know. I never considered not making Honor a woman. She just was a female when I started developing the character. On the other hand, it's been observed that I have a lot of female characters and protagonists in my novels, and I can't really tell you why that's been the case since I started writing. I guess the best answer I've ever been able to come up with is that (A) I like women, (B) I like strong, competent people, and (C) therefore, I like strong, competent women. I'm comfortable around them, my mother was one of them, my wife is one of them, and my twin daughters (although still only nine) are bidding fair to grow up to be two more of them.
            Given the number of times I get asked this question, I do sort of keep turning it over in the back of my mind. Sometimes I think I actually over-refine on it a bit, which actually makes it harder to nail down definitive answers because there are so many "I wonder if that's the reason" possibilities still bobbing around in my brain. Still, on the basis of those ruminations, I think there may be a handful of additional secondary reasons involved.

           One, frankly, is the extent to which far-future science fiction in which women continue to face the same sorts of barriers that they've faced in the twentieth and twenty first centuries (and earlier) irritates the heck out of me. In my opinion, it criminally short-sells women, who I don't think are going to put up with that sort of treatment in technic societies that far in the future. It also presupposes that the majority of men are too stupid to figure out (given enough time; I did say it was far-future science fiction where this bothers me) that denying half the human race the opportunity to contribute to its fullest capability is self-defeating, as well as morally wrong. And, finally, if we're on the right track with our current notions of gender equality (which I obviously think we are), then by the time we get a thousand or so years into the future, the notion of female equality with men ought to have all of the burning significance to the citizenry of the time that Pharaoh's policy towards the Hittites has for us today. It will be a done deal, a settled question, and the notion that we might go back to treating women as second-class citizens will have all the appeal of the notion that we might go back to the days of African slavery. The idea will simply be so absurd and so socially and morally reprehensible that it will be an automatic nonstarter. So I think that it may be that one reason I create so many strong, capable female protagonists in traditionally "male" roles is as a vote on my part in favor of the notion that racial sanity will finally get it right and keep it that way."

MilSciFi: "Is the main character based on anyone special or did Honor develop as a product of the story?"

Weber: "The character of Honor was pretty well set before I ever started writing the first book. I deliberately didn't attempt to give the reader her full character or the reasons for it in the first couple of books; I wanted to reveal her character gradually so that so the reader would have that sense of still getting to know her until the books were far enough along for her character to be changing and evolving and for them to participate in that process. I had to know who she was myself pretty thoroughly in order to do that. That's not to say there aren't nuances, bits and pieces of her earlier character, which haven't revealed themselves to me as we went along.
            A lot of the elements of Honor's character are borrowed from various historical figures. On what you might think of as the "gross scale" of her military accomplishments, a lot of her is modeled on Horatio Nelson, although in many ways she has more in common with Lord Cochrane than with Nelson. There are also some echoes (although in a very different way) of Nelson's relationship with Emma Hamilton. On a personal level – where her personality, character traits, motivations, etc., are concerned, she doesn't have any personal or literary template of which I'm aware. Please note that final qualification, however, because I think almost every writer borrows or incorporates or builds upon both those people and those literary characters they've known when they began building their own characters. And the reason I dedicated the first novel in the series to C. S. Forrester — and the reason I gave Honor the initials "H. H." — was that I always figured that if the series worked, Horatio Hornblower was bound to spring to readers' minds. I don't think that Honor really has all that much in common with Hornblower in terms of personality and history, but there are obviously clear resonances between the two characters, and there are elements in the first few novels especially which do constitute a sort of homage to Hornblower."

MilSciFi: "There are many novels set in the Honorverse, do you find it difficult to come up with new avenues to explore?"

Weber: "In some ways, it's no problem at all, because most of the avenues the storyline is following up were either there from the beginning in my original visualization of what the series was going to do and to be, or else they're avenues which have grown out of where the stories have already gone. A situation evolves in dealing with one of the storylines I intended to deal with all along which presents its own unresolved questions and possibilities, which then have to be followed up. For example, I'd worked out where I wanted the development of weapons technology in the Honorverse to go before I began the books. In the process of taking it there, though, points I never even considered when I was first setting out suggested themselves and had to be resolved, which means the final balance of weapons and defenses — and all the implications for strategy and tactical doctrine which that implies — developed rather differently in certain aspects than I'd planned on. Another example is that I like to introduce and develop secondary characters, and some of those secondary characters have turned into very important secondary characters, in some cases effectively taking over entire novels for themselves. And as "historical events" in the Honorverse have had their impact on Honor (and other characters) those characters have been transformed, frequently in ways I hadn't anticipated, which has given me even more opportunities to go places I hadn't originally planned on going.

MilSciFi: "There are a number of Worlds of Honor books that have been released, what challenges are there when you have other people writing in your universe?"

Weber: "The biggest challenge when anyone else writes in the Honorverse is that no one else has the same . . . gestalt I do. I've been developing the series and the characters for twenty years now, and while I've tried to get most of what I know and understand about the Honorverse and how it's organized into my written tech bible so I can have it available to be sure I'm maintaining as much continuity as I can, my notes aren't complete. So even when I share them with someone else, there's the distinct possibility that the "someone else" is going to go somewhere I hadn't planned on going or even misinterpret something I've already done. Having said that, most of my anthology contributors have tried very, very hard to stay within the official canon of the Honorverse, and no one's complained if I had to do a little judicious editing here and there to avoid inconsistencies. I'm not saying there aren't still some small glitches here and there, but overall, I think the other writers have done a remarkably good job of staying within the parameters of my literary universe.'

MilSciFi: "Are there any current plans for an Honor Harrington movie or TV show?"

Weber: "We are currently discussing a movie project with a studio in Hollywood. All I can say at this point is that it looks promising, by Hollywood standards, and I have a very good feeling about where the final product will end up if we can work out all the details with the people to whom we're talking. The most important thing to me about the discussions we've had so far is that these people understand that while special effects and CGI and 3-D can create a visually satisfying spectacle, what generates a series of movies and viewer loyalty to it are the characters and the story line. The visual effects which help you to suspend disbelief and enter fully into the cinematic universe are enormously important, don't get me wrong, but it's the elements of storytelling which help the viewer enter fully into the lives, hopes, fears, and determination of the characters. And if you don't care about the characters, you don't care about where the story is going, either."

MilSciFi: "Do you have any upcoming projects you would like to talk about?"

Weber: "I've always got projects ongoing. At the moment, I'm finishing up the next two Honorverse novels, I've just (January) turned in the fifth Safehold novel to Tor, and as soon as I get through with the Honorverse books I'm working on now, I'll be starting work on the fourth “Bahzel novel” in my fantasy series. Eric Flint and I will be doing our next collaborative Honorverse novel this year, as well, and I have the first young adult novel set in the same future history as the Honorverse coming out in October, and Jane Lindskold and I are currently working on a collaborative sequel thereunto. I'll be going to Eastercon in England in April and doing a fair amount of other traveling this year, as well."

MilSciFi: "Do you ever get to play in realms outside of the Honorverse? Are there stories or books out there people should look for?"

Weber: "I get to play in realms outside the Honorverse quite frequently. The Safehold series with Tor Books is a case in point (one in which my heroine doesn't really do anything until she's been dead for about 800 years; you'll have to read the books to see that it really does make sense), as are my two collaborations with Eric Flint in his 1632 universe, with Baen. And also with Baen, there are the Mutineers' Moon series, the Bahzel novels, my Starfire collaborations with Steve white, etc. The truth is that I need to go play in other literary universes every so often in order to keep from burning out my enthusiasm for any one of them."

MilSciFi: "What motivated you write the introduction for the DTFIV No Man's Land anthology?"

Weber: "Well, first, I was invited!
           I think another factor was probably that while I didn't set out to specifically make any statements about women in science fiction in general or in military science fiction in particular, over the years a lot of people have told me that my monstrous regiment of capable women have changed the way they look at those genres. One of the results of that has been that I think I've become more aware of the readers out there (not all of them women, by any means) who want to see female characters come more front and center that they were traditionally allowed to. I think that that process is well underway, but I also think it's still a process, not a concluded accomplishment. I see these stories and these writers as a part of that process, and whether I knew I was setting out to be part of it or not, I seem to have done so. By and large, I think it's a good process, as well, so when someone gives me the opportunity to help draw attention to it, or speak up for it, or even possibly help nudge it along a little bit, I like to take it."

MilSciFi: "Have you, or a member of your family, ever served in the Armed Forces?"

Weber: "I've never personally served in the armed forces, although in my more youthful days I made several attempts to enlist in the U.S. Navy which was less than delighted to see me for several medical reasons (and no, none of them had to do with mental suitability for the service), but my father was in the Army during World War II, my older brother served a hitch in the navy, and my brother-in-law is a 23-year veteran of the Marine Corps. I've been around and had close friendships with current duty and retired military people for about as long as I can recall, so I suppose you could say that I've absorbed a lot about the military experience and the military perspective by a sort of osmosis."

MilSciFi: "Do you have any advice for would-be writers who plan to use a strong female character or write military science fiction?"

Weber: "My primary advice to someone who wants to write using strong female characters is that they don't.
        By that, what I mean is that they should write using strong human characters who simply happen to be female. Some people, it seems to me, who choose to write about female characters want the fact that the character is female to be the most critical aspect of the character. There are times when that's completely appropriate, but when someone deliberately sets out to build a character and to hang that character off a single one of his (or her) characteristics, that character tends to become one-dimensional. Female characters who are going to appeal to the majority of readers, all across the spectrum of genders, mindsets, life experiences, and all the things that go into making a reader, have to reflect the same broad base of human characteristics and development as the readers themselves do. They have to be human beings first and women second.

            I've often told people that one of the problems writers — whether novelists or screenwriters or short fiction writers or even essayists — face when they start writing about female military characters is that the American experience (and the Western experience in general) is short on historical or literary templates for female warriors and/or especially female military commanders. We have tons and tons of male characters, both literary and historic, we can use as basis, inspiration, or reality check when we write, but we don't have anywhere near as many female characters, either literary or historic, we can use for the same basis. I think that's one reason female writers have been more successful at writing male military characters then either female or male writers have been at writing successful female military characters.

           One of the consequences has been the creation of all too many (in my opinion) female military characters who in order to succeed have to out-testosterone all of the males around them. There are many techniques whereby someone can exercise military command successfully, and not all of them are George S. Patton screaming at his troops and exulting in the challenge and the virility of combat. There's no reason to assume that a female military commander isn't going to work out the technique that works best for her, and that technique is going to grow not just out of the fact that she happens to be in the military, but out of all the things that go into making her a human being first. So if you want to write a strong female character, first you make sure that the character is a strong human character. If you've done that, and if one of the things which makes her a strong human character is that she happens to be female, then the female nuances of her personality and the way she interacts with those around her are going to emerge spontaneously and without unnaturally hard edges that can get in the way of a reader's sympathetic acceptance.

            For those who want to write military fiction — whether it's science fiction, contemporary fiction, historical fiction, or whatever — I think one hugely important aspect is to think about how the people who are in the military came to be there. The current American tradition is for a volunteer army, and that's actually been the American pattern for the vast majority of our history. There've also been periods in our history when we relied on conscription, however, and the individual who joins a military organization voluntarily is very likely (indeed, inevitably) going to have a different perspective on the military, and on its function, and on its justification than someone who was peacefully walking down the street in January and finds himself marching onto a battlefield in October without voluntarily signing up for it. Either perspective is equally legitimate, just as it's equally legitimate to write fiction which emphasizes the willing spirit of sacrifice, the nobility of choosing to face death in the service of one's country or believes, or fiction which emphasizes the horror, destruction, and of violence of warfare. But while both perspectives are equally legitimate, the writer has to know which one the characters and the society in his fiction are coming from.

            I think one of the difficulties for most writers of military fiction is to balance the contradictory elements of what they're writing about. The truth is that warfare is nothing more nor less than organized murder on the grand scale. You cannot — honestly — dress it up or turn it into anything else. Yet in my opinion, there are clearly times when warfare, with all its attendant horror and destruction (including the inevitable "collateral damage" of civilian deaths and the destruction of civilian lives and infrastructure), is unavoidable. I can honestly say that I don't think that I know anyone, including my friends with actual military and combat experience, who think that war is ever a good thing; it's just that sometimes war is a better thing (or a lesser evil) than the alternative to war. Not everyone shares that opinion, and that's their right. Unfortunately, there historically always have been and (I think) always will be those who are prepared to resort to violence in order to achieve what they want, and all too often they can't be stopped by good intentions and the occupation of the moral high ground.

            Human beings are human beings. Our motives are always going to be flawed, no matter how hard we try to avoid that. We are always going to be guilty of seeing events, conflicts, and competitions through the narrow peephole of our own experience, our own belief structures, our own interests. Those events are going to bring us into conflict with those who don't agree with us, and the ability to insist that every problem could be worked out peacefully if people would only try to get along with one another is a luxury of the powerful and the secure, not a universal possession of the human race at large. I believe that the social and historical evolution of our species is towards progressively broader distribution of power and security, of education and medical care and standards of living, and of an ability for the weaker to avoid victimization by the stronger, but we aren't there yet. I think we frequently tend to view history as a frozen snapshot of a moment in time — usually our own — rather than seeing our experience and our lifetime as a single frame in the ongoing movie of history. Because of that, we tend to forget everything it cost for us and our species in general to reach our current vantage point, and by the same token, we tend to be blinkered about where our species may yet be bound. We have to make our decisions, both as individuals and as nationstates, on an inherently imperfect and incomplete knowledge of our alternatives and the consequences of our actions. Some of us will have sharply different perspectives on those alternatives and probable consequences, and those are what divide societies where the use of force, whether in a civilian policing function or as military force directed at external foes, is concerned.

            Those same differences in perspective are going to constrain the way in which any writer approaches writing military fiction. Because of that I think that the writer has to be aware of how he views the existence and use of military force, and whether he thinks it's frequently justifiable, or justifiable only infrequently and after exhausting all other alternatives, or never justifiable, he has to play fair with the reader. I think it's obvious from my own writing that I side with those who believe that military force (and its use) are inseparable from the human condition and that there are circumstances in which a resort to war is not simply justifiable but morally imperative. At the same time, however, I can think of nothing more horrible than the organized mass destruction of human life and human societies which are also a part of war, be it ever so "morally imperative." I believe that if you're going to write military fiction at all, you have to show both sides of that equation, and you have to show the cost of war, both to individual characters and to the wider context of the societies and the families in which those characters live and move.

            War which is always heroic, in which only bad guys (who obviously had it coming, anyway) get killed, in which people hit by high-powered weapons either die instantly and painlessly or receive "only a flesh wound," in which there are no mental or moral or spiritual casualties, is splatter porn. It trivializes and all too often it desensitizes, allows us to walk away from the hard questions and the moral wrestling with conscience, threats, and costs which should always be part of our understanding of what war really is. Fiction which lets us admire, respect, even venerate warriors for the sacrifices they make and the prices they pay is one thing; fiction which glorifies war, understates its consequences, and numbs the reader to its horrors and to the need to consider very carefully before casually reaching for our weapons in jingoistic myopia is an abomination. I think that anyone who writes military fiction has to bear both those thoughts in mind at all times. It is the scale of the holocaust against which a character in military fiction contends which allows us to appreciate the scale and the qualities of the character, and that's valid, but it's just as important that the holocaust be recognized as a holocaust."

MilSciFi: "Thank you for your time."

"With special thanks to Gena."
 


David Weber's website:
www.davidweber.net

The Honor Harrtington series, is published by Baen Books
www.baen.com

No Man's Land, is published by Dark Quest Books
www.darkquestbooks.com

 

 

FTC 16 CFR Part 255 Discloser:
Solicited by MilSciFi.com with no compensation.


Copyright ฉ2011 Mike McPhail, All Rights Reserved.

 

The views contained in this interview are those of the author, and
do not necessarily represent the views of MilSciFi.com.