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Frequently Asked Questions

Perhaps it is because of the nature of the books that David writes, perhaps it is because David Weber's fans are unusually dedicated and inquisitive... but it seems that everyone has a question! Here are a few that David finds he gets asked most often.

If you have a question that you would like to see considered as a FAQ, please e-mail us at Responses will be posted if and when David can get to them. We'd love to hear from you! 

Series Question Posted
Honorverse Who is Honor Harrington? May 2009

Honor Harrington is a 6'2" (187.96 cm) tall Eurasian, female starship commander in the service of the Star Kingdom of Manticore who rises eventually to very senior flag rank, not to mention becoming a knight of the realm, a steadholder (think a ruling princess within an empire), a duchess, and general all-round avatar of the war goddess.

Obviously, that's just a tad simplified and just a mite flippant, but it's also true.

I think, though, that the real core of Honor's personality, and what makes her resonate with her readers, is the fact that she's one of those responsibility-takers I write about. She doesn't waffle. If there's a problem to be solved, a job to be undertaken, she simply goes ahead and does it rather than worrying about whether or not it's her fault, or her responsibility, or whether or not it's going to make problems for her down the road.

One thing that I think a lot of readers have missed about Honor, though, is that Hamish Alexander was completely correct when he told her that she had "the vices of her virtues." There have been many instances in the series where Honor has made what was, at best, a suboptimal choice, yet because the readers liked her so much, and because they were "inside her head" when she did it, they give her a pass on it . . . if they ever notice it in the first place. One rather famous incident, for example, comes when she smacks Reginald Houseman. Sure, he deserved it; on the other hand, as a serving officer in the Royal Manticoran Navy, Honor had no business giving it to him the way that she did. Again, in the same book, she almost shoots a POW out of hand. Again, he had it coming; on the other hand, he hadn't been tried, he hadn't been sentenced, and what she intended to do -- what, in some ways, she actually did do, since she pulled the trigger -- would quite rightly have been regarded as an act of murder. Once again, in In Enemy Hands, she makes a seriously flawed decision, although not this time because she loses her temper. In this instance, a bunch of her subordinate officers and her Grayson armsmen have given their lives rescuing her, and by this time she is not simply a captain in the Royal Manticoran Navy -- she's a flag officer, and a steadholder, with all of the duties and responsibilities of a ruling head of state. So, it's clearly her duty to carry through with her escape, not to mention the fact that if she doesn't, then all of the people who have already died will have died in vain. Yet when her last armsman is wounded and knocked unconscious, she runs right back into the crossfire to save him, and comes within inches of getting both of them killed.

There are a lot of other instances in the books where she makes decisions based in large part on who she is -- what makes her who she is -- rather than on a proper analysis of the situation. I think part of the problem is that when a competent person makes a mistake, it's usually a competent mistake, and it's usually not made for stupid reasons, which means that when Honor makes a mistake, the readers generally don't beat up on her for it.

Honorverse Honor Harrington novels have included covers by several different artists. Which depiction of Honor do you find most accurate? May 2009

We've been through a total of 3 artists on the HH covers. Actually, I tend to think that the shape of her face and her eyes are closest to correct on the cover of On Basilisk Station, although Nimitz is not at all how I envision him and there are major problems with the uniform. The same artist did the next 2 covers, and somehow Honor started morphing until we wound up with the The Short Victorious War and someone who, frankly, looks more like my viewpoint character (Li Han) from Insurrection. We changed artists for Field of Dishonor, and while I feel the cover was effective in a marketing sense, I felt that Michael Jackson was considerably \prettier" than Honor. The same artist did Flag in Exile, and (I felt) gave us someone who looked much more like Lt. Dax from DS9 but without the tasteful body decals. (The 2 things that bugged me most about this cover were that I had carefully described the Grayson sword as having a "western style hilt"--and got katanas--and that I had specified that the planet on the Grayson flag was actually Grayson, and not Old Terra.) With In Enemy Hands we shifted to David Mattingly and, despite a few continuing problems, I am more content with his covers than with anyone else's to date. I think Honor looks a teeny bit too old on In Enemy Hands, but I believe part of this is the lighting, which comes up from below and "loses" the line of her chin against the flesh tones of her throat. (Of course, if he'd included the white turtle neck blouse, this would not have happened, but--hey! He got every other detail of the uniform perfect, which no one had previously managed.) As far as the shapes of the ships are concerned, those seem to be the hull forms for Mattingly space craft. I do not know whether he has read the books or is working from a synopsis provided by Baen. More to the point, perhaps, I don't really care. While I would be eternally grateful to get the ships right, I am already eternally grateful for the improvements in (and consistency of) Honor's appearance from book to book.

(BTW, I have a way to describe Honor which seems to work for everyone except artists. I describe her as a slightly taller Eurasian Sigourney Weaver from the original Alien movie with Linda Hamilton's physique from T2. Works for me, anyway. Also BTW, on the casting question, I do indeed agree that what is needed for an actress to portray Honor is less someone who matches her physical description as closely as possible as someone who can properly portray her character and make the transition from wallflower to beautiful [but not "pretty"] person between installments. [Of course I want sequels, you sillies!] I think someone with, say, Meryl Streep's ability [and a similarly unique facial structure, perhaps a bit more like Honor's] but physically younger would be ideal. Of course, where do I find a treasure like that? Sigh.)

Two of the foreign editions of Honor books are the UK edition of Honor Among Enemies and the German edition of On Basilisk Station. The British Honor Among Enemies uses a cover by someone named "Buggy G. Riphead" (and I'm sorry, but that name always makes me think of purple hair and safety pins in navels) which does, indeed, make Honor look a lot more Afroasian than Eurasian, and also I'd guess five years or so younger than I visualize her looking. The German edition of On Basilisk Station uses the cover art from the US edition of Honor Among Enemies, but with one cuff ring removed to get her down to commander's rank. (Unfortunately, the other rank indications--like her shoulder boards and collar insignia--were not changed, but at least their hearts were in the right place. Please note that it was not until Mr. Mattingly appeared on the scene that we ever got her into a uniform of the proper rank.)

Honorverse How did you come up with the idea for the Honor Harrington series? May 2009

Well, it's been about 15 years, you understand, so some of the details have gotten blurred, I'm sure. Basically, though, what happened was that Jim Baen called me up and pointed out to me that, as he put it, my books were "spawning" again. The problem was that when I did what was supposed to be a stand-alone book, I kept thinking about other things that could be played with, or other points that I thought needed more attention, and so I kept on writing sequels. As Jim pointed out, this meant that any fact I was producing a whole bunch of small series, and he suggested that if I was going to do that anyway, I should probably come up with an idea for a series that was designed from the get-go as such. I think what he was thinking about was that if I did that, I would start putting all of the building blocks in place in an orderly fashion from the outset rather than having to go back and think about back story I hadn't considered with the first novel of an unintentional series. And, I think, there was the notion that if readers knew from the outset that it was going to be an ongoing series, they would be more willing to make the emotional commitment in the protagonist and in the series generally. Not to mention (we are talking about Jim Baen here, after all, bless him) the fact that he felt there would be all sorts of marketing potentials.

          So I sat down and thought up 10 potential series concepts and sent all of them to him. One of them became Honor Harrington; one of them became the Safehold series I'm currently doing with Tor Books; and one of them became the multiverse or Hell's Gate series.

          What I didn't know when I pitched the ideas to Jim was that he had been looking for someone to write an interstellar Horatio Hornblower series for the better part of 20 years. As soon as he read the first sentence of the proposal -- "Honor Harrington is a 6'2" female, Eurasian starship captain in the service of the Star Kingdom of Manticore" -- he basically told Toni Weisskopff "Write him a contract. No, make it two contracts! No! Make it four contracts!" I don't know for certain that he ever read all of the other proposals at all . . . and given the Honorverse's success, I'm not going to complain if he didn't!

          As for the reasoning process that led me to create this particular literary universe, I knew that I wanted to do a military novel, that I wanted it to be about a very long running war, that I wanted to have "good guys" on both sides, and that I wanted it to be of a naval character. I actually started out looking at the Punic Wars between Rome and Carthage, but I decided that the naval aspects of those wars were too limited. Seapower in those wars was really primarily logistical -- transporting armies and keeping them supplied -- rather than the sort of "command of the sea" warfare in the tradition of Alfred Thayer Mahan that I really wanted to write about. Which, of course, caused me to turn to the wars that Mahan had actually analyzed -- the Napoleonic Wars between the British Empire and Revolutionary and later Imperial France.

          Once I'd chosen my historical template, I sat down and constructed the basic universe: political units, available technologies, naval strategic and tactical doctrines, historical evolution, etc... And, I will confess, I deliberately constructed my navel technological toolbox in a way which would create something with clear parallels between three-dimensional space-going warfare and the two-dimensional broadside warfare of the eighteenth century.

          At any rate, that's how I came up with the idea.

          It would, however, be a mistake to read too much parallelism into the "Honorverse." There are obvious resonances, but although there are some distinct similarities between the People's Republic of Haven and Revolutionary France (and especially between the Jacobins and the Havenite Committee of Public Safety under one Rob S. Pierre), France was never the actual template upon which the People's Republic had been imposed. Mind you, I did my very best to fling out as many red herrings as possible to convince readers that it was, because I didn't want them to see where I really meant to go with the political developments in the series. By making Haven look like Revolutionary France (hence the French names, calling the capital "Nouveau Paris," and a few other minor things of that nature), I conditioned readers who'd picked up on it and who knew their history to expect me to eventually produce the Havenite equivalent of Emperor Napoleon, when in fact I had absolutely no intention of doing anything of the sort.

          In fact, one of the underlying "themes" of the novel is that the Bad Guys™ at the outset of the series never set out to become the Omnivoracity of Evil and never actually thought of themselves that way, either. Besides, I knew they weren't going to be the Bad Guys™ for the entire series, so I was going to have to "redeem" them in the readers' eyes eventually.

          It would also be a mistake to regard the Star Kingdom of Manticore as simply the Kingdom of Great Britain transported into the far reaches of space. Again, there are obvious and clear resonances -- partly as a result of the template I'd used, partly as another example of my intention to focus the readers' attention on one anticipated direction while I actually went in another, and partly because I was interested in playing against the tendency to view republics as the good guys and empires or kingdoms as the bad guys. But there are actually rather more differences between the actual Kingdom of Great Britain and the Star Kingdom of Manticore than there are similarities. Elizabeth III, for example, has far more actual power than any British king since George III (at the very best), if not William and Mary. Or, for that matter, probably since Charles I. In addition, the Star Kingdom was a well-developed constitutional monarchy -- although with significant differences from its British model -- from the moment it came into existence. As a result, most of the political conflict between the various branches and organs of government has taken place in a nonmilitary, purely political arena. In other words, there's never been a Manticoran Civil War to establish where authority truly lies. Moreover, you'd have to go back to a time well before the British Reform Act of 1832 to find a British House of Lords with the sort of power that was deliberately reserved to the Manticoran House of Lords when the Star Kingdom's Constitution was written. For example, the provision that the Prime Minister must come from the House of Lords, rather than the House of Commons, and that the House of Lords is the branch of Parliament which actually holds the power of the purse, is quite different from the model which evolved in Britain following the English Civil War. So, in a functional sense, the Star Kingdom is distinctly different from Great Britain, even if a sort of vague concept of Great Britain which existed only in the minds of the Star Kingdom's Constitution writers did play a significant part in their final product.

Honorverse How close are the parallels between the politics in the Honorverse and our present-day politics? May 2009

This one is something of a toughie.

          As I have explained, the parallels between Revolutionary France and the British Empire, on the one hand, and the Republic of Haven and the Star Kingdom of Manticore, on the other, are (deliberately) far from a perfect match. On the other hand, this question is about present-day politics, which is another kettle of fish entirely.

          Basically, the People's Republic of Haven was actually the United States of America after a cynical deal had been struck between a political elite and the "machine bosses" who were able to deliver bloc votes on a dependable, reliable basis. The people who became the Legislaturalists deliberately set out to create a situation in which there would be an enormous underclass completely dependent upon the state for its support and upkeep. What had begun as a principled effort to provide the best possible life for all of the Republic's citizens under the Legislaturalists' predecessors became, in effect, a means of permanently institutionalizing graft and corruption in a way which would keep the Legislaturalists (and their descendents) in power. What we see beginning to happen in the Republic after Theisman overthrows Oscar Saint-Just and the Committee of Public Safety is a restoration of the Old Republic, under the original constitution (which happens to bear a strong relationship to that of the United States), and a regeneration of the concept of civic responsibility, personal responsibility, and honest government.

          Readers are, of course, free to make their own judgments as to how this parallels the experience of the United States over the last century or so, and what it may or may not imply for the future. While they're doing that, however, they should bear in mind that although every writer's personal beliefs and politics infuse anything that that writer writes, the primary function of the Republic of Haven -- and of everything that happens in it, around it, and to it -- in the Honorverse is to provide the basis and framework for the stories I want to tell. In other words, while no writer can avoid stepping up onto a soap box, whether he wants to or not, when he starts writing military or political fiction, I am perfectly willing to subordinate my personal views on many of these questions to the strength of the storyline I'm working with.

          I think that readers should also note that my personal sympathies clearly lie with the responsibility-taking moderates in both the Star Kingdom and the Republic of Haven, not to mention the Protectorate of Grayson. I beat up on the extreme left in the form of the Star Kingdom's old Liberal party; I beat up on the notion of economic redistribution (and the cynicism which can be inherent in it) in the People's Republic of Haven; I beat up on extreme conservatism and aristocratic abuses of power in the Star Kingdom's Conservative Association; and I beat up on religious reactionaries in the Protectorate of Grayson. I also try to show the plus sides of most flavors and brands of ideology and religious belief, along the way, and I'm sure that most of my readers can think of characters who cover that entire spectrum.

Honorverse How is the balance of power maintained in the Star Kingdom of Manticore? May 2009

I’ve addressed this in part in my previous answers, but let me see if I can give a more complete breakdown here.

The affairs of both houses are affected by the activities of the other in many ways; this is part of the notion of balance of power.

The House of Lords' power is based primarily on the fact that the Prime Minister must be a member of that House and the control of the initiation of finance bills. The House of Commons' power lies in the fact that approval of both houses is required for an act to become law as well as the Commons' ability to amend finance bills before approving them. More to the point for the purposes of this little drama, the House of Commons votes to confirm patents of nobility; no one may become a peer of the SK (and thus a member of the House of Lords) without the approval of the Commons. The ability of the Crown and the Commons to "pack” the Lords by creating new peers favorable to the Crown/Commons side of a dispute with the Lords is limited by two factors:

  1. the total membership of the Lords may be increased by a maximum of 10% between general elections
  2. the peers may vote to exclude any peer for any reason in its sole discretion, which means that the Lords could simply refuse to seat the peers appointed to "pack" its membership.

NOTE: There are Manticoran peerages which do not grant their holder a seat in the House of Lords. Most of these are "life peerages" granted as a sort of public atta-boy! (or atta-girl!), but some are hereditary. After so long as a monarchy, the Star Kingdom has acquired its own share of idiosyncrasies.

Ultimately, the powers of the Lords trump the power of the Commons, which was precisely how the Founders (who were all about to become nobles under the new Constitution) wanted things set up. What Elizabeth wants to do is to split one of the Lords' twin-barreled "whammy" powers -- the power of the purse -- away from the Lords and hand it to the Commons, thereby promoting a more equal balance of power between the two Houses.

Honorverse Why did Paul Tankersley accept the duel? May 2009

Paul accepted the duel because he made a mistake... and because of who he was. The mistake was allowing himself to be provoked into a position which allowed the challenge to be issued “for cause” in the first place. The fact that he accepted the challenge (and met it) was -- IMHO -- inevitable in light of who he was, the information he had at the time, and the consequences (personal, professional, and for Honor) if he had not.

At the time that he and Summervale met, he had no idea (and no way of knowing) that Summervale had a reputation as a professional duelist. For that matter, very few people (in the Star Kingdom of Maticore at large) knew that. It was part of what made Summervale so effective. The reader knew it, because I -- as the writer -- wanted you to know it, so I had Tomas Ramirez and Gunny Babcock explain it to other character's in Paul's absence. Accordingly, all Paul really knew was that a stranger had deliberately -- and successfully -- goaded him into striking the first blow by crudely insulting the woman he loved. (And, I might add, by using an insult which hit Paul especially hard because he knew precisely how hard Honor had found it to open up to him in the first place.)

Paul was the equivalent of a high-level black-belt in a particularly "hard" martial art. Summervale was also a trained martial artist, but Paul had no way of knowing that when he attacked him. Hence, Paul was -- to the best of his knowledge -- guilty of the equivalent (in both practical terms and in the eyes of the law) of assault with a deadly weapon.

The man he had assaulted, however much he might have deserved punishment, had just challenged him to a duel. In demanding personal satisfaction, he was (in the setting of the Star Kingdom of Manticore) renouncing any other form of satisfaction; that is, the duel, if accepted by Paul, precluded Summervale's later filing assault charges over the incident. That, alone, would not have been enough to push someone like Paul into accepting the duel, but it was a factor in his thinking. There was also the fact that whether he had been goaded by the fellow or not, Paul had struck the first blow and, in his thinking (and that of most Manticorans of the time), that meant that Summervale had a right to respond by seeking satisfaction, especially since Paul's blows had drawn blood. Again, social pressure coupled with Paul's own acceptance of that perspective as a Manticoran.

In addition, Paul wanted to take a shot at Summervale on the field. Yes, he knew he had been goaded. Yes, by the time Tomas Ramirez acted as his second, he clearly knew he had been set up by a professional duelist. But at the time he accepted Summervale's challenge, he didn't know Summervale's reputation and did know that he wanted nothing in the universe more than to finish smashing the supercilious, sneering son-of-a-bitch. This, too, was something Summervale had counted on, and it worked. (Don't forget that Summervale was a professional. He'd studied his intended victim carefully before choosing exactly how to goad him onto the field, and it worked.)

By the time Paul knew the truth about Summervale's reputation from Ramirez, he had already agreed to meet him. That moved the entire confrontation to a different plain. Had he declined Summervale's initial challenge, he would have been cut dead by a sizable chunk of Manticoran society, which would have had major repercussions. Although his family was of yeoman stock, it was also extremely wealthy, connected directly to the House of Winton by marriage (remember that he was Michelle Henke's cousin and also a cousin of the Queen herself), and the shame he would have brought upon the family name (and its connections) would, in Manticoran eyes, have been profound. Not only would it have had serious social repercussions for him personally, but it could well have had consequences for other members of his family and even -- to some extent -- on their financial interests. Politically, the Queen's opponents could have used personal attacks on him as an oblique attack upon the Royal Family itself. "After all, if one of the Queen's own cousins lacks the courage to offer satisfaction to a man he viciously beat over drunken words exchanged in a bar, then surely -- given the House of Winton's own notorious temper -- one can hardly put a great deal of faith in the Queen's ability either to think clearly and dispassionately in the present confrontation with the People's Republic or to admit that she might have been wrong and offer the new, enlightened Pierre regime an opportunity to show how different it is from the previous, evil Harris regime." In professional terms, the consequences for his career might also have been profound. For better or worse, military organizations look for officers who are willing -- not necessarily eager, but willing -- to fight and to confront physical confrontations they would not expect/require the typical civilian to face. The fact that Summervale had a reputation in certain select circles as a hired duelist might have been expected to offset that to some degree but Paul didn't know he was one at the time he accepted the duel, and so no subconscious awareness on his part of potential consequences -- social or professional -- was predicated on that basis.

Once the challenge had been issued and accepted, Paul faced a different set of considerations. Yes, by that time he knew that Summervale was believed by some people (like a goodly chunk of the Marine Corps) to be a professional duelist, but he had no proof of that. (If anyone -- including the RMMC -- had possessed such proof, Summervale would have been in prison and not available for any duels.) He had accepted the challenge. To withdraw now, because of his opponent's reputation and record, would have been seen as an act of rank cowardice which would have had even more severe consequences than an initial refusal to meet him would have carried. Of course anyone would have expected him to be concerned, and most people would have agreed that the entire situation was suspicious. But the attitude of the majority of Manticorans would have been that Paul had, in a sense, made his bed. If he only intended to accept challenges from "safe" people and decline to challenge "dangerous" ones, then he shouldn't have been so lacking in circumspection as to punch Summervale out in a bar to begin with. Even leaving aside all of those considerations, Paul himself would have been unable to back down anymore than Honor could have backed down. Summervale had deliberately set out to create a situation in which he could kill Paul. In the process, he had to expose himself to the possibility that Paul might kill him. And Paul was a smart man. He knew, from Summervale's choice of tactics, if nothing else, that he (Paul) probably was not Summervale's only target. He also knew how Honor would react if Summervale confronted her in the same way, and Paul Tankersley was not prepared to protect his own life by hiding behind the woman he loved.

In addition, Paul, as the challenged party, was in control of the protocol chosen, and he chose one in which only a single shot would be exchanged. It was the best compromise between the need to meet Summervale, for whatever reason, and the minimization of the chance of being killed. He clearly understood that he was in greater danger than Summervale, and by the time they faced one another, he knew that his chance of being killed was considerably higher than the chance of his not being killed. But for all of the above reasons, he never even considered not meeting him.

Personally, I thought it was entirely consistent with his character to accept the challenge. I didn't see any need to sketch all of the above out (I catch enough grief over 'infodumps!' ), but it was all present in my thinking and, I'd hoped, sufficiently worked into the subtext of Manticoran society to support the underlying logic of his actions. Please also note that while I do think a case can be made for a code duello serving a useful purpose, I have never been blind to the ways in which such a system can be abused, and the fact that Manticore has one does not mean that I (or, for that matter, Honor) think it is a Good Thing.

Honorverse Why did Pavel Young accept the duel? May 2009

Pavel, the political figure, had no choice. Had he not accepted, he would no longer have been a political figure... period. So, yes, he could have refused, but only at the price of giving up everything he felt he had left in life. If you'll notice, he didn't exactly cover himself in steely-nerved glory when the moment came, and that was largely because his political ambition (i.e., hunger for power) had gotten him into a situation he lacked the intestinal fortitude to face up to. And remember also that he had agreed to a protocol in which he only had to face a single shot from Honor. Yes, as the moment loomed large before him he became more and more aware of his own mortality; at the moment he actually accepted her challenge, the instinctive need to preserve his position of power (and to avoid a situation in which no one in "society" would ever so much as acknowledge his existence once again) overpowered his fear that she would be able to kill him with that one shot. In the event, his nerve snapped, leading to his ignominious demise.

As for why none of Paul's family members or HH's friends challenged Denver, there were two reasons. (1) No one knew where to find him until Georgia slipped the word to Ramirez and McKeon through an intermediary, so no one could challenge him, and (2) Would you really want to be the person who challenged and killed him instead of leaving him for Honor to deal with?

Honorverse How far through the planned Honorverse storyline are we as of Storm from the Shadows? May 2009

I'd originally anticipated that the entire series would be done in about eight books. Obviously, I anticipated . . . poorly. I hadn't realized the extent to which readers would take Honor to their hearts, nor had I accurately visualized just how big and detailed the Honorverse was going to get.

          Bearing that caveat in mind, I will only say that as of Storm from the Shadows, we're about halfway through my original storyline for the entire series. My current estimate is that the Honorverse will go on for at least another five to ten novels. You should note, however, that what I had projected as taking eight books has now taken fifteen, so I suppose it's entirely possible that I may be just a bit off. [G]

Honorverse What inspired the treecats? May 2009

This is another one I get asked a lot.

          In the broadest sense, I suppose, I decided that I wanted Honor to be accompanied by a sentient companion who would represent the native intelligent species of her home. I wanted there to be a very deep bond between them, and I wanted their actual intelligence level to be unsuspected (or, at least, not broadly accepted) by the humans who had moved into their neck of the woods.

          That was all I really had in mind initially. Once I started playing around with ideas and concepts, I found myself drifting towards something that would fill a lot of the same niche that Annie McCaffrey's fire lizards filled in her Pern novels, except that I wanted my "bonded" alien companions to be fully as intelligent -- in their own way -- as the humans around them, and I wanted them to have taken steps to keep their human neighbors from realizing just how intelligent they actually were. One thing that I decided they ought to have in common with the fire lizards was that they shouldn't be extraordinarily large. In fact, they ought to be small enough to help with the "Oh, aren't they cute!" part of their disguise. At the same time, I wanted them to be sufficiently dangerous that Honor's companion would actually be capable of fending off attempts on her life.

          After stirring all of that around in my mind, I decided that the native Sphinxians ought to be arboreal, smallish, fuzzy, at least empathic, and cute (at least until you seen them in action, that was). That led me sort of inevitably towards some sort of cat, and the desire to have them fully intelligent without the humans around them fully recognizing that led me to make them telepaths, as well as empaths, since that way it would be possible for them to have fully developed communication skills without humans noticing it.

          Once I got that far, there was really only one possible candidate to fill the ecological and storytelling niche, and those were the treecats. One reason for that, to be honest, was that at that time I had two cats, Leonardo and Bombur. They were brothers, both gray tabbies, but decidedly on the . . . large size. In fact, their father had had enough bobcat in him that he still had the mask and the tufted ears. Leonardo was the long, lean one, with an extra toe on each foot, while Bombur (who was actually the larger of the two) was more the rich, sleek, football-shaped one. The way it worked out, Nimitz got Bombur's brain and Leonardo's sense of humor and personality, and if you've ever met the Gray Boys, you'd understand just how terrifying that particular mix was.

          I lost both of them long ago, of course -- they were already approaching feline middle-age when Honor was born in 1993, after all -- but in the sense that you never lose beloved pets, they'll always be with me, and every time I write a passage with Nimitz in it, I can still see the two of them chasing dust bunnies and wrestling with each other on my office rug while I write.

Honorverse How does the intelligence of treecats compare to that of humans? May 2009

I do not intend, for fairly obvious reasons, I believe, to go into any discussion of future political developments in the Star Kingdom at this time. But if you're truly curious about precisely how treecat intelligence compares to human intelligence, then I have a few morsels for you. Be warned that not all of this may ever find expression in the novels, given that there is a limit to the human-cat interactions which could make all the similarities and dissimilarities apparent to the humans in anything like a short period of time.

All right, first a few words on memory singers. As I imagine you have already concluded from the short fiction which has been published, memory singers are extremely important to treecat clans. Their more obvious function is to serve as the repository of the collective wisdom and history of their species. The essential requirements to become a memory singer are an extremely strong mind voice, an ability to grasp of the nuances of other cats' mind glows with extreme acuity, an effectively \photographic memory," and the ability to project remembered mind voices and mind glows with the utmost fidelity. Normally, a very strong personality and what we might call "command presence" is bound up with the sort of mind and outlook which can satisfy the above qualifications, which further helps explain why senior memory singers are awarded so much weight when they confer with the other elders of a clan. In a very real sense, the treecats' history is truly a living entity, which moves from avatar to avatar as new generations of memory singers receive it from their predecessors and prepare to pass it on to their successors. Along the way, some of the more distant memory songs begin to lose their fine detail and resolution, and evens which do not make their way into memory songs at all are completely lost to the treecats. What this boils down to is that the portions of their history which they know have an intimacy and immediacy which no human can never match, but that there are much larger gaps in their knowledge of their history than is the case in post-oral tradition human societies.

There is also, however, an additional function of memory singers which in its own way is even more vital to the health and future development of the treecat community, and helps explain the reason why they are so intensely venerated and protected. The memory singers are not merely the repositories of history, but also the teachers of new knowledge.

I suppose that the fairest way to compare treecat intelligence to human intelligence is to say that the two are basically equivalent but function in quite different ways. Even the most intuitive human abilities pale beside the way that treecats process and interpret information. A treecat does not input, correlate, and evaluate data in the same way human does. They are far more likely to depend on their ability to perceive the emotion behind the thought (where humans are concerned; where other treecats are concerned, they perceive the thought itself, of course) and to form what a human might describe as a near-instant gestalt. This is one reason why it was so difficult for Climbs Quickly to reason his way through to an understanding of the bond which had formed between him and Stephanie Harrington. It was far outside the normal parameters of his species' experience, so he had no existing knowledge base to guide him, yet the fact that the telepathic channel was not available to him virtually shut down half of his normal information pathways and required him to approach the question on a deductive basis, which was not really comfortable fit for him or any other treecat.

In interpersonal relationships, treecats are vastly more sensitive, intuitive, and likely to comprehend intricacies and nuances than humans are, but for most of them (memory singers tend to be exceptions to this rule, but that is far from a universal case) their ability to handle those relationships is restricted to those whom they have actually met. In other words, they are masters of personal relationships, but beyond their own clans, they have a much poorer grasp of the sorts of collective relationships which make mass societies function, which helps explain why a race of telepaths and empaths has not evolved a societal matrix more complex than that of the extended clan.

The plain fact is that treecats are not exceptionally innovative, even in matters of purely social evolution. Once you step beyond the social arena (which, after all, is where they excel) they become even less innovative. As a rule, their first response to any new situation is to attempt to apply existing custom or solutions to it, and they become uneasy when they are unable to do so. When the humans first arrived on Sphinx as a permanent presence, the treecats recognized the potential danger which human technology posed to them and also that they themselves had nothing which might act as a counterweight to human tools and weapons if the situation turned ugly on them, and so they adopted the strategy of observation and concealment which lasted until Climbs Quickly met Stephanie Harrington. Their uneasiness over their inability to get a "handle" on human psychology and intentions (which was made infinitely worse for them by the fact that humans appeared to be mute race, as they were unable to "speak" in any way a treecat could understand) was also a major factor in their standoffish attitude. In addition, treecats -- because they are telempathic -- tend to be extremely consensual (by human standards) when it comes to choosing courses in action, which means that in potential threat situations the reaction of the species as a whole tends to err on the side of caution, as was demonstrated by the reaction of Climbs Quickly's clan elders once Stephanie spotted him. In addition, it usually takes something fairly extreme to cause treecats to alter an existing pattern of behavior. You might say that they rely very heavily on the concept of "If it ain't broken, don't fix it."

Compared to humans, treecats -- although in most ways they possess something between 90 and 95 percent as "much" intelligence as humans -- produce perhaps 1/10 as many individuals, proportionately, who have what we might call innovating mindsets. Their intelligence also tends to lie within a narrower band then human intelligence, with comparatively few individuals who fall very far below or very far above the median. In short, treecats Leonardo da Vincis are very, very rare, and "village idiots" are equally rare. As individuals, treecats are very unlikely to make great leaps forward, but in the rare occurrences when a treecat possesses both the ability to innovate and what one might call "genius," the fact that he or she has on the rest of his species is far more profound than the effect a similar human could have on humanity as a whole. The reason for this is the existence of the memory singers. Literally anything a treecat can learn or conceptualize can be passed on in its entirety to any other treecat via a memory singer. It does not necessarily follow that every treecat who receives a concept or knowledge through a memory singer will be able to use it as effectively as any other treecat, because there are levels of ability in all things. But this does mean that when the rare treecat genius comes along, his or her accomplishments can be added to the intellectual armory of his clan -- and spread beyond his clan through the traditional interacting of memory singers -- far more rapidly and completely than would be possible in a human society. This is precisely what made Climbs Quickly and Sings Truly so extremely valuable to their clan and to their species as a whole. Sings Truly, in particular, was not simply an innovator of genius, but was also a memory singer in her own right, which both gave her very high prestige and made her particularly effective in spreading her innovations throughout all treecats.  By the same token, Samantha -- who is very similar to her in both "intellectual stature" and inherent ability as a memory singer -- is perhaps even more important to her people than Sings Truly, even though she has never assumed the formal mantle of a memory singer.

There are certain areas in which treecats do not and probably never will equal human capabilities, just as humans will never be telepaths or (with a few significant exceptions) empaths -- or certainly never on a scale which will conceivably equaled the abilities of treecats. One major treecat "disability" which probably precludes their ever developing a high-tech society of their own, is a fundamental inability to grasp higher mathematics. It is significant that a society which has been around for thousands upon thousands of years still refers to numbers in terms of "hands of hands" and has never developed a written form of mathematics. Obviously, this has strong implications for all areas of advanced human technology. It is possible, that this inability will begin to ease if and when the treecats do completely internalize the concept of written language. It is also possible that sufficiently persistent humans will be able to teach a treecat someday to transcend the current limitations of his species, and if that happens, the existence of the memory singers means that it would constitute effectively a species-wide breakthrough. Of course, it is always possible that the treecats will never approach human levels of ability in math.

For the foreseeable future, certainly, treecats will continue to regard human technology much as they have for the past several centuries. They will probably learn to use certain human tools more effectively and confidently than is currently the case, and they will not be actively uncomfortable in the presence of humans' machines and tools, but they will regard those devices as being uniquely "two-leg" in nature. On the social front, treecats will almost certainly become much more deeply integrated into human society as a whole, using their empathic abilities and their intuitive grasp of complex personal interrelationships to make themselves invaluable in such professions as psychology, politics, dispute arbitration, "social services," the law, etc.  The precise effect which this will have upon their social and political standing is, of course, something which I have no intention of telling you about at this time.

I will add just one more thing. The Ninth Amendment of the Constitution establishes treecats as the native sentient race of Sphinx, reserves just over one-third of the total planetary surface for their sole possession, and grants them the legal status of minor children under the direct protection of the Crown. It does not grant them citizenship in the Star Kingdom of Manticore, enfranchise them as voters, or in any other way contemplate their full integration into the human society of the Star Kingdom. This is not to say that such integration is absolutely ruled out by the Constitution, only that it is not guaranteed or provided for, and that it is quite likely that it would be necessary to further amend the Constitution in order to make treecats citizens or subjects of the Crown. It probably also would require a degree of planet-wide social integration which treecats have not yet attained in order to provide anything like a representative body of treecats empowered to speak for the race as a whole if they were invited to become subjects of Queen Elizabeth.