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Josephmallozzi's Weblog - Author David Weber Answers Your Questions Jun 2009


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David's Interviews

A collection of David's interviews, reprinted with permission.

Wild Violet - David Weber

  • Series: General
  • Date: June 17, 2009

The following interview originally appeared at and is reprinted here with the permission of Alyce Wilson.

David Weber is an American science fiction and fantasy author. In his stories, he creates a consistent and rationally explained technology and society. Even when dealing with fantasy themes, the magical powers are treated like another technology with supporting rational laws and principles.

Many of his stories have military, particularly naval, themes, and fit into the military science fiction genre. He challenges current gender roles in the military by assuming that a gender-neutral military service will exist in his futures, and by frequently placing female leading characters in what have previously been seen as traditionally male roles, he has explored the challenges faced by women in the military and politics.

His most popular and enduring character is Honor Harrington whose story, together with the "Honorverse" she inhabits, has been developed through 13 novels and four shared-universe anthologies, as of spring 2006 (other works are in production).

He was the keynote speaker at Philcon 2005, an annual science fiction convention held in Philadelphia. That's where this interview took place.

Why a female protagonist [Honor Harrington]? Why do you like to write from that perspective? What are the challenges and rewards inherent in that?

I cannot tell you why I made Honor a female, because I don't know. It was the way the character came to me. I didn't set out to do it because I thought that it was especially politically sensitive on my part or because I thought it was likely to strike a chord with female readership or be a financial success. It was just the way that the character first presented herself.

In terms of writing strong female characters generally, there are as many male characters as female characters in my books. There are as many strong male characters as there are female characters. I prefer writing about strong characters, however they happen to become.

As far as the challenge inherent in it, it would be a challenge if I was trying to write a feminist character, but I'm not. I'm writing about a human being who happens to be female. And human beings are human beings. There are differences between men and women. There are demonstrable differences between the way in which most men and most women, for example, handle stress. Men tend to tough it out; women tend to go and enlist a support group of other women. There are demonstrable physical differences. And some of them relate to things like strength, like upper body strength. But on the most basic level, human beings are human beings first and men and women second.

And so, I write about human beings, some of whom happen to be male, some of whom happen to be female.

To write successfully, you have to be able to not so much put yourself inside a character as to know that character so that that character's reactions form a natural organic whole. I think that's one of the strengths of the characterization, that it comes across as a naturally evolved thing. And I had deliberately resisted efforts to break down and analyze Honor's character, because I don't want to analyze myself into beginning to emphasize different aspects of it that would not be part of her natural growth experience.

How much of her back story was there when you first started writing it? How much did you know and how much did you discover along the way?

In general terms, her entire back story was there when I started writing it. I developed her in considerable detail in terms of her experiences and what went together to make her who she was before I ever started writing the series, and I did that for several reasons, which was that I wanted that degree of comfort level with the character.

Another aspect of it was that I was planning from the beginning for this to be a series. For you as a reader to remain engaged with the character over the course of five books, ten books, twelve books, that character has to be a growing, changing entity. Also, if you think about the people that you actually know, you're constantly finding out new things about people you've known for 20 years.

So I deliberately set Honor up as a character who you thought you knew in some detail by the end of Honor of the Queen (1993). And you did. That was fair. But then, in The Short Victorious War (1994), you begin to find out there's this whole other side to her that you didn't know anything at all about.

And at the same time, in Honor of the Queen you begin to see that character flaw of hers, that inability of hers to put herself first when she avoids the conflict on Grayson by taking herself out of the equation, instead of standing up and basically saying to the Graysons, "Guess what? I'm here. I'm not going away. Deal with it." And that's why she winds up blaming herself for Raoul Courvoisier's death, because she left rather than face that particular conflict. And there were arguments either way. It was not an irrational decision on her part, given especially what anybody knew. But she made it, in large part, to evade conflict, and it's Alistair McKeon who points that out to her.

So by the time we get to the end of At All Costs (2005), she's grown and developed into somebody who has not just the confidence of her professional judgment, which she always has.

But it's like where she fires the guy who's not even in her chain of command, investigating the lieutenant's death, and she tells him, "You do not want to get into a pissing contest with me on this," you know? And when she tells Elizabeth, "No, I'm not coming until I've gone home and hugged my daughter," you know? This is a whole new Honor from anybody you knew earlier in the books, and yet, she's still clearly the same person, because you've been with her while she did the growing and the evolving and the changes to get to where she is.

So I had structured the character in enough detail for me to be able to do that peeling onion thing until she'd gotten far enough along in the books for the natural growth and evolution to begin pulling the reader along. I was showing you new things about her.

One example is in The Short Victorious War. It's actually the first reference to her enhanced metabolism that I then don't really bring front and center until In Enemy Hands (1997), because she has that conversation with Michelle Henke, and Michelle Henke's drinking hot chocolate to chase down the peach cobbler. And Honor says, "Nonsense. Some of us have active metabolisms, which allow us to enjoy the finer things of life." That's a direct reference to her genetically modified metabolism. But it had never been particularly crucial or germane to what was happening to her earlier than that. So it was one of those little things that I knew about or that I was holding in reserve.

Then there's a reward for the reader once they've learned that: "Oh, yes! I remember that!"

How much does it help you with her character that you have this kind of ready-made archetype in Horatio Hornblower? Does it help understand some things about the essence of the character?

It doesn't really do that much to understand, to me, the essence of the character. I knew the comparison was going to be made. That's the reason I chose the initials, with malice aforethought. You know, it's like the new Horatio Hornblower.

There are certainly, clearly, similarities between the two. There are also huge differences. And Honor has never been as neurotic as Hornblower was. Hornblower always carried a massive sense of inferiority around with him. Honor never did. And Hornblower was written into historical fiction and operated around the periphery, whereas Honor is written into fiction set in the future. And while she operates on the periphery for the first few books, she's steadily moving closer and closer to the center of things until, by the time we get to At All Costs, she has more in common with [Admiral] Nelson than she does with Hornblower.

How important to your writing is the historical research you've done? How does your love of history connect to your writing?

Well, it connects at every level. I didn't do any specific historical research for the Honor Harrington books. They're basically based on information, concepts and so forth that are simply part of my everyday, day-to-day life, from my love of history and my studying.

I'd say that I come from a historian's perspective on all of the science fiction that I write. And, for that matter, in the fantasy that I've written.

Does it help make it that much more realistic? Does knowing how things happened in the past inform your view of what might happen in the future?

Well, when I build the matrix in which these books are to be set, I build it the way that a historian would build it, studying it.

If I'm going to study 17th century Britain, what are the aspects of 17th century Britain that I'm going to have to look at? There's government. There's economy. There's major social movements in England. There's the beginning of the move towards colonization of the New World. There's the English Civil War in 1642.

So when I set out to structure the Star Kingdom of Manticore, I started by structuring the things that an historian would look for, studying the Star Kingdom. And it was my sense of history as a living, changing thing that produced the template for the Star Kingdom.

One of the points that people miss continually is that every human being on the face of the planet is in the midst of a dynamically changing situation. It may not look that way. You may look around, and things may seem pretty fixed. This is the way it's always been. There's no real prospect of change. The United States will always be here. Well, that's what they thought in 1859. In 1860, it didn't look so sure. In 1865, it was again.

And the fact that where you are right now, the things that look the most solid right now, are actually the result of dynamic pressures pushing against each other. Therefore, when one of those pressures shifts, the entire paradigm transforms.

And I think that historians are, or ought to be, more aware of that than many people are. And I'm certainly aware of it when I structure the societies. The People's Republic of Haven, when you read it, is definitely the bad guys. But if you look carefully at the books, you'll begin to find out that it started out being the good guys when it was the Republic of Haven, and it got into trouble as the People's Republic of Haven.

Then you have the Committee of Public Safety. Now you've got the Republic of Haven back again. It's all one continuum: growing, changing, shifting. And the Star Kingdom is growing, shifting, changing. The crown is ascendant over the House of Lords now, and the Star Kingdom, which has been one binary star system for 400 years, is expanding hugely, and it's going to have massive consequences for Manticoran society and the economy and everything else. Some will be good; some will be bad. But that's where the historian, and the historical training, to me, comes in.

I think that that is what helps to produce the sense of solidity to the reader, the sense that this is a well-developed, fully realized universe.

Somebody once said that most fantasy novels, if you look at the weather, take place on a planet the size of Connecticut, because of the differences in the weather. If you look at my Bahzell novels [Oath of Swords (1994), The War God's Own (1998), Wind Rider's Oath (2004)], they start out in late summer, early fall. They slog through the middle of a high plains winter, and they come out on the southern shore of the continent with the water warm enough to wade in and swim in. Because I've got a continental land mass, and I keep track of where they are when they're going across it.

What about when you're writing historical fiction, and you're moving from a universe which you may be approaching from an historian's point-of-view but is completely your own, to one which is based, at least in part, on things that have happened?

I haven't done a whole lot of that yet. The Excalibur Alternative (2001) was probably the biggest. And even there, I cheated. I started out before the Battle of Crecy and the Battle of Agincourt, but then I took them out of that matrix. And so I took an historical entity in the form of the English troops and threw it into a science fiction environment. By the time I brought them back to Earth, Earth had been developing long enough the Earth was a science-fiction environment, as well. So it's not like 1633 or 1632 would have been.

In terms of 1633 (2002), the collaboration that Eric [Flint] and I did, to be totally honest, Eric had done most of the historical research in that before I ever came along, because 1632 is his universe. And so when he writes in my universe, he accommodates himself to my literary furniture. And when I write in his, I accommodate myself to his furniture. And he was the one who put the basic furniture in place for 1633, and he has a huge support team helping him do that, over on Baen's Bar.

How does that collaboration work with Eric? What do you do?

Basically, we will discuss thought concepts. The person whose universe it is will say, "This is what I need this book to do. This is how I figured we'd do it." The collaborator outside that universe will say, "Well, OK, that makes sense to me. What about if we do this or that?" And it will be accepted or rejected. It's kind of a consensual thing, except that the person who owns the universe has a deciding vote, ultimately.

And then we decide what part of this book do I need you to write? For example, 1634 (2007), I basically wrote the naval portions of the book. And the big battle up in the Baltic where Hans was killed, that was mine.

And in 1634, probably two-thirds of the book is done by Eric. Because I'll be dealing with the actual naval campaign in the Baltic, and he'll be dealing with the rest of the political ramifications.

And he may say to me, "OK, Dave, here's what I need to accomplish. Tell me what John Simpson's naval capabilities to pull it off are going to be."

And I'll say, "Oh, we can do it this way; we can do it that way; we can do it the other way. Which of these works best for you dramatically?"

And he'll think about it, and he'll say, "What if we did it way number three and we tweaked here, and we tweaked there? Would that make sense from a naval perspective?"

And I'm like, "No, but we could get to the same thing by tweaking over here and over there."

But a collaboration is supposed to work, in my opinion, by providing the strengths of both writers to the mix. I'm not really interested in doing a collaboration with someone unless I think the work is going to be better than either of us would have done on our own, or I have something to learn from the other writer, or I have something to teach to the other writer in the process. I'm not interested in collaboration solely for the sake of increasing output. I would be interested in doing a collaboration with someone who I thought was a strong writer, if it would let me get a story told I wouldn't be able to tell otherwise.

Collaboration, whether it's with Eric or John [Ringo], is vastly easier these days because of e-mail.

So what are the actual mechanics like? Do you write your portion of it and show it to the other person? Do you get feedback along the way?

We show each other everything we write, and the other person would say, "What if you did it this way?" We may insert type. Mine will be colored green, Eric's will be colored red. We throw it back and forth. And the person whose conception it is has the ultimate voice on how it's going to be done.

But to be totally honest, it would be very difficult, I think, for Eric or for me to look at any given passage in 1633 and say, "This is all mine. This is all Dave's." And literally, to remember which passages would fall into that category would be very difficult.

What's your writing process like on an individual project?

Well, I sit down in front of the computer, and I talk to it.

I did want to ask you about that. You said you use a voice activated software. Do you dictate all your writing?

Yes. I use Dragon NaturallySpeaking. And basically, it's simply a way of getting the characters onto the screen by talking to it. It's better than keyboarding it. There are both strengths and weaknesses, advantages and drawbacks to it over keyboarding. The decisive advantage for me is the advantage to my wrist and my hand. I can't type for extended periods, and this lets me continue to work.

And to have the text in front of you immediately, right? Rather than having somebody transcribe it?

I couldn't work that way. I have to be able to edit as I go along. Otherwise, there's no point. When I'm in the groove and really engaged with a book, and I'm pushing closer to the deadline, I work 10 to 14 hours a day. And I'll produce between 5,000 and 10,000 words a day. Probably have to spend a half day or so worth of time editing of that 10,000 words. But I would say that I probably average 5,000 to 7,000 words a day when I'm really coming down the groove on a book.

Other times, I may only get 1,500 or 2,000 words a day. And especially when the book is just starting to come together in my head, there are frequently days when I don't get anything written, because I'm doing other errands or whatever. It's still cooking around in the back of my head, heading towards what I ultimately end up putting on paper.

How much do you outline or sketch things out ahead of time?

As far as individual stories is concerned, if it's a solo book, not a great deal. I do a lot of background notes. I do a lot of character development, establishing the toolboxes for my characters where I put, like, technological advantages and limitations. I know how I want the book to begin. I know how I want the book to end. I add a couple of way points along the way that I want to reach. But, by and large, when I start writing the book, that's pretty much it.

Collaborations are different. Collaborations, you need a shared road map if you're going to get to the same point. And I've got a little bit of that going on in some of my solo stuff now because of the effort I'm making to weave The Crown of Slaves (2003) and Shadow of Saganami (2004) story lines in and out of the main stem Honor books, so that I'm finding myself doing a lot more in the way of outlining the secondary books before I ever begin on them, so that I can be sure that I get everything I need to get done in them done.

What brought you to writing? Why did you start?

I don't know. I started writing in fifth grade, and it's just something I've always done. I was supporting myself full-time by my writing and typesetting and whatnot by the time I was 17. And I've supported myself by writing or associated stuff, with the exception of one summer that I spent working for Tweetsie Railroad in Maggie Valley, North Carolina, as a blacksmith.

Well, also I spent one year working in a textile transfer printing plant while my wife, my first wife, finished her undergraduate degree before we headed on up to Boone, North Carolina, for me to do my graduate work. But I just don't remember a time when I wasn't putting words on paper.

People ask me how [I] learned to write. And my response is to ask them how they learned to walk, because that's how you learn to write. You do it. And you throw a lot of it away. Just like babies fall down a lot learning to walk.

Would you consider yourself self-taught?

No one can teach you to be a storyteller. They can teach you how to do it better. You've got to have that inborn need, urge, whatever, to tell stories in the first place. You have to have that sense of this is how a story is communicated. Then you can work on refining that. That's where someone can step in and teach. But they can't make that first step for you. You've got to take that one on your own. That's the bad news. The good news is that I think more people have that inherent capability than realize they do.

And you have to also have the confidence to risk failing. I could have been published ten years earlier than I was, if I'd been willing to go ahead and take the chance. But it's a very hard thing if it's something that you really, really want to do. A lot of people fail when they try to do it. There's this great temptation to always be the fellow who's almost finished with his book, the one who says he's going to sit down and write, because as long as you haven't been rejected, you haven't failed. And as long as you haven't failed, the dream is still there.

And then you look back and you realize "some day's" come and gone, and you never risked failure, and it's now too late to succeed.

What authors have inspired you?

Every author you've ever read inspires you one way or another, influences you one way or another. [Sometimes], it's like, "Well, that's something to stay away from."

Every writer stands on the work of every writer before him. Even writers that he has not read himself. If you are a fantasy writer today, you may never actually have read any of the Conan stories yourself. I guarantee that one of the people whose writing of fantasy inspired you to be a fantasy writer has. And so there's an echo of Conan, or Bran Mak Morn or one of [Robert E.] Howard's other characters in your work, even if you don't know it.

But there are specific writers whose work I greatly enjoyed when I was younger, and I certainly see echoes of it in my own. I would count Keith Laumer, H. Beam Piper, Robert Heinlein, [Roger] Zelazny, although to be honest, Roger and my styles are sufficiently different that it's more...

He was also a researcher, somebody who wrote from a broad knowledge base, specifically his use of mythology.

Yes, yes. Roger was definitely a scholar. And it showed in his work. He was more into the history of literature and myth than I am. I'm more into military and diplomatic history. But there's a cross point in all of that, a cross-pollination.

Yesterday [in the Philcon keynote address], you spoke about fandom and how it's helped your writing. I was wondering if you could share an example of maybe something, some interaction with a fan that led to something in your work.

When I talk to a fan, and a fan says, "I really liked it when you did thus and so in one of your books," and I didn't do thus and so in one of my books, and I'm like, "Whoa, what?" I realize, "Ooh, wait. He didn't understand what actually happened there." It tells me I have a problem that needs to be fixed, because if one person didn't understand it, it's almost certain that other people didn't understand it, either.

By the same perspective, sometimes a fan will come and tell me, "I really liked thus and such aspect of the character." And because I don't deliberately set out to [define] the characters, well, he's going to have this trait, that trait or the other, it's sort of developing as an organic whole, I may not realize that character had that trait until a fan brings it to my attention.

And then I realize that that's just part of what the character's motivations had been all along. I didn't recognize this character trait that he has, because I'm visualizing him: "OK, how would he react?" He's reacting in accordance with that character trait, even though I didn't consciously realize I'd given it to him.

Sometimes, looking at your work through the eyes of a fan causes you to recognize aspects of it you didn't previously see.

And I liked what you said yesterday, that everybody reads his own book, because he brings his our own experiences to it.

Yes. I was debating last night with a couple of people whose political views are quite different from my own, and the nature of the books that they read is colored by the difference in their political perspective from mine. Interestingly enough, they draw almost exactly the same conclusions about the character, even though they interpret the social situation completely differently, in some respects, from the way that I would. But that's because they are bringing to the book their own perspectives, their own views, their own life experiences.

Well, so am I when I write it. But they don't have the same experiences that I do, just as I don't have the same experiences that they had. And so the book that I write is going to be read through the prism of their lives when they read it, and that makes it an interactive exercise.

Are you also a student of human nature?

I would say probably. I've always been a little leery of phrases like "students of human nature".

The reason I ask is that one of the remarkable things about your work is that you've got this highly detailed universe that you've created, and then you also have these emotional moments.

Bottom line is even the wire-heads are not going to read a book or a series long term if they don't care about the people in the book. And I write about human beings experiencing the things human beings experience. Part of it is being a student of human nature.

Part of it is what I was talking about earlier, that if you are a storyteller, you learn to be a better one, but if you're not a storyteller you can't learn to be one. I think that part of the natural aptitude towards storytelling is how to arrange the scenes and the events and the characters so that they communicate the emotional impact, the growth impact that you were after when you began. And that is clearly a factor of both conscious and unconscious, deliberate and non-deliberate arrangement, on your part.

I would say that, yes, I am a student of human nature. I think that even when I profoundly disagree with someone, I can usually wrap my mind around how he got to where he is. And I've said this repeatedly, that one of the things that distresses me about the political/philosophical climate in the United States today is that I believe that no matter how profoundly I differ with someone else, if that someone else is a sincere individual and a rational human being, he is willing to extend me the courtesy of listening to what I have to say. And I am willing to extend him the courtesy of listening to what he has to say.

We may come apart, each of us convinced the other one is a blooming idiot, but there's a difference between being a blooming idiot and being evil because I don't agree with you. That's not how it is presented on either side of the political aisle.

And we were discussing, for example, the abortion issue. And one of the people I was talking to was female. And she was saying once you accept that you're talking about a woman's body, then all the political issues become irrelevant. It's her body.

And I said, "OK, suppose that you have a married couple and the wife becomes pregnant." In many states, it's her decision solely as to whether or not to terminate that pregnancy. But I can tell you as a father that the father is also invested in that child. Is it not appropriate for the father to have some say in the fate of that embryo?

But I think that it is an issue that men have a legitimate right and responsibility to express themselves on. And be cautious about hurting feelings or anything else, but ultimately, you have a moral responsibility to say the things you believe to be true. And if you don't say them, you are shirking your responsibility.

Having said them, that doesn't mean that you have a right to dictate to someone else, unless a majority of your fellow citizens and the courts agree with you. But you have a responsibility to say it. That's different from saying, "OK, I know that's what the law says. I know that's what the court says, but I'm going to blow up your abortion clinic. Or I'm going to blow up your animal research lab."

Then, you see, you get to the issue of, let's say, that you believe that life does, indeed, begin at the moment of conception. Then everything being done in an abortion clinic is murder. Do you not have a moral responsibility to prevent murder?

And that's where I tried to get to where the thought processes originate, as [I do with my characters]. No matter how unreasonable you may think their final conclusion is, if I can show you how their mind works for them to have reached that point, you know this is not a monster who simply decided to murder doctors one day, who's blowing up abortion clinics. This is someone who believes that they, as a moral human being, have a responsibility to prevent murders, just as somebody had a moral responsibility to blow up the guard shack at a Nazi death camp.

I think anyone who takes human life to make a political statement is evil. That's my view. But when you get into trying to understand the motivations of people, I can understand a lot of the motivations of the Islamic fundamentalists who flew into the Trade Towers. I really can. That doesn't mean that I condone for a moment what they did and that I wouldn't have shot any one of them out of the air with a Stinger missile myself to prevent what happened. But that doesn't mean that I don't understand how the thought processes that produce the monsters work.

I think we do ourselves, as a society, an enormous disservice when we don't try to understand how the monsters' minds work.

Do you think that that's part of what science fiction can do, to help us reach an understanding of our society, now and in the future?

I think science fiction functions as teaching tales, as cautionary tales, as inspirational tales. I think that science fiction gives you an opportunity to change parameters in a situation and hypothesize how that might change the societies that are produced.

Almost like an experiment?

Well, except that, unlike an experiment, you are in control of the result as well as the test.

What I think science fiction can do, more than converting you to a specific viewpoint, I think the valid function of science fiction, is to help inspire you to consider other viewpoints. Science fiction generally, in my opinion, ought to be a door-opening experience, not a door-closing experience. It shouldn't pat you on the back over the rectitude of your own views and beliefs. It should expose you to other views and beliefs and force you to engage your forebrain in an effort to understand what's going on.

And hopefully, if I want to get really weighty and philosophical, having done that in science fiction, you'll apply it to real life.

What you believe becomes an integral part of what you write. And therefore, whether you're deliberately producing a piece of polemical writing to support a given view or not, is almost immaterial, in a sense, because just by writing the stories you write...

Suppose that I take a political view that you don't agree with, but I put it into the mind and the belief structure of a character you like and respect, even love, in one of my books. All of a sudden, I've just inserted that political concept, from the perspective of someone who you respect, into your thinking. In a way, I can sneak it up on you. I can trick you into considering it more openly as something to look at.

Another way is you stop and say, "Wait, I don't agree with that." But then you realize the person that you're following, who you're following their thought processes and how they got there, that maybe you still don't agree, but now you understand how somebody who could feel that way got there. That's inherent in every book that someone writes.

And you've often been lauded for your kind of evenhanded handling of issues like women's issues and things like that.

I think that's part of what I say when I say I can wrap my mind around where people are coming from on both sides. And I try to explain both sides of it in that side's own terms to the other.

The thing is that even if you have somebody who is a flaming chauvinist, he's very seldom a flaming chauvinist because he hates women. It may be things that he simply has never questioned. It may be things he was taught as a child. It may be that he's not a chauvinist, and you just think he is. It may be that he makes a remark, and you take it one way, and he meant it a totally different way. But until he has an opportunity to sit down like Bernard Yanakov sits down with Raoul Courvosier to explain the soul of Grayson in The Honor of the Queen, what you do is you pile misunderstanding on top of misunderstanding. You pile your preconceptions on top of his preconceptions.

And so, one of the functions I see that a writer has is to provide that opportunity to stop and say, "Wait, you know, this is why I believe what I believe."

Now one thing that I think probably I am guilty of, and it represents my experience in my own life, is that, on the one hand, I am absolutely cold-blooded, pragmatic in terms of things like the right of self-defense and so forth.

But, by the same token, I have a fundamental high degree of optimism about the ability of human beings to live and grow.

If you look, there are a lot of characters in my books like Oskar Dieter in Insurrection (1990), the first book that [Steve White and I] did, who work their passage to redemption by grappling with their mistakes, assuming responsibility for those mistakes, and then trying to correct them.

I had a friend who, when he started reading Insurrection, he told me, "I would not have believed for a minute if you told me when I started that book that Oskar Dieter was going to be one of the heroes at the end of it, one of the all-around good guys."

From where he begins, with the drugging and the insults that lead to the assassination of Fionna MacTaggart and all the rest of it. And yet, here he comes at the end of it, because he's grown. He's learned. And he has set out to do his best to make amends for the mistakes that he's acknowledged responsibility for.

And you'll see that a lot, actually, in my books. You'll see it in Crusade (1992) with First Admiral Lantu. You'll see it in some of the characters in the Honor books. You'll see it in Grayson, generally, in the Honor books.

I've seen many cases, historically, of that happening in politics. I grew up in the South. I began life raised as a Democrat. I am much closer to being Republican these days.

If you look at someone like Strom Thurmond, who was a Democrat, a Dixiecrat, voted against the 1964 Civil Rights Act and so forth, and if you look at the way that Thurmond approached his responsibilities with his constituents, bear in mind he is from down state, where the majority population is black, and that he easily won reelection again and again and again. You see a man who recognized change and changed.

And so yes, I believe in the fundamental possibility of individual improvement. And I believe in the fundamental improvement of a society's civility and shared interest in the well-being of its members. I also believe that we will never be free of the dark side of humanity, that it will always be there. And that is, Edmund Burke said, all that is necessary for evil to triumph, is for good men to do nothing.

And so it's how I can strongly support the right to concealed carry, at the same time believing that even someone who starts out way far on the wrong side of the law can wind up as a decent human being down the road.

I think that what we've been talking about in the last few minutes gets to the essence of what your work is all about and why people love it and why you do have the fans.

I think it does. And I think it's one reason why I get upset when people sometimes talk about [science fiction being] mind candy, [that] it's not intellectually challenging.

What can you tell readers about In Fury Born (2006)?

In Fury Born is basically all of the back story from the original Path of the Fury (1992). It takes Alicia from — I think she's either 13 to 14 in the prologue — all the way through the Shallingsport raid and then through the end of the original book.

I can say this: I had serious qualms about approaching this entire project to begin with, because I wrote the original Path of the Fury in about two and a half weeks. And it is the only time I've ever had a book come together that way, and I knew it wasn't going to happen again. And I was afraid of tinkering with [it.] And the prequel that I wrote is not written the way I would have written it at the time I wrote Path of the Fury, because I wrote Path of the Fury 15 years ago. But I think that I can safely say that the prequel has the same energy, moves with the same velocity, as the original novel did. And I think people will recognize it.

Basically, we take Alicia from a 14-year-old all the way through the young Marine recruit, through the experienced Marine sergeant who's joining the Cadre. One thing that happens is you meet everybody who dies at Shallingsport. And so the emotional impact, I think, of the Path of the Fury is considerably heightened by having been through the new material in In Fury Born.

Path of the Fury always hit the reader hard. I think it will hit the reader harder now. You meet the grandfather who, in Path of the Fury, we meet only his body in the snow. We meet him as her grandfather, as the most highly decorated living Marine on active service when she joins. We meet her father, who we never meet at all in the original book, who is a remarkable fellow in his own way.

But there are some changes in the original Path of the Fury, but they're all made, pretty much, to accommodate things that I added in the new material. Alicia is a little bit older. When the raiders hit the homestead, her father and her grandfather kill several of them before she gets there, before they're killed themselves.

And you see the scene in which Alicia decides why she can no longer serve the emperor because of the betrayal of her dad. So I think that the old book is strengthened. I've always had a great weakness for Path of the Fury. I've always loved the book.

And I also have a sequel planned in which Alicia is actually separated from Megaira. She's not out of communication, but she's lost. They don't even know what star system she's in, and they're trying to find her. And she and Tisiphone are at one end of the telepathic link, and Megaira is at the other while they're trying to find each other. And meanwhile, she's organizing a resistance movement on a lost planet.

Someday I've got planned out what I call the Terran Empire novels. We can start with founding the Terran Empire and move all the way up to join Path of the Fury. All I need to do is to find the time. But they're there; they're planned out.

Also, I had a complete historical novel stories planned out. It would run to at least 12 books. That is real-life, naval dynasty in the United States that would start with the Revolution all the way through the Gulf War.

The problem is, again, finding the time to do it.

Also, you know, I'm categorized in people's minds as a military science-fiction writer. OK? Well, what I am is a writer. I've got the three fantasy novels out, and I'm eventually planning to write a total of at least seven more in that universe. The problem is finding time when the publishers and the distributors don't want more Honor Harringtons to put on the shelves.

Oh, yes. A slave to the popularity. But a slave to success, which is always a good thing, I suppose.

Well, it's better to be a slave to success than a victim of failure, you know?