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Josephmallozzi's Weblog - Author David Weber Answers Your Questions Jun 2009
SF Crowsnest - In Honor I gained them Jun 2009
Wild Violet - David Weber Jun 2009
Adventures in SciFi Publishing - David Weber and Lucas Moreno Jun 2009
Agony Column Podcast - David Weber vs Geekspeak Jun 2009
Black Five - An Interview with David Weber Jun 2009
Fast Forward - March 2007 Jun 2009
Fast Forward - April 2009 Jun 2009
Wordcraft and War Fiction: An Interview with David Weber Aug 2009
The Author Hour Interview Feb 2010


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David's Interviews

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

No One Gets a Free Pass

  • Series: General
  • Date: August 08, 2010

The latest novel in David Weber’s Honor Harrington series, Mission of Honor, was released on June 22. It entered the New York Times Best Seller List at #13; hardly surprising, as all new Weber books have made their way onto the prestigious list for at least a decade. Starting out with a novel based on a board game, Insurrection (with Steve White) and his first solo novel, Mutineer’s Moon, both published in 1988, Weber has since become a space opera phenomenon, with now over forty books and numerous short stories to his credit.

Weber’s runaway success really began with the publication of On Basilisk Station, the first book in what is now known as the Honorverse, in 1992. Since then, the Honorverse has grown to encompass 16 novels and 4 attendant anthologies, and shows no signs of slowing down. But while Honor may be the flagship of Weber’s impressive fleet, he has -- to extend the metaphor -- more than one useful hull design at his command. There’s the Prince Roger series (with John Ringo), the Multiverse series (with Linda Evans) and his work in Eric Flint’s 1632 series, as well as his own Safehold series -- the most recent of which, A Mighty Fortress, made it to best-seller #9 on that New York Times list.

Here, David Weber talks Honor, Safehold, Prince Roger, history, religion, politics, thalassocracies (yes, that is a word) and what’s up next in his many and varied universes.

GS: First of all, I’d like to ask you a favor: please, please can you let Scotty Tremaine live?

DW: I make no promises. [G] Given the fact that I was planning on killing Honor herself when I originally projected the series, I think it's pretty apparent that no one gets a "free pass" in the Honorverse. Having said that, there are indeed several characters who I would be very hesitant to kill, and Scotty is one of them.

GS: Yes, you do have a well-known penchant for giving us fleshed-out and fully-realized characters we come to know and care about before you abruptly kill them (particularly in the Honorverse: I still hold a grudge against you and Eric Flint for Jack McBryde in Torch of Freedom -- not to mention Mission of Honor’s wholesale slaughter). Does it pain you to lose these characters, or do you know from the outset they’re unlikely to survive and so don’t get too attached? Did you ever kill off someone and then miss them and wish you hadn’t?

DW: It often pains me to lose a character, especially one who's been with me for quite a while. The longer you spend writing about the "people in your head," the more real they become for you. In some cases -- like Paul Tankersley's [Honor Harrington’s first love, killed in Field of Dishonor - Ed.] or, for that matter, Jack McBryde's -- I know that a character is going to die before that character is ever developed fully, whether in my own head or in the novels.

One would think that knowing a character is doomed would help to insulate the writer from "character identification," but it doesn't work that way in my case. In order to fully develop a character, to create a person the reader is going to identify with (and miss when he's gone), the writer has to invest a lot in the character himself. He has to be someone the writer cares about if he's going to make the reader care about him. The purpose behind the decision to allow a character important to the reader to die is usually an effort to produce a significant impact on the reader. To affect the reader and involve him even more deeply in the story and with the surviving characters. To demonstrate to the reader the impact which the loss of friends and loved ones has on the surviving characters in the story. For me, at least, the decision to hit the reader with the death of a character he or she cares about is never casual, never "offhand." And I recognize that achieving my goal requires me to care about the character, because I can't convince the reader to care about him if I don't. All of which means that, in response to the second portion of your question, I do, indeed, often miss someone I've killed in a book. I don't usually "wish I hadn't killed him" from the authorial perspective, but I do often wish the character was still alive for me to continue to interact with.

GS: Sometimes the deaths we most mourn happen on the nominal “other” side of the conflict; you have a gift for making us feel sympathetic towards your protagonists’ enemies, making us realize that good people can exist on both sides. What first made you want to get inside the heads of the opposition?

DW: I've always wanted to "get inside the heads of the opposition." I think a lot of it comes from the fact that I'm a historian by inclination and training. One of the things a good historian has to do is to understand that the people on both sides of any conflict are still people, with all of the strengths and frailties that entails. That doesn't mean "everyone else in the world is just like us," because they aren't. In fact, people have gotten into a lot of trouble by assuming that folks on the other side of some dispute or conflict understand that conflict in the same terms that they do when they are actually coming at it from entirely different perspectives which by their very nature have to be mutually incompatible. I'm not a great fan of postmodern relativism, but the truth is that "reality" can be different things for different people, even if they're looking at exactly the same situation, if their fundamental starting points are significantly different. At the same time, of course, as someone (I think it may have been Jimmy Buffett) once put it, the truly great hatreds are those between people who are just alike and can't stand to admit it, and that's something a historian has to bear in mind as well.

From a writer's perspective, and especially from the perspective of someone who writes military-based fiction, I think there's something of a moral responsibility to avoid painting conflicts in strictly black and white terms. Some conflicts truly can approach a pure "Good-versus-Evil" basis, but they're extraordinarily rare, and I think we do ourselves a disservice if we think in terms of only those sorts of conflicts. I think a writer has a responsibility to make that clear. And I also think a writer has a responsibility to avoid trivializing the costs of war. If you don't "get inside the heads of the opposition," if you don't make the point to your reader that the people on the other side of the firing line are just as real, just as import to the people they love and who love them back, then the "good guys" are only shooting targets on a pistol range. They aren't killing "real" people, and that both trivializes the cost of war and turns the story you're trying to tell into a sort of "splatter pornography." It makes it "all right" to blow away hundreds or thousands -- or millions -- of opponents as if in some sort of video game.

GS: It’s not just the soldiers and warriors--we often see inside the heads of various politicians of all stripes, as well. In fact, your books are filled with just as much political intrigue as carnage, and you seem to favor constitutional monarchies along with at least some form of hereditary aristocracy… is this an accurate reflection of your own political yearnings?

DW: I'm not sure that I'd say that I "favor constitutional monarchies." Or, at least, that I favor them over other forms of government. Admittedly, Manticore, Grayson, and the Andermani Empire are all monarchical systems with overt hereditary aristocracies, but there are a lot of other political entities in the "Honorverse" which aren't monarchical, and the Republic of Haven is currently in the process of reclaiming representative democracy. In the collaborations I've done with Steve White [the Starfire series, based on the board game - Ed.], the only monarchy (and it's an absolute monarchy, not a constitutional one) is the Khanate of Orion, and in the Safehold books, the original Terran Federation was certainly not a monarchy.

At the same time, speaking once again from my historian's perspective, human beings have been governed by monarchies of one sort or another for a heck of a lot longer than they've governed themselves through democracies or republics. Personally, I suspect that the conditions which created monarchical forms of government in the past are likely to reemerge once humanity starts spreading across entirely new solar systems. I think that ultimately the trend will be towards seeing those monarchies gradually transform into either constitutional monarchies or into outright republics or democracies, but that doesn't mean we won't see the monarchies (whether the monarch is called a "king" or not) reemerging as a stage in the evolutionary process of a brand new star nation somewhere.

I suppose that from a literary perspective, since I tend to write about military characters and about characters who take responsibility and act personally to discharge it, a hierarchical system which puts them in a position to act decisively is what you might call a "comfortable fit" for me. And, finally, one of the huge advantages of writing about systems which have hereditary monarchies and aristocracies is that the writer can't solve his character's problems by having an election. Monarchical systems with hereditary aristocracies allow for entrenched opposition that can't be resolved by a simple resort to the ballot box, and they also lend themselves well to situations in which patronage can be used to advance a character's fortune . . . or provide an "unjust" and arbitrary barrier a character has to overcome.

GS: It has been oft-noted that the Honor Harrington books have some basis in both C.S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower novels and the life of Napoleonic Wars-era Admiral Horatio Nelson. But now we’re off the map there (Honor should be dead by now, if the corollary held)… what, if any, historical precedents are influencing you these days?

DW: I'm not sure that any particular historical precedent is influencing where I'm taking the overall story. That is, the political structures I'm building and using don't have any clear, specific "historical ancestors." On the other hand, people made some assumptions about which "historical" nations were represented by the original parties to the war between Manticore and Haven which were a bit inaccurate. Mind you, I deliberately encouraged them to do that by some of the furniture I planted around the place, but I think it's probably become fairly evident to readers in the last few novels that I never actually envisioned the People's Republic of Haven as the France of Louis XVI. I'd say that what I actually do when I build a nation in one of my science-fiction novels is to use historical processes and patterns, not specific precedents, to create a political system suited to my needs. And as soon as I've created that political system, I pretty much cut it loose from its historical umbilical cord and let it develop and evolve in whatever direction it needs to go as a consequence of what happens in the stories.

GS: Indeed, your Safehold novels are probably even more Forester-esque than the Honorverse books, considering that most of the conflict takes place at sea. They’re actually more historical naval war novels than true science fiction… do you have a preference? Space battles or sea battles?

DW: I came at my interest in history originally from a military/diplomatic orientation, and historically "thalassocracies” (sea-based, essentially mercantile powers) have been wealthier, more adaptive, and generally what one might call more "humanistic" than continental powers. I'm not offering that proposition as an absolute, but it does tend to be true in my opinion. That means that (especially in the Western experience) thalassocracies from the Minoans to the Phoenicians to the Greeks to Great Britain have tended to be on what you might call the cutting edge, which makes them of particular interest to anybody looking at military-diplomatic history. At the same time, I've always loved ships and maritime history for their own sakes, so specifically naval history has been an important interest of mine for about as long as I can remember. The Safehold novels give me an opportunity to write about naval history that was, while the Honorverse gives me an opportunity to write about naval history as it might be, so it's hard for me to say that I have a distinct preference for either of them. I will say, though, that writing the Safehold novels gives me an opportunity to write about "wet-navy" warfare that hasn't come my way very often, which probably pushes up the "enjoyment quotient" to a least some extent.

GS: Things on Safehold are progressing apace, and yet four books in, the dastardly Church still has the planet in its vice-like grip. What’s next for Merlin, Cayleb and the good guys? How much longer will Safehold’s Dark Age last, do you think? One book? Two? Ten?

DW: I don't know. Originally, this was going to be a "generational" series. The first book would have been about King Harahld and Prince Cayleb, the second would have been about King Cayleb and Princess Nimue, the third would have been about Queen Nimue and Prince Whoever, etc. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending upon one's perspective) the process isn't going to take long enough to be decided on a generational basis, on the one hand, and the intricacies of the political and religious conflict deserve (and require) a more comprehensive treatment than they could've gotten under my original plan for the series, on the other hand. Safehold's "dark age" isn't going to last a great deal longer in terms of years within the books, but exactly how many books it's going to take me to get beyond the "dark age" and into the really messy conflict (the aftermath of the Church's loss of absolute power and the need to openly confront the truth about the "archangels" on any planet wide basis) is more than I could say at this point. All I will say in that regard is that I originally projected that the entire Honorverse series would run to only about 10 volumes and that Honor would die at about the midpoint. Mission of Honor happens to be book 16, and if you've noticed, she's still alive.

GS: With your latest book in the Honorverse, the threads that have been spinning out in three different series (the main Honor books, and the two sub-series, Wages of Sin and Saganami) are finally coming together. How difficult was that to orchestrate? And given your predilection for giving us alternate viewpoints, I assume showing us events from so many different angles was, well, fun?

DS: Actually, there aren't two subseries in the Honorverse. Not any longer, at any rate. Back when I'd planned on Honor's dying in what became At All Costs, I'd intended for one of her children to go into the military and the other to go into intelligence work, at which point I would have been following each of them in a separate "track" of novels. When Honor didn't perish on schedule, I had to reorient my plans, and at that point I thought the simplest thing to do would be to use the Saganami series and the Torch series (I don't know where the "Wages of Sin" moniker came from; neither Eric nor I nor anyone else at Baen Books use it) [The internet is wondrous strange and makes shit up - Ed.] to accomplish the same objectives. In the event, the combination of telescoping the events which were supposed to take place during the 20 or so years after Honor's scheduled death, coupled with the "geographic scale" of the conflict, made it far more practical to abandon the notion of separate subseries and simply "advance on a broad front" by interweaving all of the books. There's also the problem the Honor has gotten too senior to be sent on "death rides" anymore. I'm not saying she isn't going to see combat, because she certainly is, but the nature of who and what she is as pretty much relegated her to the center of decision and policy making at least as much as to leading fleets in combat. As such, it's probably fortunate that I had already developed enough secondary characters that I can use them to sustain the action at the front while continuing to use Honor as the focusing lens for the novels as a whole.

GS: Mission of Honor, as with so many of your books, ended on a particularly tense cliffhanger: without wishing to pressure you unduly, do you have any kind of timeline for the next installment?

DW: I'm working on that book now.

GS: And on that note: will you be very cross if I ask about the possibility of another Prince Roger novel?

DW: There probably won't be another Prince Roger novel. What will happen instead is that John and I will begin telling the story of Miranda McClintock and the original creation of the Empire of Man. There are several reasons for that, but the biggest one is that with Roger as Emperor (and without an adult heir) the nature and tempo of the books would have to change radically. John and I had always figured that was going to happen -- that at this point in Roger's life story the conflict would have to revert to a primarily naval one -- but we hadn't anticipated when we were planning the series that the books were going to turn into such a "we don't have a hand grenade, so throw Roger in first to clear the room" proposition. I think it worked very well, but you just can't do that in fleet battles, which doesn't even consider the fact that the Emperor who represents the sole source of legitimate authority simply can't be risked in combat until and unless there’s an equally legitimate -- and competent -- successor to replace him if something happens to him. John and I happen to think Miranda is going to be just as interesting as Roger (maybe even more interesting, since she was the one who took the precautions that made Roger's survival and countercoup possible), and I had to pretty thoroughly sketch out to the historical background (including Miranda's life) when I started creating Roger's literary universe, which means we already know the basics of the story.

GS: The Prince Roger books, of course, are written with John Ringo; you wrote the Starfire series with Steve White; the Multiverse series with Linda Evans; and you are collaborating with the aforementioned Eric Flint on one of those Honor “sub-series”. How do these collaborations work, exactly?

DW: All of them work differently. I'm not trying to evade the issue, but it's true, and with someone like Eric, it depends on whose universe where playing in. So far, he's done two collaborative novels and I think three short stories in the Honorverse, and I've done two collaborative novels and one novella in his 1632 universe. In his universe he's the senior partner; in my universe, I'm the senior partner, and that affects exactly how we go about developing outlines and writing the books. In the Prince Roger books I do the basic outlines, John takes them and runs with them, and then I make my own additions and do the final edit. (In that regard, I'd like to say that when John and I started out I was clearly the "senior partner," but that changed a long time ago. I'm still doing the outlines and he still doing a first draft from them, but the partnership "equalized" by the third book. It would have equalized by the second book, I suspect, except that John's rough draft from the outline for the first book turned out to be . . . sufficiently extensive that it had to be divided into two volumes. [G]) With Linda, the pattern is pretty much the same as with John. With Steve, things were rather different, in that he and I divided the books by dividing the characters. That is, he and I were each responsible for specific characters and each of us wrote the scenes in which one of "our" characters was the viewpoint or central focus. That, unfortunately, is the most time-intensive way to write a collaboration, and Steve and my writing schedules simply don't allow time to do that anymore.

GS: Of course, almost all of your collaborators have also had stories in the Worlds of Honor anthologies, alongside other authors like David Drake and S.M. Stirling. How do you choose which stories will go into these collections?

DW: Generally speaking, authors in the anthologies are there by invitation. Who gets invited depends on a lot of factors, including how well I know them, how much I like their work, how good a "fit" I think they'll find the Honorverse, and ultimately discussion with Toni Weisskopff at Baen. I don't think I've ever told one of them "this is the story I want," but I think they generally worked very well.

GS: And is it just me, or do you kind of have a crush on Victor Cachat? [A ruthless Havenite covert operative first seen in “From the Highlands”, by Eric Flint in the anthology Changer of Worlds; paeans to his greatness have been seen in almost every Honorverse publication since .]

DW: Victor Cachat is Eric's character. I've come to like him quite a bit, but not as much as I do some of the other characters in the Honorverse. I've probably added a few brushstrokes to his portrait here and there, but he's essentially still the fellow Eric created. Mind you, there are things about him which I find very admirable, just as there are things about him which I find fairly horrifying, and I think that's an interesting sort of combination in any character.
GS: Yo
ur books have casts of thousands; how do you keep everyone straight? Flowcharts, maybe?

DW: In the case of the Honorverse, for the last several books I've been using an extremely detailed timeline to keep track of what's going on, and I have a tendency to write fairly comprehensive "tech bibles" for my books. That helps, too.

GS: And with such large casts, you have to come up with a lot of names. Do you use the names of people you know? You are quite unique in that you often re-use names throughout your novels (in delightful violation of one of the laws of fiction Jasper Fforde famously noted in his Thursday Next books). Was this always intentional?

DW: I don't tend to use the names of people I know very much. Not saying I don't do it at all, because I do, but I try to avoid it unless I know the people involved very well and feel reasonably confident about how they'll react to the characters to whom I assign their names. I do "tuckerize” real people fairly frequently, though. In particular, I've auctioned off quite a few "redshirts" at conventions in order to raise money for whatever a particular convention's charitable cause might be. In the good old days, I auctioned only "glorious deaths," but these days a "redshirt" may survive for quite some time. For example, virtually all of Alistair McKeon's staff officers were "redshirts," and they were with us for several books.

GS: What about coming up with ship names? You need an awful lot of them, too; my theory is that you have an encyclopedia next to you as you write and open it up to a random page when you need a name. Am I correct? (And don’t think I didn’t notice that you mention a ship called the Dahak in Mission of Honor.)

DW: Usually, I have a nomenclature in mind for a given class of ship. For example, superdreadnoughts might be named after Terran mountains. In that case, an atlas listing the principal mountains and their elevations comes in useful. Or they might be named after historical warships, or scientists, or whatever. Once you have a nomenclature established, naming the ships gets easier.

GS: In fact, Mutineer’s Moon, the first book in the Dahak Series, was your first published book, yes? How did it feel when you got the acceptance letter?

DW: Actually, the first published book was Insurrection, with Steve White [First in the Starfire Series - Ed]. Mutineers' Moon was my first published solo novel, and I sold it and The Armageddon Inheritance simultaneously about two months, I think, after Baen bought the collaboration. It would take too long to tell you everything that Steve and I went through before we finally sold Insurrection to Baen, but it was certainly . . . interesting. And when we finally did sell it, it was an incredibly exhilarating experience. In many ways, though, selling Moon was actually more exciting and satisfying, because it told me I could keep on doing this. That my writing career wasn't going to turn out to be that of a one-trick pony, you might say.

So, religion. (Yes, I changed the subject entirely.) It seems to play a pretty big role in a lot of your fiction: from the polygamous Church of Humanity Unchained to Safehold’s Spanish Inquisition-y Writ to Greek Mythology in Path of the Fury to the Gods of Light and Dark in the War God series and even a Satanist in Prince Roger’s company… are your characters so devout because there are, as they say, no atheists in foxholes?

DW: Religion plays a pretty big role in a lot of my fiction probably because it plays a pretty big role in my own life. I'm a Methodist lay speaker, and while I wouldn't say that religion is essential to most of my science fiction, it's always played a part in it. Not all of my characters are what I'd call especially devout, although I'll concede that the majority of my primary characters clearly have a well-developed spiritual side, whether they make a big thing of it with the people around them or not. And I've tried to show both the positive and the negative aspects of organized religion in my books. I think, though, that one thing which helps my characters to resonate with quite a few of my readers is that I don't ignore the "spiritual" side when I build those characters or write about them. I'm not saying that I use characters to proselytize, but rather that the fact that they do have religious beliefs as a major part of what underpins their overall moral beliefs and personal codes of conduct gives them an extra layer of realness for a lot of readers.

GS: Speaking of Path of the Fury, its 2006 publication in hardback came as a bit of a surprise to some of your readers, in that it was in large part a reissue of the 1992 paperback In Fury Born. What was the reaction to the release if this brand new hardcover book that wasn’t QUITE a new book? And what made you want to revisit In Fury Born in the first place?

DW: In Fury Born is just over twice as long as the original novel. In effect, it's the original book plus an entire prequel bound into a single set of covers. We did get a couple of people who complained that they'd been "ripped off" by my having simply "reissued" the original book, but most readers figured out pretty quickly that better than half the material in it was entirely new, and the overall reaction was highly positive, I think. In Fury Born made it to the New York Times bestsellers list, which says something about overall sales figures, at any rate. I'd always intended to go back and do additional books in the Path of the Fury universe. In fact, I still have two additional books I'd like to write in my copious free time. In particular, though, I'd gotten loads of requests over the years for a book telling the story of Alicia's pre-Path life and career, and I'd also had a lot of people asking me when and how they could get a hardcover copy of Path. Since the economics of the situation made it unlikely that there was ever going to be a hardcover edition of the original paperback, and since I'd had so many requests for Alicia's earlier story, I decided this would be a way to kill two birds with one stone. People who wanted a hardcover of the original novel got it, and as a bonus they also got an entirely new novel which had simply been fused into the original.

GS: Also, speaking of the War God series, it is thus far your only foray into Fantasy; will there be others?

DW: I'm not planning on creating another fantasy literary universe, but I am planning on a minimum of at least six additional novels in this one. Hopefully, Baen and I will be finishing up the War God series in one more volume, and then I'll move on to my "fantasy magnum opus" in which the millennium-long war between Kontovar and Norfressa is brought into the open once more and finally resolved. With any luck, I'll have the final War God novel written within the next six months or so and then we'll see the first volume of the "magnum opus" a year or 18 months behind that.

GS: What can you tell us about your November release, Out of the Dark?

DW: It's an expansion of a short story by the same title which I did for George Martin and Gardner Dozois' anthology Warriors from Tor. Tom Doherty at Tor really liked the original story, which led to the novelization, and to be honest, I think the novel is considerably stronger than the original, shorter piece. It let me go a lot of places I didn't have room for in the original story and integrate in quite a few additional characters. Aside from saying that it deals with an alien invasion of Earth that doesn't work out all that well for the invaders, I'd rather not go into a lot of details at this point.

GS: And are there any other potential stories percolating in your prolific brain that you’d like to tell us about?

DW: Not really. [G] The real problem with my "prolific brain" is that it has far too many stories percolating around in it for me to ever get them all told. I guess that's a better problem than having book contracts to fill and not having any idea what you're going to put into them, but it means I've got a continuous low-level frustration quotient because I know darned well I'm never going to have time to get around to all of them. At the moment, I'm working on the next book in the Honorverse (it doesn't have a title yet), after which I'll be finishing up the next Honorverse anthology, doing outlines for the next Torch of Freedom book in the Honorverse and the first of the Miranda McClintock novels, and then (hopefully still by the end of the year) getting the next Safehold book delivered. In April, I delivered the first Honorverse young adult novel, based on the short story "A Beautiful Friendship," and we're planning an entire series which will be set a couple of hundred years earlier than Honor Harrington's life, when the Star Kingdom of Manticore is basically Denmark -- an affluent, peaceful, quiet little kingdom considerably removed from the powerbroker games of the galaxy. And, as I say, I'm hoping to get the fantasy novels back closer to the front burner.

Not to mention hopefully getting the Multiverse books back on line. 


Trek or Wars? Babylon 5

Marvel or DC? Marvel

Vampires or werewolves? Hard one.

Dragons or unicorns? Dragons.

Time travel: pro or con? Pro (with limitations).

Geek Speak Magazine would like to thank David Weber for his participation in this interview. Our thanks, also, to his inimitable assistant, Gena.