Honor Harrington is a science fiction character created by David Weber modelled after C.S. Forester's Horatio Hornblower. She inhabits a science fiction universe which has come to be known as the Honorverse.
Harrington is an exceptional officer of the Royal Manticore Navy (RMN), born on the planet of Gryphon in the Star Kingdom of Manticore (later the Star Empire), which has somewhat resembles the role of the United Kingdom in the Napoleonic Wars.In the progressing series, she rose from naval cadet to the highest military and aristocratic ranks.
She is the child of "yeoman" stock in a constitutional monarchy, although her parents are both distinguished physicians. Her parents remain active in many plots, as the society makes use of "prolong", an evolving family of life extension technologies that can give humans lifetimes of centuries. Her birth planet, Gryphon, is higher than earth-normal gravity, so even unmodified Gryphons tend to have perhaps 30% more physical strength than the human norm. She also has genetic modifications enhancing both intellectual and physical abilities, at the cost of a high metabolic rate and the inability to respond to then-current therapies that allow the regeneration of body parts.
Gryphon is a rugged world, and she lived in an isolated area, developing strong wilderness skills. A relative belonging to the Society for Creative Anachronism introduced her to firearms, and, while she is expert with more modern energy and hypervelocity missile weapons, her ability with the Colt M1911 .45 pistol and other handguns occasionally creates a plot twist. In the Naval Academy, she becomes proficient in a "hard" martial arts style called coup de vitesse, and eventually achieves master grade. While she will come to command fleets, she is also deadly in close combat; enormously respected admirals still are in awe of someone who kills face-to-face.
As with the Hornblower series, the books did not come out in an order matching the chronology of the character. When stories and novels do address her as a midshipman at the Saganami Naval Academy, she thinks of herself as ugly, and struggles, even though her tactical insight is strikingly obvious to the faculty, with mathematics. In contrast, Hornblower, who also considered himself unattractive, demonstrated early mathematical ability — but it would have been inconceivable for an 18th century to even consider the idea of tactical insight in a midshipman.
As she matures, she is among those people that are called "beautiful but not pretty". The books are not completely clear about her appearance; she is tall and athletic, with apparently light skin and brown hair. Her mother is tiny and of Asian ancestry. The Manticore royal house appears to have a subsaharan African phenotype. She eventually comes to terms, although often with wonderment, that she has become strikingly attractive in a very nontraditional way. There are cultural shocks on Grayson, however, as the patriarchal society starts to see her as a warrior. While Hornblower is a competent swordsman, he never comes close to the "warrior-goddess" role of Honor Harrington, at both personal and high command levels.
In the first book, where she commands a light cruiser, she has an initially resentful executive officer, Alistair McKeon, who will become her devoted subordinate, as William Bush is to Horatio Hornblower.
Politics in the Honorverse
Conflict in the Honorverse is not limited to the Napoleonic model, but the chief opponent of her home kingdom is the (People's) Republic of Haven, a number of whose leaders' names are very obviously derived (e.g., Rob S. Pierre) from leaders of the French Revolution.
It is by no means a bilateral conflict or a strict model of the Napoleonic Wars. The Solarian League is roughly analogous to a modern United States, in having the largest economy. It probably has the highest technology base of all the interstellar empires, but Manticore has the greatest combat experience and uses its Navy to greatest advantage. There are a number of lesser but important empires, and also, paralleling Hornblower's time, with piracy.
A less straightforward comparison to Hornblower is that slavery is a concern, but the slavery in the Harrington books is principally the result of advanced genetics and slaves engineered for roles. Genetic slaves have full human abilities; there is none of the minimally-intelligent types of Brave New World Anti-slavery politics, and an underground of escaped slaves that engage both in terror and in admirable actions, are an increasingly important plot element.
A major ally of Manticore, and Harrington's dual citizenship, is Grayson, a planet established by a religious movement, and more of an working monarchy than Manticore, which has a parliamentary government. Several reviewers suggest that Manticore is modeled on England, and Grayson more as Scotland, while others with put Gryphon in the Scottish role, Manticore Prime being England, and Grayson is more like Napoleonic Portugal.
The analogies can be interesting but not exact; one reviewer liked Hornblower's patron Sir Edward Pellew to Harrington's Earl of White Haven. Harrington has many more patrons, including the powerful Queen Elizabeth, and Hornblower and Pellew did not fall in love.
Grayson begins as very much a male-dominated society, partially for genetic reasons, but, in her first assignment there in The Honor of the Queen, upsets their social order and forces them to recognize a woman can lead at the highest level. The theme of her parallel development in the Manticore and Gryphon political and military systems is constant from that book onwards. She is the mother of what becomes the potent Grayson Space Navy (GSN).
Technology and plot
While there is no exact date, the series seems to be set at least 3 or 4 centuries in the future. The technologies, however, are recognizable or reasonable extrapolations. In some cases, such as computing, electronic warfare, and other areas, some do not appear to be immensely advanced from the moderate term future, but these make plot devices.
Much of the space-navy combat is "Napoleonic with lasers", fought broadside-to-broadside with heavy energy weapons used between "ships of the wall", a three-dimensional equivalent of the "ship of the line". There is use of constantly improving guided missiles. Major ships are of immense size, with major combatants with displacements in megatons and crews of 5,000. While the crew size is comparable to that of a contemporary aircraft carriers, fleet sizes are also immense; where a major carrier task force of today might have fewer than ten vessels, Honorverse fleet actions, like Napoleonic ones, will involve dozens or even hundreds of warships. The Light Attack Craft (LAC), which is equivalent to a carrier-capable aircraft rather than a fast attack craft fight in hundreds or thousands, like the largest carrier battles of the Second World War.
In the sense of military approaches, there is some parallel between Manticore and the United States in the Cold War. Manticore has technology than its major opponent, the Republic of Haven, but Haven compensates with "brute force" and quantity.
The three-dimensional equivalent of aircraft carriers and fighter-bombers enters midway in the series; the "light attack craft" carrier does not have the dominance of 21st century major carriers but complement the "gun" and missile ships of the wall. There is a running subplot between the jeune ecole, a direct copy of the early 20th century French doctrine of technology over discipline, and the willingness to expend forces for quick victory rather than force protection and disciplined offensives.
Faster-than-light travel is essential to the series, although the Honorverse does establish limits and how they were overcome. FTL travel involves shifting out of the normal universe, and includes both straight-line high speed, but also immensely important "junctions" where n-dimensional space "folds", and great distances can be crossed at a single bound. The control of the junctions is a strong parallel to the control of major foreign ports in the Hornblower novels.
Biological technology is advanced but has limitations. "Prolong" can be started only at a young age; some tragic elements come from interactions with allies too old to start the treatments when they allied with prolong-capable civilizations. Medical prosthetic technology is advanced but is usually a second choice to regeneration. Within strict limits in the main society — human genetic engineering is used — and for genetic slavery by the Manpower Corporation — Honor's genetic modifications give her advantage but prevent her from regenerating.
One major plot element with no Hornblower parallel involves the treecat species. Native to her birth planet of Gryphon, treecats selectively "adopt" human; it was accepted, generations before Honor, that they form a lifelong empathic bond with humans, and an adopted Queen makes it clear that no human-treecat pair will ever be separated in Naval service. Nimitz, Honor's treecat, has a distinct personality, and a vital fighting partner and, for want of a better term, a wizard's familiar — throughout the books, a subplot is the steady revelation of the very substantial intelligence of treecats — still a plausible alien intelligence.
The books and stories
Weber now has other science fiction writers working, under license agreement, in the Honorverse framework. The first list, however, deals with those written by Weber alone. Weber's work starts with her as a commander in On Basilisk Station; the information on her earlier life is more in stories in collections, or in flashback.
|Order in character life||Publication date||Character rank|
|Ms. Midshipman Harrington**||Midshipman, ensign, acting lieutenant|
|On Basilisk Station||Commander, Royal Manticore Navy (RMN), special-purpose light cruiser HMS Fearless|
|The Honor of the Queen||Mid-level captain (heavy cruiser HMS Fearless (new ship); joint RMN-GSN squadron command )|
|The Short Victorious War||Flag captain, battlecruiser HMS Nike|
|Field of Dishonor||captain of HMS Nike under repair; inactive senior captain, Manticore; takes political role on Grayson|
|Flag in Exile||Becomes Admiral, Grayson Space Navy (GSN)|
|Honor among Enemies||Commanding Q-ship squadron, RMN|
|In Enemy Hands||Commodore, RMN; Admiral, GSN; on Haven prison planet|
|Ashes of Victory||Admiral, RMN;§ Fleet Admiral, GSN|
|Echoes of Honor||Admiral, RMN; Fleet Admiral, GSN|
|War of Honor||Admiral, RMN; Fleet Admiral, GSN|
|At All Costs||Admiral, RMN; Fleet Admiral, GSN|
|Mission of Honor||2010||Admiral, RMN; Fleet Admiral, GSN; representative of the Queen of Manticore to the Republic of Haven|
§ For plausible plot reasons, she jumps from commodore to full admiral, RMN, in this book
Subsidiary books and stories
Honor is not central to these works, although she may appear in them.
Plots surrounding the Talbott Cluster
- Shadow of Saganami
- Storm from the Shadows
One of the continuing themes in the Honorverse is genetic manipulation both good and bad. She herself has had genetic optimization, and her mother, from the planet Beowulf, is one of the galaxy's most respected geneticists.
The Honorverse was almost destroyed in a genetic war, and the Code of Beowulf rose to identify permissible and impermissible variations. Flouting any restraints is the Manpower Corporation, which breeds genetic slaves. In the most recent books, it becomes known that Manpower is involved in much larger interstellar political efforts
Several key subcharacters, such as Anton Zilwicki, Catherine Montaigne, Jeremy X, and W.E.B. DuBois (Honor Harrington), are directly or indirectly involved in militant anti-slavery organizations. The government of the planet Torch, indeed, was formed by ex-slaves.
Even in their most bitter warfare, Manticore and Haven both are intensely opposed to slavery, and enemies will call a truce if it involves enforcement of the anti-slavery Cherwell Convention.