January 17, 2009: Author David Weber Answers Yours Questions

So on Wednesday, I gathered up the five full pages of fan questions for author David Weber and sent them his way with the understanding that he could feel free to pick and choose among them. After all, he’s an immensely busy guy and you wouldn’t expect him to respond to all five pages. Well, that’s what I assumed – until this morning when I discovered a twenty-three page document sitting in my inbox.

Well, I read it over and found it both enormously entertaining and incredibly informative, not simply with regard to the Honorverse but on the topic of writing in general. Even if you didn’t get a chance to read On Basilisk Station, you really need to check out David’s take on the collaborative process, scene mechanics, and, oh yeah, his resurrection of SG-1’s Janet Frasier.

A huge thank you to David for taking the time to visit with us. A huge thank you to his wife Sharon for helping to organize the Q&A. And a huge thanks to Laura and the gang at Baen for the Weber/Baen gift bags that include all the Honor Harington books, a Baen water bottle, and an advance copy/galley of the upcoming Storm from the Shadows that hits bookstores this March). The two lucky gift bag winners can be found at the end of this entry.

Jon K.: “1. When you first came up with the idea for this book did you see it as a multipart series? 2. When starting a series like this, before writing the actual book did you have to sit down and spend a lot of time coming up with the science, back story, and other elements of the universe? 3. Looking back on this first novel, On Basilisk Station, is there anything you would have liked to change in the story or for that matter in the universe as a whole?

DW: Actually, the Honor Harrington novels were planned as a multipart series from the beginning. “Standalone” books of mine have a tendency to sprout sequels anyway, so Jim Baen asked me to propose a deliberate series. I handed him several concepts (including the Honorverse), only to discover that he’d been looking for someone for about 20 years to do what he thought of as a “Horatio Hornblower in outer space” series. The rest, as they say, is history.

Usually, before I start any book, I sit down and write myself an essay about the universe in which it’s going to be set. That deals with the science, politics, military balance — all that stuff. In the case of the Honorverse, the original essay was about 80,000 words long. By now, the tech bible is up to at least a quarter million words, I’d estimate, including timelines.

There are always small things you wish you’d done differently, even in the most successful book. Overall, though, I’m inclined to say that I wouldn’t have made any significant changes. One reason I say that is that as soon as you start tinkering with one significant detail, there are ripple effects that have a tendency to prove that the law of unintended consequences works in fiction as well as in real life.

Charlie’s Angel: “My question for David Weber: With the incredible detail and woven tapestry of your Honor Harrington series, how do you keep track of all the plot points and character motivations?”

DW: Lots and lots and lots of notes. 🙂

Frankly, I don’t know that I could do as good a job as I manage (and I’m not perfect about it, despite my best efforts) in a pre-computer era. Not because I have set up detailed databases, although I did try to keep up with that approach for the first three or four books, but because I have all of the books in electronic format, which makes it easy to do searches for points my memory isn’t completely clear about. I can usually remember approximately where an event took place, or approximately what a character did, and then I can hunt through the electronic files to find the actual passages and make sure that I’m not introducing continuity errors.

As I say, I’m not perfect about it. Another writer — I think it was Poul Anderson — once said “Perfect continuity is possible only for the Almighty, and a close reading of Scripture would suggest that even it failed in that respect upon occasion.”

Iamza: “1. How much work went into researching the gravity drive/walls/waves, etc.? Did you speak with anyone involved with gravity wave research, or was it mostly all done through published journal articles? What made you think of this idea for propulsion/defense to start with? 2. Do you enjoy reading science fiction as well as writing? Do you have any particular favorites that you like to reread often, and if so, what is it about those stories that draws you back again and again?

DW: I can’t honestly answer the first part of your first question, because a lot of my thinking was based on all kinds of stuff that have passed through my mental seines over the years. I didn’t specifically speak with anyone involved in “gravity wave research,” but I have noodled over the details with a couple of physicists, including a fellow from JPL, over the years. To be honest, one of the reasons I decided to work with gravity (and its manipulation) as a means of propulsion and as so central to my technology in general is that we’re still at such a relatively early point of truly understanding it. I’m not saying we don’t understand a great deal about its effects, or how to describe those effects mathematically, or about the ways in which it is naturally generated. What I am saying is that in terms of what we may someday be able to do with it, and how it might be possible to generate/manipulate it, we’re not even at the crystal set level of understanding yet, far less vacuum tubes, transistors, or semiconductors. Heck, we’re not even to the telegraph stage yet . . . although we’re probably at least a little ahead of Ben Franklin and his kite. That means that at this stage the field is pretty much wide open for people like me. I remember another writer, I think it was Larry Niven, who once said that he had discovered an incredibly useful new element for science fiction writers — an element which, assuming the proper isotope was selected, could accomplish literally anything. He dubbed it “Balonium.” Or, as David Drake once put it about the weapons he developed for his Hammers’ Slammers stories, “Exactly how it works is an engineering issue; I’m a concepts kind of guy.” As far as the specifics of the impeller drive are concerned, I also have to admit that the basic concept appealed to me — once I started playing around with it — because it actually gave me a solid reason to reintroduce broadside naval tactics in a three-dimensional combat environment.

I enjoy reading other science fiction, as well as history, detective novels, historical novels, fantasy novels, political science, and — if all else fails — the backs of cereal boxes. Unfortunately, one of the consequences of being a writer, and especially of being a production writer, is that you run out of time to read yourself. When I think about it, I’ve probably been able to do less reading of other people’s work over the last five to ten years than any time since I graduated from high school . . . which, believe me, was a long time ago. As far as what draws me back to the books that I read and reread, I think it’s ultimately two factors: characterization and background. If I don’t care about the characters, I don’t care about the books — it’s that simple. Plot is obviously very important, but in the end, it’s seeing how the characters (human or otherwise) deal with the problems they confront that makes a story come alive. The other factor is background, the question of how good a job the writer has done of constructing the universe in which his characters live and breathe. It doesn’t all have to be shown to the reader, but it all has to be there, at least in the writer’s mind, to provide that sense of consistency and texture that makes a fictional world “real.” I always enjoyed that sort of “world building,” but I think probably the writer who actually first made me most aware of it was Anne McCaffrey, who, by the way, is a lovely lady. She’s actually the one who started me thinking in that direction back when I read her first Pern novel when it was serialized — in Analog, I think. Good characters will carry a weak background better than a strong background will carry weak characters, but the kind of books that bring people — or me, at least — back again and again to the same stories are the ones that balance characterization and background and are most successful at it.

Mark B.: “1. What do you enjoy writing most — the relatively tightly focused, independent ship captain stories like the first few HH books or the more expansive stories of the more recent novels? 2. Do you still plan on writing the Stephanie Harrington/Sphinx Forestry Service series one day? I’m very much looking forward to those, but I can certainly understand why they aren’t a high priority being prequels and with everything else you have going on! 3a. I’ve heard you say in other interviews that showing the cost of war is an important part of the series [and rightly so IMO], and that you don’t tend to outline your stories vary tightly before writing. When you were writing OBS, how did you decide which characters survived? Was there a starting plan or did you just let things happen as you wrote? 3b. Have you ever felt at the end of writing a book that not enough sacrifices were made? Or that too many characters died? If so have you ever gone back and changed someone’s states to accommodate those feelings? 4. The heavily detailed universe is one of the most appealing aspects of the Honorverse to me. Has a detailed background ever prevented you from doing something you wanted to, or forced you into doing something you didn’t want to?“

DW: Cheez. Okay, first, I like writing both kinds of stories. Within the context of the Honorverse, though, I always realized that Honor was going to grow beyond the independent captain level. Put another way, I had decided that I was not going to do a James T. Kirk and have her stuck forever as a starship captain just in order to keep her on a tactical bridge. I did give her sufficient political enemies and other factors to keep her there longer than her abilities would normally have permitted, given the military situation the Star Kingdom faced, but I always intended for her to grow to fleet command levels. The reason I make this point is that I enjoy writing series, and the “more expansive stories” were both inherent and inevitable from the outset. For me, and I realize other people’s opinions may vary on this, what matters is more the characters than the specific circumstances of the action around them. That is, I’m equally happy writing about a character’s actions and insights in the world of political infighting and interstellar skulduggery as I am writing about a character’s tactical prowess and courage under fire.

I do still plan on writing the Stephanie Harrington books. As you point out, however, I have a lot on my plate already. Sometimes it’s hard for me to realize that I’ve been doing this for 20 years now, but I look forward to doing it for at least another 20, and hopefully I should get to about — oh, at least 25% of all the stories I still want to write. I suppose it’s much better to have more stories I want to tell than time to tell them in than it would be to have commitments to write books and not have a clue what I want to put in them, but it’s still frustrating to realize I’m not going to get it all done, however hard I try, before “the dark comes down.”

When I was writing OBS, I had a list — smallish — of characters I knew I wasn’t going to kill, at least in that book. I hadn’t specifically earmarked anyone to receive the black spot when I started out, but aside from that handful of people I knew were going to survive, everyone else was potentially mortal. Within that caveat or restriction, depending on how you want to view it, I more or less let the developing storyline dictate who survived and who didn’t. I knew the basic plot line, but there’s a difference between knowing the plot and knowing the story. The first is a skeleton; the second is a complete, hopefully living body, and until you’ve finished it, you don’t really know how it’s going to come out yourself, even if you are the writer. Or, at least, that’s the way it works for me.

One of the reasons I develop the amount of detail that I do in my literary universes is a deliberate effort on my part to introduce constraints. It’s a way to insure against the temptation to provide a “god weapon” when your characters get into really deep kimchi. It also gives the characters a hard and fast “toolbox” with which they have to solve the problems which confront them, and I think that’s a good thing, too. It makes their problems more difficult and it also allows the reader to think along with them in terms of “Now how would I solve that problem?” because he already knows the options available to them. Now, sometimes the constraints can pinch the author’s toes a bit, and part of the art of writing successfully is knowing when it’s time to step outside the original constraints as long as whatever you introduce remains consistent with what you’ve already introduced. There have been a couple of times when the details I’ve introduced, or the “historical flow,” I suppose you might say, of one of my universes has forced me to change my original plans. I suppose the most telling example of that in the Honorverse would be the fact that I had originally planned for Honor to die at the Battle Manticore in the novel At All Costs. That had been totally fundamental to my thinking when I began the series, since she’s actually a Horatio Nelson analogue more than she is a Horatio Hornblower analogue, and the Battle of Manticore was supposed to be the Star Kingdom of Manticore’s Battle of Trafalgar. I realized that the notion of Honor’s death would be somewhat . . . mildly upsetting to some of her fans, and I always visualized it as a high risk move, but that was the plan. The Honorverse wasn’t supposed to end when she died, though; instead it was supposed to resume about 20 years to 25 years after her death with her children as the focal characters. Unfortunately for that plan — although, quite possibly, fortunately for the continued success of the series — it didn’t and couldn’t work out that way courtesy of what Eric Flint had done. When he began writing his short fiction about Victor Cachat, he asked me about a threat which a Manticoran intelligence officer and a Havenite intelligence officer might find themselves pulled together to combat. So I gave him one, without really thinking about the fact that it was the deeply hidden, secret Evil Empire which the Children of Honor were going to be taking on after her demise. His initial story worked well enough that he did a couple of others, and before I realized it, we’d pulled the “hidden threat” too far forward in time. If I killed Honor off at the Battle of Manticore, I wouldn’t have time for her infant children to grow up and replace her before that “hidden threat” came out into the open. So (not without a sense of profound relief, I must admit) she got a reprieve.

TinyPenny: “How were you able to keep the battles straight in your head? Did you have models or drawings so you could remember were each ship was during the events? How did you research the specifics of the ships?”

DW: To answer the last question first, since I designed the ships, I knew what their specifics were. [G] Over the last two or three years, however, I’ve enlisted the support of some very good people in working on the hardware aspects of the Honorverse. Some of them appear (or are in the process of preparing) in the later books as characters — Tom Pope, Bill Edwards, etc. And, of course, there’s Ken Burnside, of Ad Astra Games, whose Honorverse gaming products have led to some fundamental re-examinations of some of my original assumptions which, I think, have strengthened the series and its technical background.

Where the battles are concerned, I don’t use drawings or models. What I do do is to plan out the basic “architecture” of the battle — that is, the starting points, initial velocities and headings, etc. — and then do “time cuts” throughout the battle. Assuming that I began from time “X”, then given the accelerations I’ve specified, where will both fleets be at “X” + 35 minutes? At + 45 minutes? At + one hour? Obviously, I have to allow for changes in heading, as well, and that can get a bit complicated, but once I’ve established my basic data points for each side in the battle, then I have a solid framework and I can pick any given moment and any given range I want for the specific events I deal with. Sometimes I discover that what I wanted to do in the original plan for the battle simply won’t work, in which case I have to either rewrite to create different beginning conditions or else find a different tactical solution. Frankly, the need to find a different tactical solution often ends up improving what I originally planned to. In a way, my characters and I are involved in solving the problem simultaneously, and I think it shows in the final product.

Bridjess: “Have you read the Farseer trilogy by Robin Hobb and if so did you see any connection with the link between human and animal (cat in this case)?”

DW: I haven’t actually read the books myself. My wife, Sharon, has read them and likes them very much. She’s also reading Hobb’s current series, I believe. I’ve discussed the Farseer books with her to some extent, since we often discuss whatever it is each of us is reading at the moment, but I can’t claim to really be familiar with them. I’d say that probably the biggest difference between the relationship of treecat to human and the relationship in the Farseer books is that the vast majority of humans who are adopted are only partially aware of the linkage or of its depths, whereas the treecats are fully aware of it. And another difference is that the treecats are both fully functional telepaths (at least among their own kind) and a fully sapient alien species. In fact, my original inclusion of the treecats — and of Honor’s link with Nimitz, in particular — was intended in no small part primarily as a toe in the door to eventually explore the second sentient species living in the Star Kingdom of Manticore.

Chevron7: “How do you go about creating your own universe? Does it come bit by bit as you write the story or do you sit down and brainstorm it separately?”

DW: I think I already covered most of this responding to Jon K. I would only add that the starting point for this kind of exercise is quite often a single question or supposition that I start playing around with. As I turn it over in my mind and think about it, it grows and the offshoots of the original thought or concept lead me into a more fully realized and defined literary universe. Probably the single most outstanding example of that would be my Mutineers’ Moon series, which all began from looking up at the moon one night and wondering to myself “What if we don’t actually have a moon at all? What if what we actually have up there is a gigantic, camouflage, extraterrestrial starship? Ooooooohh, shiny!” Because once I started wondering about those things I couldn’t quit until I’d come up with answers, and each answer lead to more questions, which led to more answers, which led to the entire universe in which the books are set.

Thornyrose: “First, could you give us a quick rundown of which books you have scheduled for publication in the next year or so? And which of your series they are a part of? In the Honorverse, might we look forward to a direct military conflict between the Solarian League and Manticore at some point in the future? When you do joint books, are you approached about doing them, or do you seek out other authors? In such cases, how much of the collaboration is yours? (In other words, is your name attached to the book merely to help boost sales, or do you contribute a fair amount to it?) Do you do the mathematics involved in the Harrington books yourself, and who’s the lucky person who has to proof it all? Besides Janet Frazer, have you planted any other nods to Stargate in your novels? (I only picked up that reference on a recent reread.) And what is/are your favorite Stargate episodes? Finally, as an author, is there a genre you have not yet written in you’d like to try? Whether short story, mystery, or straight historical fiction?”

DW: Hooo boy! Okay, let’s see here now . . . .

First, the publication schedule. In March, we have Storm from the Shadows (Honorverse), in which Michelle Henke takes center stage. In July, we have By Heresies Distressed (the third book in the Safehold series). Then, in the last quarter of 2009, we have Torch for Freedom (which Eric Flint is currently working on) and Mission of Honor (which I’m presently trying to finish up), both in the Honorverse. We’re also working on the next Honorverse anthology of short fiction, with a scheduled turn-in date for the stories of April. Frankly, I think we’re going to come in a little late on that, but since the book hasn’t been scheduled for release yet, we’ve got some play in the timing. I’m also supposed to be writing the fourth Safehold novel in the first quarter, and I’ve got a solo novel scheduled for Tor for turn-in sometime around midyear. Exactly when those are going to be scheduled for release, I don’t know. And as soon as I’m done with those Tor projects, it’s back to the Honorverse again.

As far as a direct conflict with the Solarian League is concerned, well, tum-te-tum-te-tum. [G] What I will say is that there is a lot of conflict coming and that what’s happened so far has been mainly prelude, in a lot of ways.

Most of the joint or collaborative works that I’ve done have been my idea. The only time I’ve been specifically approached about doing a collaboration with someone was when Jim Baen asked me if I’d consider doing a collaborative series with John Ringo, who was then not yet published, although that was about to change. I’d read the rough draft of John’s first novel — Hymn Before Battle — (which I’d liked a great deal, but which, frankly, was very rough at that point), and Jim told me that he thought John was a natural storyteller but that he’d never had any training as a writer. He also said that he felt John had a very steep learning curve, and asked me if I’d be willing to do a series with him at least in part as a training exercise. I agreed for several reasons, the most important of which was that I had liked his first solo book so much. And I discovered that Jim was entirely correct about John’s learning curve. In the first book of what became the Prince Roger series, he was very much the newbie; by the second book he was getting his feet firmly under him; by the third book, we were equal partners, although I still had final edit (because someone has to do the final edit on a book written by two people). Given John’s production rate and solo successes, I’d say that, if anything, Jim had underestimated his potential as a storyteller. Which, as an aside, is I think a very important consideration. Learning how to master the mechanics of writing may make you a better storyteller, but it cannot make you a storyteller in the first place. That has to be something you bring to the mechanics with you, which John did. And if you have the storytelling bent, then I believe (your mileage may vary, of course) that it’s much easier to acquire the mechanical skills.

I have never done a collaboration in which my name appeared on the cover only to increase sales. I think that’s an unfair cheat, and I also think — from a purely pragmatic viewpoint — that it’s ultimately self-defeating for the “name” author. I believe word gets around when you do that sort of thing, and I think readers quite rightly feel that you are attempting to take advantage of them rather than provide an honest product. When I do a collaboration, I do it only because I expect to enjoy the project; because I think the final book is going to have strengths that both writers bring to it and neither has alone; and/or because I expect to learn something (or, hopefully, teach something) in the process. (And, by the by, I think any writer who isn’t constantly looking to learn something from his own writing or someone else’s is in serious trouble.) As for exactly how the various reasons for doing collaborations tie in with one another, it varies widely from project to project. I don’t do as many collaborations as some writers; I do more than others. It’s always on a case-by-case basis.

I do the math myself. Mind you, I’d love to let someone else do it, but it’s amazing how few takers there are. [G] Actually, there’s not any practical way to let someone else do it, because I can’t afford to stop, drop an e-mail to someone else, and ask him “Given that launch geometry, what’s the maximum effective powered range of the missile? And how fast is it going to be when it reaches its target? Oh, and how fast will the target be going when the missile gets there?” As a general rule, my copy editors take my word for the math these days. I did have an exchange with a NASA scientist who took me to task for my acceleration figures in one of my books. (Please note that one of the advantages of using the reactionless drive system I’ve come up with for the Honorverse novels is that I don’t have to take into account little things like relativistic mass increase when calculating sustained accelerations.) His problem, however, was that he came up with different numbers from mine. I told him I was confident of my numbers, and he told me that he was glad I was confident, but that they were wrong. So I looked at the ones he’d sent me, and realized that the problem was that I had been rounding to the 10,000ths place . . . and he hadn’t. When I pointed this out to him, his response was silence for a day or two, and then an e-mail that said, more or less, “Well, if you’re going to be that way about it,” followed by a request to know when the sequel to the book was coming out.

I don’t recall any specific Stargate nods other than Janet at this point. There may be another one in there somewhere, but I got ticked off when they killed her off, so I decided to bring her back. What can I say?

I must confess that I have a dreadful memory for episode titles. I think probably from the original series, my two favorite episodes were the ones in which O’Neill and Teal’c get caught in the time loop and keep repeating the same day over and over again and the one in which Daniel initially meets Vala. As to exactly why those two episodes are my favorites, all I can say is that I have a twisted sense of humor.

There are several things I’d like to write — other than science fiction, I mean. I really enjoyed the fantasy novels I’ve been able to do, and I look forward to doing more of them (eventually). In fact, I have a five-volume fantasy magnum opus Baen Books and I plan to do at some point. I also have a complete story arc outline (and the fairly detailed plot outline for the first three novels in it) for a historical series beginning at the start of the American Revolution and continuing through the present day. The problem is that what I’m doing now is sufficiently successful that publishers and distributors want me to do more of it, not wander off to play around with something else, and that it’s using up too much time for me to pursue other genres. I don’t know when (or if) that’s going to change.

GenericWhiteGuy: “In each successive book, your space naval battles make use of ever more powerful weapons and tactics. I think you’ve written a logical progression from one advancement to the next, but has it made each book more difficult to contain yourself so you don’t reach a dead end? […] Second question: Do you have a plan for the overall plot of the Honor Harrington series? Is there an eventual end to the story you would like to reach?”

DW: The biggest problems with the changes in technology in the Honorverse are (1) that they are inherent and inevitable; (2) that each upward bound in range, effectiveness, and tactical flexibility actually begins to devalue the individual capabilities of the starship captains; (3) that they lead to a “matériel-dominated” feel to the books; and (4) that for the people who aren’t hardware geeks, they tend to become an aside (and frequently an irritating one).

When I say that they are inherent and inevitable, I mean there’s no way for me to avoid them, once I started breaking the centuries-old tactical paradigm that existed at the beginning of the First Havenite War. Once you open that particular bottle, you can’t put the genie back in (not unless you want to adopt some strikingly irrational reasons for it, at any rate), so you have to simply deal with it. When I say that the advances in technology began to devalue the individual capabilities of the starship captains, what I mean is that as weapons ranges extend and the tactical environment becomes more and more dominated by remote sensors, by massive salvos of missiles, etc., then at anything above the single-ship duel between relatively light units, individual maneuvering and adaptability begin to drop to secondary importance. When I say they lead to a matériel-dominated feel, I mean that tactical success and victory become more and more primarily an issue of who has a longer range and can fire off the massive missile salvo first; tactics become a question of how you maneuver yourself into the initial position of advantage to let yourself do that, not how you maneuver once battle is actually joined, and the capabilities of your hardware begin to dominate your operational and strategic thinking. And, finally, for those of us who aren’t hardware geeks (and I am one, in case someone hadn’t noticed), pages of details about how the weapons work tend to get skipped over in pursuit of more “interesting” details. One of the other problems with the evolution of hardware is that, like the evolution of the political situation, the writer really has to keep the reader informed about changes. In order to understand why someone chooses one set of tactical alternatives, you have to understand where the breakpoints in opposing capabilities lie, and that means understanding how that person’s technology differs from that of his (or her) opponent’s. Or, for that matter, from what that person might have had available himself two or three books earlier. So I explain it. Some readers object to that, and I fully understand their viewpoint. Some of those who object simply ignore the explanations while they get on with the rest of the book, while some find it sufficiently objectionable that they don’t read the book. Others read the books for the hardware and only “put up with” the history, politics, and the characters because I will insist on inserting all those boring details.

I’m not worried about reaching a “dead end.” I may eventually reach another plateau point, at which I allow the technologies of the opposing sides to equalize and reach a fully mature level and don’t keep pushing towards the next one, but that’s not quite the same thing.

Yes, I have a very definite plan for the overall plot of the Honor Harrington series. I’ve touched upon that in some of my earlier answers, so I’m not going to go back to all of it now. I’ll just say that there have been some departures from my original plan, but that aside from the time telescoping effect which changed my plans for Honor’s personal demise, the departures have been relatively minor and have consisted more of a couple of side storylines I wanted to follow up on than any shift in where the series was headed. There is an eventual end to the storyline that I’d like to reach, but it’s still quite some way in the future.

Andrew Timson: “(1) How far ahead of time are you plotting the overall arc of the series? I know that you also have the Crown of Slaves and Shadow of Saganami series to think of when you’re plotting the next mainline Honor book. But Honor’s definitely undergone changes over the years, and I’m wondering how much of that you had planned from the get-go. (2) Are there any plans for the anthologies to continue? I’m sure they must be a pain in the butt for you to coordinate, but they’ve been able to flesh out some interesting side stories.”

DW: Again, the overall story arc plotting question is one I’ve touched on above. In relationship to the Crown of Slaves and Shadow of Saganami series, there’s been a slight change in plans, largely because (as I mentioned above) Honor didn’t get killed off in the Battle of Manticore after all. Initially, I intended to keep those two plot strands separate, and one of Honor’s children would have pursued the military career that the Shadow of Saganami books were supposed to lead into while his sister would have pursued the covert operations career that the Crown of Slaves books were supposed to set up. Essentially, the Shadow books were supposed to be the place where I would have relatively junior officers — as in roughly equivalent to where Honor was by the time of Honor of the Queen — so that I could go on fighting the desperate single-ship actions and so forth which Honor had become too senior to dabble in while simultaneously setting up the eventual confrontation with Mesa and its Solarian proxies in the Talbott Cluster flashpoint area. At the same time, the Crown books were supposed to start coming at Mesa from the other side, in a convergence of the Audubon Ballroom’s terrorists, the planet of Torch, and the cooperation of Havenite and Manticoran intelligence operatives even while the war between the two star nations continue. Both of those were supposed to take long enough that Honor’s kids would have time to become fresh-out-of-the-Academy participants in them. When things got telescoped, I changed that concept, however. Instead, what I’m doing now is really advancing the mainstream books on three fronts which are not anywhere near as clearly separated from one another as they started out to be. You’ll see what I’m talking about in March when Storm from the Shadows is released. It’s set primarily in the Talbott Cluster, and the primary senior officer in it is Michelle Henke, not Honor, but it’s very definitely part of the main story arc and, in fact, advances it significantly. The same thing is going to be true of Torch for Freedom (the current title for the second book in the Crown of Slaves “series”). Basically, my canvas has gotten so big now that unless I want to write 600,000-word novels, I have to go to a sort of “dispersed architecture.” So far, I think it’s working pretty well.

Yes, there are plans for the anthologies to continue. The current anthology project is well under way with a scheduled turn-in date of April (although I think we are probably going to miss that by a little bit) and is scheduled to contain stories by me, Jane Lindskold, Tim Zahn, and Katherine Kurtz.

RobyRiker: “What inspired you to write about a space navy? Did you do any research into naval tactics for the novel? Or naval procedures and protocols?”

DW: I think one of the most important rules of thumb for any writer is that he ought to write the sort of stories he likes reading. There are several reasons for that, including the fact that if it’s something you like to read, you’ll probably do a better job of writing it than you would of writing something you really, really hate reading but you figure might sell. Another significant reason, from a commercial perspective, is that there are very few of us who are so unique that there aren’t going to be other people who enjoy reading the same sorts of things we enjoy reading — in other words, there ought to be a market. Writing about a “space navy” was sort of a natural call for me because I’ve always loved science-fiction and I’m a military/diplomatic historian by training, with a particular interest in naval history. The two sort of logically came together. I didn’t do a lot of specific research into naval tactics for the novel, but naval tactics, weapons, doctrines, logistics, and the evolution of all of them have been something I’ve been studying on my own for the last 40 years or so. As far as naval procedures and protocols are concerned, some of it comes under the heading of that same 40 years of study and other parts of it come under the “It’s my Navy; I can organize it anyway I want!” school of writing. Although there’s certainly a “Royal Navy feel” (as in Royal British Navy) to the Royal Manticoran Navy, the truth is that the RMN is conceptually closer to the U.S. Navy in a lot of ways. That’s because it’s a deliberate fusion — one that I didn’t want to be too close an analogue to either of its progenitors.

Suziesbluefeather: “This is the first time I’ve read any of your work and I wanted you to know that I really enjoyed it. I do not usually enjoy military-based books. I really felt like I was there within the action with Honor. What led you to come up with her? And how did you come up with Dame Estelle? I also like her character. You do well with writing influential female characters.

Also I always find it difficult in writing, reading, or even watching action on ships. It does not matter if they are in space or at sea it always feels so confined in limited as to the actions the ship can make and what can be done inside. When I was reading this book I did not get that at all. Do you have any recommendations as to how to write a scene that is trapped in a limited area so it doesn’t feel limited?”

DW: First, I’m glad you enjoyed it.

Second, quite a few people have asked me over the years not only how I came up specifically with Honor, but why so many of my books feature strong female characters. In fact, I think I can honestly say that all of them feature strong female characters, and probably in the majority of them the strong female characters in question are also the protagonists. Now, as to why this happens, I really don’t know. The best explanation I’ve been able to come up with is that I’ve known a great many strong women in my life, I’ve liked most of them (not all!), and as the lead characters in stories, I prefer strong, responsibility-taking characters to weak characters. I think there probably has been at least a little bit of enjoyment on my part in putting women into what have been “traditionally” male roles, but that’s never been a significant factor, really. I guess what it comes down to in a lot of respects is that I figure that if we’re on the right track when it comes to questions of gender equality (and I think we are), then by the time of a character like Honor Harrington the question of whether or not we should have specific sharply gender-limited roles is going to be about as significant to those people as we find Pharaoh’s policy towards the Hittites is to us. It’s going to be a done deal, and that’s one reason why I have a problem with far-future science fiction (as opposed to near-future science fiction) in which female characters face exactly the same barriers that women have faced in in the 20th and (so far) 21st centuries. I think that near-future science fiction is a perfectly reasonable vehicle for the exploration of those barriers; I think that far-future science fiction in which the mainstream culture hasn’t dealt with and removed those barriers devalues both the historical process and the inherent strength and ability of women to stand up for themselves and/or perform in those “traditionally male” roles.

As to how to avoid feeling “limited” when dealing with something as small as a shipboard “universe,” it’s one of those things that I’ve never really analyzed in myself, and I’m not really sure that I have any advice to give. I’ll take a sort of free-associating shot at it, though, if you like.

I think that part of it lies in whether or not the characters aboard the ship feel limited or constrained. How they feel about their environment is going to be reflected in how they interact with one another, how cramped and/or confined they feel, and how comfortable they are — in how “natural” their environment feels for them because of a combination of training, experience, etc. Another technique for avoiding feelings of limitation in that sort of environment might lie in finding things for the characters to do. Send them to the gym, for example. Keep them busy doing things. In the “furniture” of the scenes, give them things to touch, manipulate — coffee cups or mugs of hot chocolate, for example — that fill in the sense of space around them. And, I think, another important factor if you’re dealing with a spaceship, in particular, is that occasionally you have to let the characters look outside the hull. The immensity and beauty of the physical universe, even for those of us living at the bottom of planetary gravity wells, is one of the never ceasing wonders of our existence. All too often, we ignore that immensity and beauty even in our own lives, because we’re too tightly focused in on “more important matters” to pay that much attention. Writers also sometimes have a tendency to ignore the visual and physical texture of their characters’ universes in order to concentrate on more “important” things. Every so often, you have to just step back. Let the character look out a viewport, or at a visual display, and really see the stars and planets, the galaxies, which lie right on the other side of the bulkhead. And as the omniscient observer, writing the story, never lose track of that immensity yourself. If you, as the writer, are treating the ship as a platform moving through the depths of space and interacting with the space around it, then the ship becomes a stage and not a confined room somewhere.

I hope that makes some sort of sense. As I say, it’s not really something that I’ve thought about before, so I’m sort of shooting from the hip here.

Judy in SATX: “One of my favorite parts of the novel takes place when Klaus Hauptman is introduced and you provide a quick history on Manticore’s origins. I’ve always been more interested in the sociological and cultural aspects of SF than the technological, so your description of how a technologically advanced human society consciously chose to change from a democratically-elected board to a constitutional monarchy was always intriguing to me. Did you have this in mind when first coming up with the story, or did the universe building happen after you came up with the character of Honor and the plot line? Did you come up with the political machinations between people and systems as you went along, or did you have it mapped out through your first few books?”

DW: When I do my universe-building essays which turn into tech bibles, I actually usually start with the political structures. In the case of the Honorverse, I’d come up with the character of Honor, and I was deliberately reaching for the Napoleonic wars as a template. Mind you, I never intended for the match between the Star Kingdom of Manticore and the Kingdom of Great Britain or between the People’s Republic of Haven and the revolutionary French Republic to be as tight as many of my readers assumed. However, I did intend for Honor to come from an aristocracy-dominated society, and when I started structuring, Manticore grew out of that.

Some people have wondered if I have an anti-democracy bias, since I tend to have characters who are living in monarchies, empires, etc., and I also tend to have façade democracies which are theoretically democratic but are actually corrupt. The answer is that it’s not quite that simple. For example, people who have read the StarFire novels that I did with Steve White will find that while there are corrupt “democratic” societies, the “good guys” of the very first novel — Insurrection — are in fact fighting to preserve their democratic way of life against the corruption of the central government. And those who have been following the Honorverse novels all along have seen the shortcomings of an aristocratic society in which those not directly accountable through popular election can warp and twist national and foreign policy, while the “corrupt” People’s Republic of Haven has been reborn as a functional, healthy representative democracy. As a historian, my observation is that any working form of government is a study in dynamic tensions. Once power becomes concentrated, it inevitably begins to become corrupt. It doesn’t matter whether the power is concentrated in a political party which holds dominance for decades, or in the hands of an hereditary aristocracy, or in the hands of a local political machine, the process is always there. It’s my personal opinion that representative democracies have a greater inherent resistance to that sort of concentration of power, given the fact that they overtly enshrine the notion of accountability, but that they certainly aren’t immune to it (especially when that notion of accountability is allowed to fall by the wayside or politicians are allowed to evade it). Conversely, there actually have been examples of dictators and despots who have done quite a lot of good . . . at least initially, which means that any form of government can be — or become — either good or bad.

Hierarchical, non-elective governments (or, at least, power structures) are more susceptible to that sort of concentration of power, but have a certain inherent efficiency in operation as long as the person(s) at the top know what he/they are doing. That makes them attractive in survival situations. Thus we have the Protectorate of Grayson in subsequent Honorverse novels. It also means that I think there will be a tendency towards hierarchical, probably autocratic forms of government for a lot of interstellar colonization efforts, especially those which hit unanticipated crises. So I foresee a lot of these colonies going through the evolutionary process from kingdom/empire/dictatorship towards a more democratic form of government.

From a story writer’s perspective, I find kingdoms and empires attractive because I’m looking for situations in which individuals in leadership positions don’t have to spend all of their time dealing with elections, public opinion polls, and all of that sort of thing.

And, from a final historical perspective, I would simply observe that while democratic government appears to be the only logical ideal from our current perspective, that is a relatively new perspective, historically speaking. There have been far fewer truly functional democracies in the history of mankind than there have been kingdoms, theocracies, and dictatorships. Indeed, one might well argue that if you get past the surface façades, there are actually relatively few functional democracies in existence today. Some of the ones we have are very large and very powerful, but they’re still in the minority as a percentage of the world’s total governments.

Sorry. I seem to have wandered just a bit afield of your original question here. But that’s your fault. You’re the one who brought up “sociological and cultural aspects of SF.” Now see what you started? [G]

Antisocialbutterflie: “Firstly, I would like to thank you for a wonderful book and for answering our questions. (1) I was incredibly impressed with the character of Honor. Was there any person who inspired you to create such a strong female character? Was there any one whom you based the character on? (2) You seem to have a rather extensive grip on the physics of your universe and your technology. What resources did you turn to when creating your universe?”

DW: Thank you for the compliments on the book. I think I’ve already pretty much answered your second question up above in response to other readers, so I’ll concentrate on your first one.

I wouldn’t say that there was any specific person who inspired me to create such a strong female character. If you mean have there been influences in my life — as in people who were influences in my life — who have made me aware of and comfortable with strong female characters in general, then, yes, there certainly have been. My mother, for one. My current wife, for another. I can easily think of at least another half-dozen women who have been strong people, responsibility-taking people, who were also pivotal figures in my life. My basic observation has been that it doesn’t matter how your chromosomes or your plumbing might be arranged. What matters is whether or not you are ready, willing, and able to stand up for yourself, your beliefs, and your obligations. I’ve known at least as many women who are all of those things as I’ve known men who are, just as I’ve known both men and women who are none of those things.

My wife, Sharon, is a very strong person. That doesn’t mean she doesn’t have her fragile points, just as I do. But this is a woman who’s had three major spinal surgeries, who got her first job when she was 12 to help her mother make ends meet and it was pretty much just the two of them against the world, and who has faced adversity on her own two feet for as long as I’ve known her. I won’t say she’s the inspiration for Honor Harrington, but there’s definitely a lot of her in Honor, just as there’s a lot of bits and pieces from other strong women who I’ve known over the years.

Shirt’n’Tie: “Thank you so much for answering all these questions. Thanks also for a great book! I understand Forester was an inspiration, and I’m sure many will have asked about other influences and how you got started, etc., so I’m going to ask a little off-center question. I loved the front cover of the book, how much editorial control do you have when choosing the image? Does the Honor on the cover represent the Honor you had seen in your head as you were writing her? Also, the breadth and broad scope of this type of writing must be a nightmare to edit? Is there a specific system you have, or do you leave it to your publishing house’s editors?”

DW: To be completely honest, I’m not absolutely certain which version of the cover you’re talking about! [G] The more recent Honor Harrington covers have all been the work of David Mattingly, who is one of the most conscientious artists I know when it comes to getting the details right. Generally speaking, for example, if there’s an error in Honor’s uniform, it’s my fault, not David’s.

Most publishers feel — with justification, I might add — that where cover art is concerned, authors are as little children and should be kept far, far away from the process. Some people may find it odd that I say this, since I’m one of those writer people, but they should reflect on the fact that I also spent about 20 years working in marketing, which gives me a somewhat different perspective on what cover art is supposed to achieve, and also means that I spent those same 20 years working with artists trying to successfully execute concepts, whether mine or a client’s. Out of my own experience, I know that giving an artist too much direction guarantees that you won’t get the artist’s best work. What will happen is that a conscientious artist will start trying to follow direction rather than relying on his or her own talents and interpretive ability. From a marketing viewpoint, the function of the cover is to attract the attention of readers who are likely to enjoy (i.e., purchase!) the book. Now, I’m not a great believer in putting a stunning blonde on the cover of a book which is about a brunette, Eurasian heroine. I don’t care how many books that cover is likely to sell; it’s just plain wrong. But I think that writers (and I’m not an exception to this observation) tend to have particular, favorite scenes in the book that they’d really, really, really love to see on the cover . . . but which might very well not be the most effective scenes from a marketing perspective.

After a certain point, a writer begins to “earn” greater input into what goes onto the covers of his books. In my opinion, however, it’s unwise for him to try to insist on controlling the art. I think it’s entirely appropriate for him to look at the proposed art and say “Oh, no! I hate that!” if it really sets his teeth on edge, but I don’t think it’s appropriate for him to say “We are going to use this scene, and I want her eyes to be looking to the left, and his eyes to be looking to the right, and in the background, I want to be sure we get that nice begonia I described. Oh, and don’t forget the polkadots on his vest!” That kind of control and micromanagement is not likely to produce an effective cover.

Having said all of that, I have to admit that David’s (that’s David Mattingly’s) Honor does not look exactly as I have visualized Honor looking. On the other hand, if I were a graphics artist, and not a writer, then I could have drawn her myself. I can’t do that. I really, really like David’s covers. Some of them I’ve liked more than others, but I can’t really think of a Mattingly cover I’ve disliked. And if his iteration of Honor doesn’t exactly match mine, it also doesn’t jar with the descriptions in the books, and it’s consistent from cover to cover. So, overall, I’ve been extraordinarily pleased with Baen’s decision to pair his art with my books. And yes, generally speaking, I do see the preliminary sketches and have the opportunity for input, and David is almost always very careful about seeing to it that I get to see the final product at the same time Baen does.

Iamaza: “You know, every time Nimitz showed up on the page, I was reminded of James Schmitz’s Telzey Amberdon stories and Telzey’s telepathic pet companion, TT. I loved those books . . . For the longest time, I thought the reason I kept thinking of Telzey and TT was because Nimitz had been named for Schmitz. Of course, when I remembered Schmitz’s surname correctly, it was obvious this was not the case. So, was Nimitz named for the Fleet Admiral? The aircraft carrier? Something/someone else?”

DW: Nimitz is named for Chester Nimitz, the fleet admiral for whom the aircraft carrier is also named. (But I bet you already knew that! [G]) Later on, when Honor gets to bestow “two-leg” names on some more male treecats, she comes up with names like “Farragut,” “Nelson,” “Hipper,” and “Togo.” All of them, you will note, wet-navy admirals.

Holly: “Mr. Weber — I was curious about your background. Do you have any personal military experience? Do you have special training or education in a particular field that has contributed to your writing? Who do you enjoy reading when you want to pick up a good book? Anything on your nightstand now? And how about your wife? I’m always curious about whether spouses of writers share the same taste in books.”

DW: I’m not sure, but I may hold the record for attempts to enlist in the navy. My older brother served a hitch in the Navy, but when I turned up, with migraine and seizural headaches, bad eyes, deafness in one ear, and torn cartilage in a knee, the friendly local naval recruiter more or less told me thanks but no thanks. So did his successor. Now, his successor’s successor told me that if I’d go away and come back with a masters degree, he could probably get me a limited line staff commission, which wasn’t exactly what I had in mind, so I gave up and told him thanks but no thanks. Later on, when I was in graduate school, one of the professors who held a major general’s rank in the Army Reserve and taught every year at Leavenworth, told me that it was either a very good thing or a very bad thing that the recruiters had turned me down. I would, he said, either have gone far . . . or else been thoroughly miserable because of my inability to tolerate fools, given that some of the fools I would have been encountering would have had shiny things on their collars and shoulders or, in the case of the Navy, nice rings of gold braid on their cuffs.

I have, however, a great many friends who are current-service or ex-military, pretty much from all branches, but probably more Marines than anyone else. My brother-in-law, for example, spent the better part of a quarter century as a Marine, and I was taught firearms safety and marksmanship by another Marine. I also served as a mentor in graduate school to a couple of special forces guys who the Army wanted to get credentialed for further promotion. So while my own personal military experience is nonexistent, I have several “resources” I can call upon when a specific question puzzles me.

My own training is as a historian, with primary emphasis on military history, and secondary emphasis on political and diplomatic history, and I imagine you can probably see certain echoes of that training in my novels. The fact that I supported myself, one way or another, as a writer from about the time I was 18, also contributed, I’m sure. I’ve done newspaper stories, travel articles, advertising, training brochures, HUD studies, radio scripts, television and radio advertising, and just about any other type of public relations/public information writing you could name. That kind of experience gets you accustomed to meeting deadlines and to taking editorial criticism.

I don’t have as much time as I’d like to have to read anymore, but I have entirely too many writers whose work I enjoy to single any one or two of them out. I like Vernor Vinge, Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, Greg Bear, Tim Zahn, Anne McCaffrey, Eric Flint, and bunches of other currently producing writers. As far as the “oldies but goodies” go, I’m a huge fan of Roger Zelazney, H. Beam Piper, Heinlein, Keith Laumer, Poul Anderson, Fred Saberhagen, Murray Leinster, Asimov, Theodore Sturgeon, Robert Howard, Sprague deCamp, and the list goes on. I also like techno-thrillers, and I am an incredible sucker for a good historical novel.

What’s on my nightstand right now, actually, is CS Lewis and Anne Rice’s latest novel (which doesn’t have anything to do with vampires), and, believe it or not, Norman Friedman’s design history of United States destroyers. Of course, what with deadline pressure and three children under the age of eight, reading time for Dad is somewhat limited. But I’ve just finished reading Prince Caspian to them, and we’re currently negotiating to see whether we do The Silver Chair or The Last Battle next.

Sharon and I enjoy many of the same books, but overall, our reading tastes are quite different. She certainly doesn’t share my fascination for military hardware and military history, and techno-thrillers aren’t exactly her cup of tea, either. She does like a good historical novel, and she and I are both very fond of Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden novels. (For that matter, we were very fond of the television series, short-lived though it was.) She read all the Harry Potters before I did — they were strongly recommended to her by Joan Saberhagen, Fred Saberhagen’s wife — although I’m the one who’s now read the first . . . three, I think, to the kids.

By and large, we probably read more books that are different from one another than we do the same titles. And one thing she definitely doesn’t read are my books, but there’s actually a good reason for that. Unlike me, Sharon literally cannot stand to read a book when someone’s told her how it ends, and she has to put up with me working out the details of my books as I go along. I frequently try passages on her or ask her opinion about plot notions, and in some cases (like anything to do with swimming, for example) she’s one of my expert sources, etc. So by the time the book is finished, she already knows what’s in it as well as I do, and she’s not about to read it.

For the love of Beckett: “(1) Honor is such a precisely drawn character, you had to have found inspiration for her in real life. Who was she? (2) Likewise Commander McKeon, Honor’s XO. Who was he? (3) Honor and McKeon were deadlocked in a silent struggle for respect. She earned it. She won by not fighting him at all. When he finally broke, he was willing to, and later did, follow her into Hell itself. You know that struggle well. Where did you know it first? Thank you for living in the “Honor-verse” alternate reality, so that you would know it well enough to create it for us.”

DW: Honor is a composite of several people, I suppose. The truth is that the character more or less sprang into full-blown existence for me. I didn’t spend a lot of time trying to decide who to inspired what aspect of her.

McKeon has a lot of me in him. Well, he and Honor both do in the sense that I believe the ultimate mark of a human being’s maturity is whether or not that human being takes responsibility. I don’t mean by that whether or not he (or she) acknowledges fault or at least the consequences of his own actions. I mean that when faced by a situation which requires action, he steps up and does his best to deal with it. McKeon’s problem was that he was a man with a strong sense of duty — a responsibility taker — who found himself out of step with his own innermost character. Because of his resentment and envy when Honor turned up in command of Fearless, he failed to discharge his responsibilities, and he hated it. He knew he was failing, and, really for the first time in his life, he didn’t know how to fix it, so the hole he was in kept getting deeper and deeper. In the end, it took Hauptman’s attempt to browbeat Honor — to threaten her — to break through his own awareness of his inability to get out of the hole by touching that deep-seated sense of responsibility of his. I don’t think I ever got myself into a hole quite that deep, but there have certainly been times when I found myself discovering that I’d failed in my responsibilities to another person only when some other external factor made me come face-to-face with it. So I suppose in that respect, I do know that struggle.

Narellefrom Aus: “(1) How difficult was it to write a protagonist of the opposite sex? (2) Was there a particular aspect of politics that was the driver for that story line?”

DW: With the exception of a very few scenes here and there, none of which occurred in OBS, it’s never been particularly difficult for me to write a protagonist who’s female. Now, if you ask me why that is, I’m not sure I can answer it in any definitive sense. The best way that I’ve been able to explain it when the question comes up on panels at science-fiction conventions is to say that I don’t write strong female characters, and I don’t write strong male characters, I try to write strong human characters, some of whom happen to be women and some of whom happen to be men.

I’m not really aware of any specific aspect of politics — certainly not of current day politics — that was the driver for the storyline in OBS, particularly. There are very definitely political aspects of how the People’s Republic of Haven got into the mess it was in; how the Solarian League turned into the lumbering behemoth it’s become; how the Protectorate of Grayson evolved; and how the real, bedrock villains of the Honorverse — who are only just now truly beginning to come out in the open — became who and what they are which resonate with things I see going on around me right this minute. There are so many of those, however, that trying to isolate and discuss them would get really, really out of hand.

Elyse writes: “I was so excited to see that On Basilisk Station would be your book of the month! I’m a big fan of the Honor series. Here are my two questions for David Weber. (1) I love that the ships in this series can’t just magically jump to “warp speed” sort time. How did you come up with the idea to write a space opera where the ships were based on an old-fashioned blue sea navy? (2) The Kingdom of Manticore resembles a futuristic version of 18th and 19th century England. In which case, was the treatment of the Stilties by Manticore and Haven a commentary about imperialism?”

DW: When I first started thinking about the proposal which became the Honorverse, I wasn’t really thinking in terms of CS Forester as much as I was in terms of a political and historical template that would provide the basis for a war which could last literally for decades. The first one I looked at, actually, was the Punic wars, between Rome and Carthage, but they didn’t lend themselves as well to the naval war I wanted to fight. Which thought naturally led me to the Napoleonic wars. There’s a little bit of confusion here because Honor Harrington wasn’t really conceived of — by me, at any rate — as Horatio Hornblower in space. That was what Jim Baen saw it as when the proposal came in, but for me, really, the series was always going to be about the wars as a whole, not just about Honor’s role in fighting them. She was going to be the central, unifying figure, but still only one character in the middle of a huge interstellar conflict. That’s one reason why there were so many important “secondary” characters from the beginning. (One thing that some people don’t seem to notice about Honor is that what she accomplishes, she normally accomplishes through the leadership and motivation of the people around her. It’s getting them to perform at extraordinary levels which allows her to perform at those levels, and quite a few of the people around her are quite extraordinary in their own right.) So for me, the real “model” for Honor was Horatio Nelson, not Horatio Hornblower, although Honor never had the personal drive for fame which was very much a part of Nelson’s character. I knew, however, that if the series worked, the literary character to whom she was going to be compared would be Hornblower, and I truly did always love Forester. I’d already decided that the character’s first name would be “Honor,” for a lot of reasons, but I changed her original last name to “Harrington” specifically so that her initials would match Hornblower’s. The fact that it gave the name a nicer rhythm than the one I’d originally chosen was simply gravy.

At any rate, it was the decision to use the Napoleonic wars as my model for at least the starting point for the series that led to the resemblance (which many people have noted) between the United Kingdom of the 18th and 19th centuries and the Star Kingdom of Manticore, on the one hand, and to my decision to resurrect broadside tactics in a somewhat different technological matrix.

The treatment of the Stilties by the Manticorans (and Haven) wasn’t intended as a comment on any specific instance of imperialism. If anything, it was an effort on my part to explore what constitutes “imperialism” in the negative sense in which it is normally implied and what might constitute “imperialism” in the sense of an inevitable collision between different cultures and levels of technology and how it might be dealt with. I’ve always had major problems with things like Star Trek’s “prime directive,” which seem to me to be purely a product of our own West’s later 20th century assumption of guilt for all the ills of the planet. I’m not trying to say that imperialism didn’t play a role, by any means, but I am saying that any examination of the historical record is going to show that the sorts of things which went on as part of “Western imperialism” are also part and parcel of the human condition under just about any circumstances. It seems to me — and I’m speaking here about my own interpretation of history and what constitutes responsible politics and social policy — that simply renouncing anything that could possibly be construed as “imperialistic” is cowardly. What’s needed is an approach to those inevitable collisions I referred to above which is sensitive to the needs and identity of the weaker culture but which doesn’t try to simply prevent those collisions by some sort of fiat. Arrogance and a confident assumption that “our” answers must inevitably be better than “their” answers in every way is one route to ruin; a refusal to acknowledge that change is inevitable simply because contact occurs is another route to the same destination. The Manticoran policy towards the Stilties as enunciated by Dame Estelle represents an effort to be compassionately aware of the need to preserve the Medusans (and the world which, after all, belongs to them) as uniquely and identifiably Medusan, but also recognizes the lesson of King Canute.

Delcamy: “What made you decide to write in the military SF realm?”

DW: I’ve already touched on this above when I said that I think someone should write what he enjoys reading. I always enjoyed good military science fiction, and there wasn’t a whole lot of it around when I started writing. I think that something which draws me to military science fiction is that most of my “good guys” are those responsibility-takers I keep talking about, and a military setting has a tendency to make the consequences and alternatives starker. That is, my characters are far less likely to find themselves in positions where they can convince themselves that waffling, or ignoring responsibility, won’t have serious — even fatal — consequences if not for them, then for others. It also creates a situation in which the chain of command and authority tends to be less ambiguous. This means that the consequences of defying that chain of command and authority because your personal sense of responsibility requires it are also much more clear-cut and less ambiguous. Finally, the fact that I’ve always been a student of military history and someone who enjoyed reading good science fiction made the marriage of military history and science fiction in my own writing a natural combination.

Seahen: “A question or two for Mr. Weber if it’s not too late (or already been asked), what made you choose to make Honor a female character? And I’ve noticed that the Manticoran Navy in the warfare described as urban essence of the 18th-19th-century English navy in naval warfare that time. What inspired you to create the Manticoran Navy this way? Thanks!

DW: Actually, I think I have already answered these . . . at least as well as I can! [G] The truth is, that frequently when a writer is asked a question like “what made you choose to make Honor a female character?” he genuinely can’t answer it. It just “felt right,” so he did it. If it works, people comment on how clever he was; if it doesn’t work, no one buys the books. For what it’s worth, I think some writers have a tendency to overthink themselves. When you try too hard to analyze what makes something work for you, you sometimes fasten on the wrong elements, and you can do yourself, your story, and your characters a lot of damage in the process.

Michelle: “Questions for Mr. Weber: Are you still hopeful of the TV series or movie(s) based on the books, and has there been any progress on that front? Do you have an update on whom you’d like to see play Honor (Wikipedia mentions Claudia Christian is one possibility)? Are you happy with your life is a sci-fi novelist? What are some of the most interesting experiences your career has brought to you?

DW: We’re still very hopeful about the movie project. In fact, it’s still ongoing and looks quite promising, although we don’t have any hard and fast dates. The current thinking on who would play Honor is tied up with the casting concept of the guys working on the movie. Essentially, what they’re thinking about is that they want and hope to do a series of movies, in which case they would try to find good, fairly new talent to play the ongoing roles — the characters like Honor, James McGuiness, Scotty Tremaine, Alistair McKeon, etc. — and then use established “name” actors for the characters who appear in only a single novel or, at least, infrequently. The idea is that the actors signed for the ongoing roles would be at a point in their careers at which it would be equitable for both the producers and the actors themselves to sign them up for two or three movies at a set compensation, which would help with the goal of producing at least three of them. That being the case, I really don’t know who’d be likely to be cast as Honor herself. I’ve met Claudia, and I like her a lot, but at this point I don’t think she’s a likely fit for the role. My only real concern with casting her back when we first started talking about the project was that she’d been so successful as Ivonova on Babylon 5 that I’d be afraid the writers would try to re-create that character in Honor, and much as I loved Ivonova, her command style was the very antithesis of Honor’s. In fact, the character from that series who had Honor’s command style and presence was Delenn. Where Claudia is concerned, there’s also the issue of physical size. Let’s face it, she’s actually not a very tall person . . . she just seems that way, especially when she decides to bounce! Mind you, I don’t think we’re going to find too many 6’2″ tall Eurasian female martial artists who can also act. So I’ve told the producers that as far as I’m concerned what matters most is that they find an actress who’s comfortable with the physicality of Honor’s persona and can carry off her command style. I’d love for her to be on the tall side, but I’ll settle for her simply not being on the short side. Actually, someone who I think could have played a role (although I’m not sure exactly how age would figure into all of this given the existence of prolong in the Honorverse) would be the actress (whose name currently evades me) who played Admiral Kane on the new Battlestar Galactica.

I’m happy with my life as a science-fiction novelist. It has its less than totally satisfactory aspects, as any occupation would, but by and large it lets me do something I really enjoy doing and make a comfortable living for myself and my family in the process. And I find the creation of stories — the fitting together of the elements of a story line, a literary universe, a cast of characters — very satisfying.

I’d say that probably the most interesting experience my career has brought me has been the opportunity to meet a lot of other people, not just fellow writers, whose work I’ve admired for a long time. There are still a lot of people might like to meet who I haven’t, but overall, I’ve been given opportunities in that regard that most people don’t get.

Montrealer: “The character of PO Harkness the missile noncom in On Basilisk Station. Did the character grow from his original role to his later role in the Honorverse? He is a role archetype I’ve noticed quite a bit in fantasy and somewhat in sci-fi. That of the indestructible noncom that steals a lot of thunder from the main characters. Was really surprised to see him survive after the demises of much of the supporting cast in the Honorverse over the years.”

What is the status of an Honor Harrington film or series in the works? Also is there a front runner for the Honor role in your mind? Finally, what is the next title in the Honorverse after Storm from the Shadows?”

DW: No one in the Honorverse is really indestructible. Harkness could still die someday, but I always had him in mind for the part that he finally played in In Enemy Hands. Frankly, I didn’t know exactly how that book was going to work out when I was working on On Basilisk Station and The Honor of the Queen, but I already had it in mind, and I’d already figured out that Harkness was going to play the key role in rescuing Honor. One reason you see him — or characters like him — so often in military fiction is that people like him are critical to the sense of identity which infuses a successful military organization. They are the long-service, highly experienced conservators of that military’s traditions, and the people who take brand-new junior officers in hand and demonstrate how to do their jobs. I’m not saying that Harkness’ . . . checkered past is a necessary part of that “conservators” role, but if you look at him carefully, you find that underneath all of the cheerful black-marketeering, smuggling, fighting, etc., is somebody who truly embodies the core principles of the Royal Manticoran Navy. His role is to teach those principles to officers like Scotty Tremaine, and someone like him is essential if those junior officers are to grow professionally. (Of course, it’s also worth noting that Harkness has been around since the old RMN, the relatively small, tightly-knit navy which predate King Roger’s buildup to confront the Havenite threat. In that sense, he could be seen as the literary descendent of one of the old “China hands” of the US or British navies before WW II.)

I’ve touched on the status of the Honor Harrington film above, and right now that’s taking precedence over any possibility of a TV series. I’ve also commented above on possible casting for Honor’s role. The next title in the Honorverse after Storm from the Shadows is Torch for Freedom (at least I believe that’s the current title) which is the sequel to Crown of Slaves. Eric is working on his part of the book now; when he’s done, he’ll pass it on to me and I’ll write my portion and do the final edit. While he’s working on that, I’m into the final stages of Mission of Honor, which is the next book in the series. Assuming we make our delivery deadlines, my understanding is that Torch will probably hit the bookstores in the last quarter of 2009 (say, November) and that Mission will probably hit a couple of months after that.

And, finally, congratulations to Judy in SATX and Sparrow_hawk. You are the winners of the Baen/Weber gift bags. Drop me an email at moorsyum@yahoo.com to start the ball rolling.         


January 16, 2009: Link Issues, Book Discussion, Internet News, and the Mailbag

Yesterday, I received a call from the uber-talented composer Joel Goldsmith who wanted me to know he’s been working hard on those fan questions I sent him and is almost done. Actual work, it would seem, held things up a bit, but he assured me that his responses would be chock full of interesting info and links. I’m alternately pleased and a little nervous, only because I haven’t been having much luck with links of late. I’ll copy and paste a text containing links onto my wordpress page and, once I hit “publish”, there’s no telling what I’m doing to end up with. Sometimes lines and paragraph will be run together. Other times the actual link will disappear from where it should be and end up as an addendum at the bottom of the entry. Still other times, the entire text will be underlined and/or bolded. What gives? Being the non-techy guy I am, my first guess is an ancient Mayan curse. If anyone has a better explanation, I’d love to hear it.

Speaking of upcoming Q&A’s – A final reminder to get your questions in for actor Mike (Kirkyk) Dopud!

Further thoughts on On Basilisk Station:

First of all, thanks to everyone who has weighed in with thoughts and comments on the book. Clearly, the series has a lot of fans and, judging from the first book, I can see why. One of the things that really appealed to me was the complex and wholly believable world David Weber creates, and one of the main reasons his Honorverse is so credible is because of the details offered on everything from its socio-economic and political structure to its technological achievements. Of course some would argue that it’s a two-edged sword, that these meticulous accounts can actually frustrate the reader. So, I’m curious what those of you who read On Basilisk Station think about this as it applies to the book. Too much, too little, or just right?

Also, in response to my review, Terry posted the following comment: “Joe, I had a question related to your post about “On Basilisk Station.” You mentioned somthing about this book being the first book that you liked as military SF. I’ve heard others describe “Old Man’s War” as military SF and I know you love that book. I’m curious, do you think of “Old Man’s War” more a space opera? How do you define military SF?”

Well, damn that’s a good point. In retrospect, yeah, I SHOULD classify Old Man’s War as military SF (and come to think of it, Armor by John Steakley, another book I loved). However, Weber’s brand of military SF is very different and more in keeping with my long-held notion of the science fiction sub-genre in which the military component drives the story above all else. The emphasis is less on space opera and more on elements like battlefield tactics and the particulars of combat. I honestly don’t have a preference between either version and hadn’t even considered the differences until this question came up.

So, what do you all think? How would you definite military SF? Do books like Old Man’s War fall into that definition? Why or why not?

What’s in YOUR drinking water? If you guessed Naproxen (a painkiller and anti-inflammatory), Estrone (an oestrogen hormone), and Carbamazepine (a drug used to treat bipolar disorder), you are correct! And, in all probability, already read the following article:


Sure they’re closing in on a cloak of invisibility, but can science invent a shampoo with the long-lasting scent of oatmeal cookies?:


Who, in your opinion, are the lamest super villains in comic book history? Draw up your list and compare. Oh, Asbestos Man. What the hell were you thinking?:




To those of you unfamiliar with Cowboy Bebop, this may be of passing interest. To fans of the brilliant anime series, this new is, well, kinda depressing:



AV Eddy writes: “What does salsify taste like?”

Answer: Like sweet victory but a tad crunchier.

Belouchi writes: “1. How many ZPMS are within our possesion? ( 3 in Atlantis, one in the Odyssey, Does that seem right)
2. Was the Zpm that was given to power the ancient chair of Antartica or might I say Area 51 destroyed along with the chair?
3. Are the ZPMs powering Atlantis nearly depleted?
Also that now that you guys at Bridge Studios have a better grasp of the complexities of Stargate Universe:
4. Do you know roughly, the size and scope of The Destiny? Is it comparable to an Aurora Class ship, or more in the range of a mega ship such as Anubis mothership or Atlantis like ship.
5. Do you know where we can get Pierre Herme Macarons in Montreal?”

Answers: 1) Hmmmm. Seems about right. 2) Time will tell. Unless Paul does first. 3) Again, we’ll find out the next time we meet our intrepid crew. 4) Yet again, I’m going to have to defer on this one. 5) To the best of my knowledge, you can’t.

Blademos writes: “Will there be a Movie comming soon cause rumor has it that there might not be a movie cause none of the real cast has signed…”

Answer: There will definitely be an Atlantis movie.

Sherwood Forest Maiden writes: “Have you read Twilight, or any of the other books in the series?? Or seen the movie??”

Answer: No, I haven’t.

Tori writes: “Awesome series ending…for SG1!”

Answer: As I already said – the script was not intended to be a SERIES finale, but a season finale.

WillySkilly writes: “Any chance that if Atlantis gets a second movie it would be Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow?”

Answer: Most unlikely.

PoorOldEdgarDerby writes: “Is a pinky fracture more likely to be dismissed if the chided has been given fair warning that, if he continues to twist hia arm in such a manner that the laws of momentum will be ultimately responsible for his consequential suffering?”

Answer: Sadly, no.

Scary writes: “ I have read that the SGA movie will air first on SCI-FI and then be released on DVD while others say that it will a straight to DVD like the other Stargate movies. Can you clear this up?”

Answer: From what I hear, it will probably air on SciFi first.

TBA writes: “How story-arc-based (if that’s a word) is SGU going to shape? Are you going with the old SG-1 way and having only the two- and three-parters tie into each other (with the rest being, although fun, fillers that contributed to some stories but could’ve been anywhere in the season), something along the lines of Heroes where every episode directly continues where the previous ep ended (which is very fun to see, imo), or something in between like SGA season 1 where the episodes were kinda stand-alone (except for the two/three-parters, ofc) but also contributed to the overall arc each episode?”

Answer: SGU will definitely be more of an arc-driven series. Although it will have its fair share of stand-alone and multi-parters, the show will have more season-long plot and character threads running through every episode.

Noelm writes: “So, is hitting with an open fist the same as a “slap”?”

Answers: Slaps, cuffs, and karate chops are all acceptable when dealing with a writer who has screwed up your lunch order.

Stephanie writes: “I’m finding that there are several days a week when I just can’t “get it up to write.” When you get that feeling do you have any tricks to get past that?”

Answer: Convince your writing partner to do a Q&A for you! Otherwise – force yourself. Easier said than done, I know, but one of the reasons I update this blog daily is because it forces me to write. Some entries are better than others but, at the end of the day, the important thing is that I’ve produced something that I can foist upon an unassuming public.

Sparrow_hawk writes: “Hey Joe! Are you going to stay carb free or switch to a low-carb diet when your two weeks are up? Or are you just going back to your previous evil ways?”

Answer: I’ll try to be more careful about what I ate – but will nevertheless indulge in the occasional cheat meals.

IamJohn writes: “Joe, do you have any plans on updating spambait?”

Answer: Eventually, yes. I have to take a peek inside Baron Destructo’s inbox.

Fathercrow writes: “FC: Hey wait a minute here, de-molecularized? Wormholes don’t de-molecularize!”

Answer: Actually, it has long been established on Stargate that anything passing through the event horizon is de-molecuralized for transfer and then re-molecularized on the other side. There is a rare glimpse of the start of the process in Ark of Truth.

Mazeykins writes: “What the heck is Scrapple?”

Answer: Boiled pork scraps and cornmeal. Yum.

Arctic Goddess writes: “There is a great deal of discussion among the fans regarding the sets and if people will be able to see the Atlantis set or the SGC gateroom during the tours at the Stargate convention in April. Is there anything you could say to assuage the fans fears that there is nothing left of the sets except what has been built for the new series?”

Answer: Sorry, I can’t. The SG-1 corridors, control and briefing room are no more. The gate room is in the process of being re-done. The Atlantis sets are still standing. That said, the present state of things puts future tours in doubt.

Shirt ‘n Tie writes: “Now that Atlantis Movie / Universe is in the writing phase, are you still travelling in and out every day to The Bridge, or are things a bit more relaxed…ie can you work from home every so often?”

Answer: Brad and Rob, as the show’s creators and show runners, are dealing with prep. Carl, as an Executive Producer, is there on a regular basis. Paul and I, as Consulting Producers, are involved but will have more free time this season. In fact, I’m working from home today.

Dr. Pants writes: “From what I’ve heard, when the final episode was written it wasn’t confirmed it would be the final episode. When the news came through that it would be, were there any rewrites at all to better reflect this and which episode(s?) were filming at the time?”

Answer: At the time, Infection was being shot, Identity was in prep, and Vegas and Enemy at the Gate were finals. There were no significant changes made to either script.

Luvnjack writes: “So, Joe, since it appears you are making your way through the powers that be, are we ever going to have a guest Q&A with Martin Wood?”

Answer: Most unlikely. He has his hands full with Sanctuary.

January 12, 2009: On Basilisk Station, by David Weber


Weber/Baen Swag!

Weber/Baen Swag!

Upon her graduation from the Royal Matincoran Naval Academy, Honor Harrington is given command of the HMS Fearless. In her first combat simulation, Honor demonstrates exceptional tactical prowess in leading the Fearless and its crew to a most unlikely victory, earning her the ire of rivals who make it a point to deal her a series of defeats so devastating that her humiliated Admiral banishes Honor and her ship to Basilisk Station, a distant outpost on the edge of Manticoran-controlled space. There, she is reunited with Captain Lord Pavel Young, a petty and opportunistic rival who once tried to assault her back at the academy. Seeing an opportunity for revenge, Young immediately hands her command of Basilisk Station and takes his ship back to Manticore for a refit, leaving her holding the proverbial bag. And, in this case, the bag includes: smugglers, a burgeoning native insurrection on the only habitable planet in the region, and the expansionist star nation of Haven.

Despite the bleak circumstances, Honor whips the station into shape, coming down on the black market trade with such force and winning such initial success that even the top brass back home take note, much to Young’s embarrassment. Through her strength of character and by-the-book adherence to military conduct, she whips Basilisk Station into shape, earning the respect of her crew and personnel. But the machinations of the Haven Empire and the increasingly volatile situation on the planet Medusa may prove to be her undoing…

To be honest, the idea of military SF has always intrigued me but, like space opera, I’ve yet to find a book series that has truly held much promise. Until now. On Basilisk Station offers up a compelling and meticulously detailed introduction to “The Honorverse” – its political complexities, its plausible technologies, and, chiefest of all, its engaging characters lead by the remarkable Honor Harrington. It’s the jumping off point to a series that is smartly written with echoes of classic literature and contemporary global events.

Author David Weber presents us with a universe possessed of a rich history and social structure, peopled with players – political, military, and adversarial – with varying, often intriguingly contradictory, agendas. His treatment of future tech offers a welcome middle-ground between the mindless blasters and fighters of most commercial science fiction and the near-unfathomable mechanics of much Hard SF. But where Weber truly excels is in his gripping account of the various space skirmishes, providing not only gobs of the requisite action and adventure, but authenticity through its exploration of the strategies and tactical decisions made in the heat of battle.

And, of course, special mention should be made of our protagonist, Honor Harrington, a self-effacing but tough-as-nails commander who, with the help of her telepathic treecat Nimitz, negotiates minefields on a personal and professional level. She isn’t perfect (like me, math is one of her few faults) and demonstrates a bit of a stubborn streak but, when the chips are down, she is the person you want leading you into battle.

I enjoyed this book although I will admit to occasionally getting lost in the details, particularly in those first one hundred pages. Overall, however, a lot of fun and terrific start to what looks to be a very promising series.

So, what did everyone else think? Start posting your thoughts and questions for David Weber. All participants will have a shot at winning one of two Baen tote bags containing ALL of the Honor Harrington books in addition to a Storm from the Shadows galley.

Check out a take from the finale scene of the series finale:

January 11, 2009: The 4 Best Stargate: Atlantis Episodes I Never Got to Write

Over the course of the series run, many an idea gets pitched out that never ends up seeing the soft blue light of a laptop screen. For whatever reason (production concerns, similarity to other stories, a failure to excite the other writers, the fact that your idea is shite, etc.), that seemingly golden notion that got you all excited when it first popped into your head while shampooing that morning languishes and dies in the writers’ room. Looking back, I’ve had more than my fair share of such pitches, story ideas I figured would be home runs that ended up being pop flies. The following are The Top 3 Atlantis Episodes I Never Got to Write…

1. The team returns to Atlantis following a routine two-day fact-finding mission. But the second they step through the gate, they are immediately surrounded by armed wraith hybrid in Atlantis uniforms. As a shocked Sheppard and co. are disarmed, they are welcomed back by the base commander: a hybrid Dr. Weir.

Sheppard’s team is informed that they have, in fact, been missing for several months and presumed dead. During their absence, things have changed. Armed with the knowledge he gathered in Allies, Michael has taken Atlantis with the help of his own aerosolized version of the retrovirus. With the Atlantis personnel transformed and the resources available to him in the city, he has successfully mass-produced enough of the agent to proceed with the next phase of his plan. With the help of his fellow hybrids, he intends to launch the agent through the gate and into Stargate Command, the first step to an invasion of Earth.

Pitched: Season 3.

Why I liked it: I simply loved the potential for visual impact provided by hybrid versions of characters like Weir, Zelenka, Lorne, and even Chuck. And, in terms of raising the stakes vis-à-vis the ongoing Michael storyline, this would have been a doozy.

Why no one else did: Not sure. I think it was the time travel angle.

2. As part of their freshly-formed alliance with the Genii, Atlantis prepares to embark on a joint op deep into wraith-controlled territory. The Genii have pinpointed a facility purported to be of immense importance to the enemy. It’s near-inaccessible positioning and never-before-seen security suggests a target of key importance that targeting it could very well eliminate the wraith as a threat in the Pegasus Galaxy. Curiously, despite the ongoing battles between their various factions, the wraith have put aside their differences in order to safeguard whatever it is that sits within the facility.

The joint op is launched. But, as the mission progresses, the team suspects that the Genii haven’t been completely forthcoming with them regarding what lies inside the facility. They claim not to know, but Sheppard and co. suspect they are lying. Upon gaining access to the facility, while the others are setting charges, the team breaks away to look around. And discover the truth.

The high-value target is, in fact, a nursery holding some twelve wraith children, females destined to be queens.

The team is faced with a huge ethical dilemma. Destroying the target will, without a doubt, deal the wraith a crippling blow. But at what price to the team’s conscience? And if they elect to pull the plug on the op, there’s the Genii to contend with…

Pitched: Season 4.

Why I liked it: I like the huge ethical dilemmas. Also, it would shed some light on wraith culture, particularly its child-rearing practices.

Why no one else did: Again, not sure. It could well have been because, at the end of the day, no matter what the team decided they’d have ended up making an unheroic decision (target innocence or walk away from an opportunity to eliminate the wraith threat to millions of human civilizations).

3. Ronon accompanies Weir on an off-world negotiation to the planet Drazia. Their potential new ally is a society of Genii-level advancement that, like the Genii, have managed to conceal much of their technological advancements from the wraith. Sheppard is in the gate room when they receive a transmission from Weir who informs him that, after careful consideration, she and Ronon have decided to abandon Atlantis for new lives on Drazia.

The team infiltrates the main city. Their investigation leads them to the underbelly of the society, an area peopled by the society’s disenfranchised: the weak, the sick, the infirm. There, they are approached by a decrepit old woman who claims to be Dr. Weir.

It turns out the Drazians have discovered a novel way to avoid being culled. Long ago, they realized that whenever the wraith came, they would feed on the strong and the healty and ignore the weak and sickly: the tainted. Seizing on this fact, the Drazians have been avoiding cullings by “swapping bodies” whenever the wraith draw near, transferring their consciousnesses into “the tainted” and sacrificing their former bodies (and society’s have-nots). With the threat gone and trapped in less-desirable bodies, they prey on any healthy visitors to their world, claming their bodies and banishing their consciousnesses to the city’s underbelly.

Pitched: Season 3.

Why I liked it: I’ve always enjoyed the stand-alone stories where the team travels off-world, gets into trouble, gets out of trouble, and goes home.

Why no one else did: Don’t recall.

4. While off-world, the team rescues a young girl from a frenzied mob of villagers. The villagers believe the child is possessed of a dark evil and no amount of reasoning will convince them otherwise so, kid in tow, the team beats a hasty retreat back to Atlantis.

On Atlantis, Teyla forms a bond with the young girl who, frightened at first, gradually begins to come out of her shell. As Teyla looks into finding a new home for their young guest, she learns of the supposedly dark circumstances befell her community: suspicious deaths, mysterious accidents – all attributed to the youngster. The team dismisses the villagers’ medieval fears – until some decidedly dark circumstances begin to befall Atlantis personnel, in particular those falling on the young girl’s bad side.

Ultimately, the team return to the planet and discover the truth. As it turns out, she grew up a normal little girl. But, one day, while she and her friends were playing in the catacombs located beneath a series of ancient ruinss, something happened – something that changed to her. She became withdrawn, quick to anger – and accidents befell those who displeased her.

The team explore the catacombs where they uncover an Ancient lab – and an open stasis pod holding the body of a long-dead Ancient. They realize that, while playing with her friends, the young girl inadvertently released the Ancient from his deep sleep. Near death, his mind addled, the Ancient transferred his consciousness into the only available vessel: the little girl.

Armed with this knowledge, the team returns to Atlantis to face off against a very pissed off and confused little girl possessed of the abilities of a near-ascended amnesiac Ancient.

Pitched: Way back in season 2.

Why I liked it: I’ve always wanted to do a creepy kid run amok story.

Why no one else did: Apparently, I’m the only one who did.

Thanks to everyone who weighed in with their happy Atlantis memories.  Tomorrow is the deadline to get in those questions for Paul Mullie.  Tomorrow also marks the beginning of discussion of On Basilisk Station.  Let’s hear your thoughts and start posting your questions for author David Weber who will be paying us a little visit.

Finally, check out the run-through of Atlantis’s final scene.



January 9, 2009: Swag! Sausage! Sooners! And the Mailbag!


Moose sausage

Moose sausage



 In the past, as part of the ongoing Book of the Month Club discussions on this blog, I’ve given away prizes to random participants. Lucky winners have received signed books, magazine subscriptions, and signed scripts (among many other things). But, next week, those taking part in our discussion on David Weber’s On Basilisk Station have a shot at some truly impressive swag compliments of Baen Books. How impressive? Well, according to email I received today from the ever-pleasant Laura at Baen:

“We’re sending you two sets of Weber/Baen gift bags, which are sturdy black and red Baen logo tote bags that zip up and are filled to the brim with all of the Honor Harrington books, plus a Baen water bottle, and a Storm from the Shadows galley and bookmark.”

And to those of you who haven’t been able to track down the book, Laura points out that it’s available for download from the Baen FreeLibrary, here: http://www.webscription.net/p-304-on-basilisk-station.aspx   

Free Library? How does that work? Well, author Eric Flint explains the concept here:


And yes, Laura assures me, it really is free!

Well, I was on a bit of a roll today. I almost completed the Wray-Young fireworks scene coming in at a whopping two full pages! I celebrated by sampling some of Gaffer Bruno “Fish On!“ Bittner’s home made moose sausage for lunch. Delicious! Brad and Rob were in and out of conference calls all day. Paul is still working on the outline for the second half of the mid-season two-parter. And Carl finally received notes on his script. Next week, we hear our first freelance pitch.

Congratulations to the Oklahoma Sooners whose triumph in suckitude handed the Florida Gators last night’s game. For a while there, I feared that they were going to snap their 4 game Bowl losing streak. Perhaps realizing as much, they abandoned the straight ahead running game that had racked up the big yards up to that point in favor of lumbering sweeps as soon as they got to their opponent’s goal line. I agree with Carl. The Sooners and fellow Big Bowl Patsy Ohio State should be barred from further bowl appearances if, for no other reason, the sake of their fans.

A little mailbag:

PG15 writes: “Water? I might as well just start the Gateworld thread about Brad Wright’s 104: “Fire” then. Heh.”

Answer: Pretty much, yeah.

PG15 also writes: “what’s happening with episode 9 of Universe? Any development on that yet? Have you guys gotten a writer for it yet?”

Answer: Rob mentioned the fact that he’d like to spin it soon. Probably next week.

Ganymede writes: “At the very least, EAT FRUITS!!!! They DO contain other things that are vital to your survival like various electrolytes, etc. Try the better ones like blueberries, tomatoes [yes, it is a fruit! And high in lycopene, although surprisingly not as high as in watermelon!], kiwi [has potassium, you need that], oranges.”

Answer: I’m still eating cherries and avocadoes.

ShadowStep writes: “What are you drinking? I mean now that you are dropping a lot of your old intake routines for something hopefully healthier, what are you drinking? Just water?”

Answer: Besides green tea, I generally drink water.

Trish writes: “Just curious. Why did ya think this WFPOTD would be sweet?”

Answer: I was kidding.

Johnny E! writes: “Have you been keeping up with Deadpool and Darkseid? Deadpool has his own ongoing comic, and is featured in the Wolvirine movie by Ryan Reynolds. How do you feel about that casting call?”

Answer: I think Ryan Reynolds would make a terrific Deadpool. I’ve heard about the new comic series but haven’t checked it out (Joe Kelly’s run on the first series ranks as one of my favorites of all time). With regard to comics – my interest in them waxes and wanes. Every few years, I’ll stop by my local comic store and pick up every title. As the weeks progress, I’ll drop those that don’t interest me until, eventually, I’m no longer reading anything. Then, after a year or two, I’ll repeat the process. Come to think of it, I believe I’m due.

Shirt ‘n Tie writes: “Anyway, look closely at the back line, near the edge of the ‘gate is our hero Carl Binder but just a few feet away (to Carl’s right) is a guy wearing a trilby type hat and is making a very RUDE gesture!!! Who is this guy?? Also, can you confirm that it’s Andy Mikita peering around the corner (look to the right of the picture!)”

Answer: Yes, that is Andy Mikita. And, are you kidding with regard to the individual making the rude gesture. If not, it’s none other than Jason Momoa.

Sheryl writes: “joe pick up the chestnuts!!”

Answer: Got them early this week and had some. Very tasty!

MaggieMayDay writes: “Sounds like the sugar-free thing is going well. Does this have a time limit? A goal or deadline?”

Answer: I’d like to see if I can go two entire weeks.

Davidd writes: “Before the show was cancelled, did you already know how you wanted the final episode to be (general storyline, etc.)? Is Enemy at the Gate somewhat the same as your original vision, or is it totally different?”

Answer: When the script was written, we didn’t know we were about to be cancelled so Enemy at the Gate was intended as a season finale, but a special one given that it is our 100th episode.

fathercrow writes: “Is football in Canada like football in the U.S., or is it football like the football in Europe?”

Answer: More like American football with a fatter ball and, as someone once put it, “a field the size of a cow pasture”.

Lindagagne writes: “Was that Weird food purchase sugar free or taped before the sugar fast?”

Answer: Yep. That was mom’s basement in the BG.

StellaByStargate writes: “On that note…if you were a betting man, would you put money on the SGA and SG1 movies being released in ‘09 or is 2010 a more likely target?”

Answer: If I was a betting man? 2010.

December 29, 2008: Chinese Cultural Learnings, Biting (Chewing, and Swallowing) the Hand That Feeds You, and some Book of the Month Club Reminders.

Cousin Tanya - Ironwoman

Cousin Tanya - Ironwoman

Cousin Matthew

Cousin Matthew







Andria and Felix

Andria and Felix

In an effort to follow up on yesterday’s lesson in Italian slang, I asked my wife for some suitable Chinese examples with which to educate you al. Alas, she was only able to come up with two:

Heui-sei: Which, she cautions, is a very bad thing to say and translates to “Drop dead!”, and…

Chee-sin: According to Fondy, this one implies that “the neurons in your brain are disconnected”. Usually preceded by a “tsk” and a sideways glance thrown at the intended target.

According to Fondy, aside from the aforementioned expressions, another thing you can do to seem “more Chinese” is to make unwelcome comments about people’s weight. I can’t tell you the number of times we’ve been to Chinese restaurants and had the waiter or waitress make a crack about the fact either of us had put on a few pounds. Once, a waiter noted that Fondy was looking “bigger” and, when she reacted negatively to the comment, he mimed weight-lifting as if to suggest it was all muscle. Just recently, at a holiday party thrown by my accountant, I was in discussion with another guest when one woman asked me how I kept in such great shape. I asked her what she meant. She jerked her thumb toward the other guest and muttered: “Not like him and his big belly.” There was an awkward lull in the conversation and then she laughed, apologized, and headed back to man the receptionist desk. Finally, my favorite “unwelcome weight” crack came several years ago when my sister-in-law was visiting Vancouver. We were at a Chinese restaurant and just settling in when the upbeat owner/server came up to greet. My sister-in-law requested a couple of chairs for her “two babies“, prompting the owner/server to happily correct her: “Three babies!”. Then, “One baby!” – pointing to my three year old nephew, “Two baby!” – pointing to my six month old niece, “And three baby!” – pointing to her belly. Unfortunately for everyone involved, my sister-in-law wasn’t pregnant at the time.

So I received an update from Lawren back in Vancouver. Apparently, the city has still not seen fit to plow our street so it looks like he won’t be seeing his car again until the spring thaw. Other than that, no incidents of note with the exception of the two hundred pounds of snow that slid off the side of our roof the other night. Lawren reports that it came down on the west side of the house which suggests that, sooner or later, it’ll be coming down on the south side – the back yard – as well. I told him to make sure that if and when it does happen, the dogs are nowhere near the area. Of course, now that I think about it, an even worse scenario would be having Lawren himself positioned directly beneath the avalanche. With our return to Vancouver another five days away and given the fact that our dogs are always hungry, it wouldn’t be long before they started feasting on him. Which, it goes without saying, would be a terrible thing because once dogs acquire a taste for human flesh, it’s very tough to shake them of the habit.

The other day was a Mallozzi family reunion of sorts that saw a gathering of cousins hailing from Boston, Tuscon, Houston and, of course, Vancouver. The afternoon lunch was hosted by my cousins Marilyn and Carolyn (yep, twins) and their dogs, so-laid-back-you’d-think-she-was-stoned Rosalie, and cute-as-all-get-out rescue pup Finnegan. Also in attendance: sis, mom (with her date, Felix the schnauzer), my cousin Jeannie, her boyfriend Dave, my cousins Matthew and Tanya (bulldog Bella and pet rabbit), and Marilyn’s cousin Robert. Lots of food and chat. I talked mead production and game-hunting with Dave, and discussed Tanya’s recent completion of an Ironman Triathalon in Hawaii. While 17 hours of non-stop swimming, cycling, and running certainly sounds like a blast, I can think of better things to do with my time on the big island (hint: it has less to do with bikes and bathing caps and more to do with beaches and those oversized drinks with the little umbrellas in ‘em, but takes about the same amount of time to complete – roughly 17 hours).

How’s everyone doing out there? From your comments, it sounds like everyone is having a good holiday. Before closing out this entry, just a few notes:

Those of you who haven’t done so yet should finish up On Basilisk Station. Author David Weber will be coming by to chat with us the week of January 14th.

And those of you who haven’t started on The Living Dead anthology, get moving (the first story, by Dan Simmons, is killer!). Editor John Joseph Adams joins us the week of January 21st..

And, finally, a gentle reminder that our third book of the month club selection for January is City of Saints and Madmen. Author Jeff Vandermeer will be taking your calls the week of January . Hey, Trish! Tell Allie to start formulating her thoughts!

Today’s entry is dedicated to birthday gal Pilota.

October 31, 2008: The Next Round of Book of the Month Club Picks, Upcoming Guests, and the Mailbag

When I started this little book club, I did so with the intention of creating a forum in which avid readers could gather to discuss works in the fields of science fiction and fantasy (and, later, horror). Well, to my delight, a goodly number of you took the time to participate, reading one, two, sometimes all three selected books and then joining in on the ensuing discussions. In time, these tri-monthly discussions grew as we welcomed more members and, eventually, several authors and editors who kindly took the time to come by and field reader questions and comments. Our good buddy and Pyr editorial director Lou Anders kicked things off, joining us back in February of this year to discuss the SF anthology Fast Forward 1: Future Fiction from the Cutting Edge. Since then, we’ve welcomed the likes of Kage Baker, F. Paul Wilson, Jeffrey Ford, Jennifer Pelland, Joe Abercrombie, John Scalzi, Justina Robson, K.J. Bishop, Stephen Dobyns, Lois McMaster Bujold, Sarah Langan, and, most recently, John Twelve Hawks. Authors David Anthony Durham and Brian Lumley round out this month’s guest list. In short, this modest online book club has far surpassed my expectations and I’d like to take thank each and every one who has taken part. Whether you dropped by to field reader questions AND invite criticism on a work in progress, or simply posted a quick comment to let us know how much you liked/disliked a book – Thank You!

With the holidays not that far off, I’ve decided to give you all a breather and, more importantly, time to read the next round of BOTMC picks that I’ve scheduled for January of 2009. Hopefully, this will give encourage some of the slower readers out there to pick up a book and finally take part. I’m also hoping that it will give some of the faster readers out there the opportunity to get through all three selections. And speaking of three selections…

In the SF category, we’ll be reading David Weber’s On Basilisk Station. This one has been sitting on my to-read pile for far too long and I‘m pleased to make it a BOTMC pick. It sounds like a lot of fun and the fact that the author watches Stargate: Atlantis is a bonus.

From Amazon.com: “On Basilisk Station (or “HH1” as it’s known to the faithful) is the first installment in David Weber’s cult hit Honor Harrington series, which has charmed the socks off schoolgirls and sailors alike. Honor–the heroine of this fast-paced, addictive space opera–is a polished, plucky bulldog of a naval officer, part Horatio Hornblower, part Miles Vorkosigan, part Captain Janeway, and with a razor-clawed telepathic cat thrown over her shoulder for good measure.

The series’ kickoff puts a giddy Commander Harrington at the helm of her first serious starship, the HMS Fearless. But her excitement quickly fades–political maneuvering by top brass in the Manticoran navy has left her light cruiser outfitted with a half-baked experimental weapons system. Against all odds (just the way Honor likes it), she still manages a clever coup in tactical war games, a feat that earns her accolades–and enemies. The politicians she’s offended banish her to a galactic backwater, Basilisk Station. But that outpost soon proves to be a powder keg, and it’s up to Harrington and the Fearless crew to thwart the aggressive plans of the Haven Republic. A perfect mix of military SF and high adventure.”

Discussion begins the week of January 14, 2009. We’ll be joined by author David Weber.

In the horror category, we’ll be reading The Living Dead, a zombie anthology edited by John Joseph Adams. I’ve exchanged emails with John in his capacity as point man for Nightshade Books (http://www.nightshadebooks.com/), and it gives me great pleasure to make his labor of love – and horror – a Book of the Month Club pick.

From Publisher’s Weekly : “Recently prolific anthologist Adams (Seeds of Change) delivers a superb reprint anthology that runs the gamut of zombie stories. There’s plenty of gore, highlighted by Stephen King’s Home Delivery and David Schow’s classic Blossom. Less traditional but equally satisfying are Lisa Morton’s Sparks Fly Upward, which analyzes abortion politics in a zombified world, and Douglas Winter’s literary pastiche Less than Zombie. Also outstanding, Kelly Link’s Some Zombie Contingency Plans and Hannah Wolf Bowen’s Everything Is Better with Zombies take similar themes in wildly different directions. Neil Gaiman’s impeccably crafted Bitter Grounds offers a change of pace with traditional Caribbean zombies. The sole original contribution, John Langan’s How the Day Runs Down, is a darkly amusing twist on Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. There’s some great storytelling for zombie fans as well as newcomers. “

Discussion begins the week of January 21, 2009. We’ll be joined by editor John Joseph Adams.

In the fantasy category, we’ll be reading Jeff Vandermeer’s City of Saints and Madmen. Actually, I hesitate to use the term “fantasy” to describe Jeff’s work as he and fellow authors China Mieville, Steph Swainston, and M. John Harrison have oft been hailed as pioneers of “New Weird” fiction, a genre that draws from fantasy, SF, and horror to build its own unique voice.


From Publisher’s Weekly: “Set in the haunted city of Ambergris, with its Borges Bookstore, these stories feature bizarre recurring characters and intensely self-referential plots. Among the highlights are the World Fantasy Award¤winning Transformation of Martin Lake, the tale of a talented painter who’s obsessed with a great composer; The Strange Case of X, which concerns an incarcerated lunatic found wandering the streets of Ambergris carrying the very book being discussed in this review; the wonderful new story The Cage, in which an antiques dealer becomes infected with a fungus that’s slowly taking over much of the city; and, oddest of all perhaps, an untitled short story, which fills the entire dust jacket and concerns an unnamed traveler who has a close encounter with a giant squid in the river that runs through Ambergris. Other pieces take many forms, including a history of the city complete with footnotes, psychiatric records from a local hospital, an amazingly funny work of pseudo-biology entitled King Squid and entirely bogus bibliographies and glossaries. This beautifully written, virtually hallucinatory work isn’t for every taste, but connoisseurs of the finest in postmodern fantasy will find it enormously rewarding.”

Discussion begins the week of January 28th, 2009. We’ll be joined by author Jeff Vandermeer.

Well, all quiet on the Halloween front. I wonder if we’ll break last year’s record of a half dozen visits? Damn. And I spent the past hour washing broccoli and cauliflower. Now who am I going to give these veggies away to?

Hey, went in and watched the Day 1 Mix of Identity yesterday. A fun episode. The highlight: Carl Binder’s cameo about seven and a half minutes in. Watch for it!


DasNDanger writes: “This Todd pic, Joe.”

Answer: Oh, THAT look. We were watching the first day of dailies from The Queen when Todd appeared onscreen sporting THAT hairdo. What the hell?! It was a rare continuity hiccup in the hair department. The issue was resolved for the next day’s shooting and the editor took pains to cut around the new-look-do in post.

Tamijb writes: “Is it possible to see Michael or Todd in SGU?”

Answer: It is highly unlikely either Michael or Todd will make an appearance in SGU.

Tamijb also writes: “I know this is an old episode, but I have a couple of questions with Quest 1 SG1 Season 10. Was Adria the old librarian from the first time SG1 met him or was she him later when the Ori soldiers showed up?”

Answer: To be perfectly honest, I don’t recall.

Thornyrose writes: “Just one last question concerning the S.P. Is this a solo effort, or is this something Mr. Mullie will be contributing to?”

Answer: It’s a solo effort.

MysteryMadchen writes: “ Do you think if we can’t get Atlantis un-canceled by fan power alone, could large ratings on the movie possible bring it back?”

Answer: As much as I loved working on the show, I don’t see much hope of it being “un- canceled“. However, fans can look forward to more movies should the first one prove successful.

Rachael writes: “ Joe, can you confirm whether or not Teyla and/or Ronon will be in Vegas?”

Answer: I can confirm that they will not be in Vegas.

Danny writes: “Dont know if you read these but i have a question about Stargate Universe if you could email me that would be great.”

Answer: It’s easier for me to answer questions here on the blog. If you want to take your chances, you can email me at moorsyum@yahoo.com. But I may be a while in replying.

Polito writes: “The same poster at Gateworld did a screentime count…”

Answer: The same poster should do a consonant versus vowel count for every character. Now THAT would be very telling!

Sparrow_hawk writes: “Joe, is there any news about the Hazzencockle adoption? Inquiring minds need to know.”

Answer: Alas, still no word from those adorable little ragamufins.