This is a novel-length extended version of an excellent short story set in the Universe of David Weber's "Honor Harrington" series but some five hundred years earlier. The original short story was first published in the collection "More Than Honor
" and can also be found in the more recent anthology "Worlds Of Weber
"A beautiful friendship" describes how Stephanie Harrington, a twelve-year-old girl from the first generation of Honor Harrington's family to move to the Manticore system, became the first human to be "adopted" by a Sphinx treecat.
For anyone who has never read any of the Honor Harrington books, "Treecats" are a small arborial sentient species native to the planet Sphinx who look a bit like six-legged cats with long tails. Among themselves they are fully telepathic: they can read the "Mind-glows" of humans well enough to be empathic, e.g. they can read emotions but not thoughts. Treecats find the mind-glows of many humans attractive and in some circumstances a human and a treecat can form a lifelong bond similar to those between the human and dragon characters of Anne McCaffrey's Dragonflight
series. This relationship is referred to in Weber's novels as "adoption."
This book tells the story of the first such bonding, of how Stephanie came to be known as "Death Fang's Bane" among the treecats, and of the struggle to have treecats recognised as an intelligent species with legal rights corresponding to human rights.
Weber has confirmed on his website that "A Beautiful Friendship" is the first volume of a new spin-off series, aimed particularly at young adults (though if I am anything to go by, grown-ups can enjoy it too). The next book in this series is called "Fire Season
" and is scheduled for publication in October 2012.
We won't find that any human alive in Honor's time has personal memories of Stephanie because Weber tells us in "Mission of Honor: Honor Harrington, Book 12
," a book in the Honorverse main series, that the first generation of the "Prolong" technology which allows Honor and many characters of her generation to expect a vastly extended lifespan, first became available about a hundred years before that book - e.g. four hundred years after the birth of Stephanie Harrington.
However, treecats can and do share memories, and one of the most important groups in their society are "Memory Singers" who act as a living library of important memories, some of which can be very old. Nimitz's wife Samantha, who is bonded to Honor Harrington's husband Hamish Alexander, is a memory singer.
In the original draft of this review, posted immediately after the publication of "A beautiful friendship," I wrote that as treecats will learn to talk to humans through sign language in Honor's time, I wasn't taking any bets against the possibility that in one of the future Honor Harrington books Samantha would be able to tell Honor of the treecats' memories of her long-dead relative Death Fang's Bane.
I was nearly right: in the very next main series book A Rising Thunder (Honor Harrington)
which came out in March 2012, Samantha introduces Honor to "Sorrow Singer," a treecat memory singer who does indeed hold such a memory of Stephanie Harrington and can tell Honor, "You would have liked her. She was much like you in many ways."
The focus of this book is on how an intelligent but non-technological species like the treecats might react to the arrival of human colonists on their world, and on the good and evil ways that a society of human colonists might react to the discovery that the planet where they have been building a home for several generations is home to a native intelligent species.
There are no space battles in "A Beautiful Friendship." Like Honor's own parents and most of their family, Stephanie's parents are medical professionals. The original Republic of Haven, if it exists at all yet, has not decayed to become the corrupt and totalitarian "People's Republic of Haven" and so the military threat posed by the "Peeps" lies many years in the future.
However, the vast and ruthless conspiracy which will eventually become known as the Mesan Alignment does already exist, and there are signs that it may take an interest in the treecats ...
If you like the treecats in David Weber's other books you should read this even if you already have the short story. It's enjoyable and very interesting as long as you are not among that part of Weber's fanbase who read him solely for the battles.
If anyone reading this is a big fan of military or naval science fiction, and in the unlikely event that such a person has somehow managed to avoid reading any of the Honor Harrington books, click on the following link to the first book in Honor's story, "On Basilisk Station (Honor Harrington)
," and you are unlikely to be disappointed.