Why do so many sci-fi wargame designers seem obsessed with Q-Ships?
I'll forgive Dave Weber this once, partly because this book does at least make clear that the damn things are death traps, but mostly because it's a wonderful book. In fact this sixth book in the Honor Harrington saga is my personal favourite of the current 18 books which Weber and his co-authors have set in the "Honorverse".
The Honor Harrington universe or "Honorverse" is a wonderful space opera series set some three thousand years in the future and the eponymous heroine is one of David Weber's best fictional creations.
These books are best read in sequence and I strongly recommend that you start with "On Basilisk Station (Honor Harrington)" which is the first one.
Most of the Honor Harrington stories are full of parallels with the time of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars. In particular, the Royal Manticoran Navy in which the heroine is an officer is clearly based on the Royal Navy at the time of Nelson.
Technology of space travel and warfare in most of the Honor Harrington stories has been written so as to impose tactical and strategic constraints on space navy officers similar to those the technology of fighting sail imposed on wet navy officers two hundred years ago.
In this book however, and unlike the rest of the early books in the series, the main naval parallels are with a 20th century situation. Honor Harrington is commanding Q-ships, e.g. vessels based on one of the most crack-brained concepts from World War One era - and considering how many weird ship designs were sent into battle in the early 20th century, that's saying something!
This book also continues the pattern of thinly veiled (and amusing) hints in the stories that they are to some extent a tribute to C.S. Forester. The main heroine of the books, Honor Harrington, appears to owe more than just her initials to C.S. Forester's character "Horatio Hornblower." One of the in-jokes in this book is that another character actually gives Honor one of Forester's novels to read.
In this sixth book in the series, there is no sign of an end to the all-out war between Honor's home nation, "The Star Kingdom of Manticore," together with allies like Grayson in whose navy Honor has been serving, against the People's Republic of Haven or "Peeps." As the demands of the front line grow ever greater, Manticore has been forced to pull ships away from anti-piracy duties in other parts of the galaxy such as the Silesian Confederation. Space pirates have been taking full advantage of this and merchant losses have started to increase alarmingly.
A number of influential politicians and business people on Manticore who don't like Honor Harrington very much, but who nevertheless recognise that she is a first rate fighting commander, see an opportunity to use one problem to solve another. They let the Admiralty know that they will withdraw their opposition to Honor going back on active service in the Manticoran navy if they give her a squadron and send her to get rid of the pirates. There are no proper warships available, so all she can have is Q-ships. Whether Honor takes out the pirates, or they get rid of her, her domestic opponents come out ahead either way.
However, as usual, Honor's opponents, and a lot of other people, have badly underestimated her.
A word on Q-ships. This was a glamorous, but not terribly successful tactic used during the First World War to hunt German submarines (U-boats) and commerce raiders as a feeble alternative to the convoy system. The idea was to take an expendable merchant ship, arm her with lots of carefully concealed weapons, fill the hold with material lighter than water such as cork so she won't sink quickly when torpedoed, and sail her unescorted along a trade route looking like a big, fat, vulnerable target.
If a U-boat fired a torpedo at a Q-ship, the tactic was to try to deliberately ensure the torpedo hit, and then a "panic party" would dramatically take to the lifeboats, pretending to abandon ship, while the rest of the crew would wait for the submarine to surface to finish the supposedly abandoned ship with gunfire.
Sometimes a U-boat, seeing what looked like an easy target, would surface with the intention of sinking it with gunfire without wasting a torpedo, which greatly improved the Q-ship's chances of getting home. Either way, when a surfaced submarine came close, the Q-ship's concealed guns would suddenly open fire and hopefully sink the enemy.
Some very brave men served on Q-ships during WW1, and they earned between them no fewer than EIGHT Victoria Crosses. That's an amazing record of heroism for a comparatively small force.
But this bravery was much less effective than defeating the germans at sea than the convoy system was. Naval historian Deborah Lake quotes a detailed study of Kriegsmarine and RN records from which it was estimated that Q-ships sank a maximun of eleven U-boats and contributed to the destruction of two more, but at the price of 44 Q-ships lost. You can see why Honor's worst enemies would like the idea of giving her command of a squadron of them!
Perhaps the one wasted opportunity in this book: maybe it could have been dedicated to the brave men who risked their lives in Q-ships to keep the sea lanes open?
For anyone who wants to read more about the history of Q-Ships I can recommend Lake's book "Smoke and Mirrors: Q-Ships against the U-Boats in the First World War."
"Honor among Enemies" is a very complex book: Honor has to deal with opponents back home, one or two nasty pieces of work on her own ship, a Manticoran merchant family who start out as deadly enemies, pirates, corrupt Silesian governors, and the Peeps.
Weber also moves the quality of his treatment of people on the opposing side into another gear: the development of characters on the Peep side goes beyond being just evil or honorable enemy figures to the point where some of them effectively become secondary heroes. Some of Honor's internal opponents also show that they are more than mere two-dimensional bad guys.
This was the book which persuaded me to raise my view of David Weber from thinking him an entertaining author to being, at his best, a first rate one.
A note on how this book fits into the series as a whole:
At the time of writing there are sixteen full length novels and five short story collections in the "Honorverse" as the fictional galaxy in which these stories are set is sometimes known. The main series which tells the story of Honor Harrington herself currently runs to twelve novels; in order these are
On Basilisk Station
The Honor of the Queen
The Short Victorious War
Field of Dishonour
Flag in Exile
Honor among Enemies
In Enemy Hands
Echoes of Honor
Ashes of Victory
War of Honor
At All Costs
Mission of Honor
The five collections of short stories set in the same universe, not all of which feature Honor Harrington herself, are
More Than Honor
Worlds of Honor
Worlds of Honor III: Changer of Worlds
Worlds of Honor IV: The Service of the Sword
In Fire Forged: Worlds of Honor V.
A new spin-off series set a few centuries earlier will be launched later this year with the novel "A Beautiful Friendship, which is an extended version of the short story with the same name from "Worlds of Honor" and features Stephanie Harrington, a young girl from an ealier generation of Honor harrington's family who was the first person "adopted" by a Sphinx treecat.
The four spin-off novels in two groups of two which have already been published are "Crown of Slaves" (with Eric Flint) which is a story of espionage and intrigue featuring a number of characters first introduced in earlier Honor Harrington novels or "Honorverse" short story collections, and a sequel, "Torch of Freedom," and "The Shadow of Saganami" and its' sequel "Storm from the Shadows." The latter two represent a kind of "next generation" sequence set in the Talbott Sector featuring a number of younger officers in the navies of Manticore and her ally Grayson, and "Storm from the Shadows".
Ginger Lewis and Aubrey Wanderman, two of the principal characters from one of the main sub-plots in this book, "Honor among Enemies," turn up again in "The Shadow of Saganami" and Ginger has a minor part in "Storm from the Shadows."
For amusement, if you want to try to look for the parallels to nations and individuals from the French revolutionary period and the Hornblower books, one possible translation would be:
People's Republic of Haven = France
Star Kingdom of Manticore = Great Britain
Gryphon = Scotland
Grayson = Portugal
Prime Minister Alan Summervale = Pitt the Younger
Hamish Alexander, Earl White Haven = Admiral Edward Pellew
Honor Harrington = Horatio Hornblower
Alistair McKeon = William Bush
Crown loyalists and Centrists = Tory supporters of Pitt
Conservative Association = isolationist/hardline High Tories
New Kiev Liberals = Whig Oligarchists
Progressives and traditional liberals = Whig radicals
Legislaturist former rulers of Haven = Bourbon monarchy and French nobles
Rob S. Pierre = Robespierre
Haven Committee of Public Safety = French Revolutionary Committee of Public Safety
(though the "People's Republic of Haven" also has strong echoes of Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia)
Solarian republic = United States of America
Anderman Empire = Kingdom of Prussia
Silesia = either Poland, or non-Prussian Germany
I've always taken "The Silesian Confederation" to be Poland because European Silesia is now part of Poland, and was the first part of central Europe which Frederick the Great grabbed on the track from turning Prussia into the German Empire, followed by large parts of Poland. Also because late 18th century Poland was a chaotic mess which ended up by being carved up between powerful and less anarchic neighbours. However, you can also think of Silesia as being all the squabbling principalities of pre-unification Germany and that parallel also works.
Wall of Battle = Line of Battle
Ship of the Wall = Ship of the Line
Battleship = "4th rate" sailing warship (in each case too small to form part of the main force in a fleet action, but powerful enough to defeat anything else smaller than a ship of the line/wall.)
Battlecruiser = frigate (5th rate)
Cruisers and destroyers = 6th rate and smaller warships
on 23 October 1998
Deep space. A huge, lumbering merchant vessel is bound down to a world when it's jumped by pirates. Several megatons of freighter, carrying millions in cargo, is lost.
Needless to day, the great commerical houses and trading cartels of the Star Kingdom of Manticore are not best pleased with this situation. Unfortunately, the People's Republic of Haven is pressing heavily against the Royal Manticoran Navy, and there are no more ships to spare for escort duty. So Honor Harrington is recalled to active duty, and handed a 'squadron'. Her mission: take a bite out of the pirates affecting the trade routes into the Silesian Confederacy. No problem for a seasoned combat commander, right?
Wrong. Here's the problems: 1) the RMN can't spare regular warships, so it's taken some large freighters and fitted them out with weapons and military-grade sensors. Unfortunately, they don't have military spec acceleration or shielding, and won't stand up to much of a pounding. 2) Personnel shortages means Honor gets stuck with new, inexperienced personnel and the dregs of the fleet. 3) The pirates are getting organized...
One of the nice things about this novel is that we get to see something of a couple of 'lower-deckers' (like me), and how they deal with the threats, both from pirates and from some of the scumbags aboard their own ship.
For the record, this was the first Honor Harrington novel I'd read, and I was sufficiently impressed that I went and bought the other five (at the time) books in one fell swoop. For my money, David Weber is right up there with Heinlein, Sturgeon and Drake.
on 12 August 1996
All of the Honor Harrington books have been outstanding, but
David Weber has once again reached into his bag of stories and
and given us the best Honor book yet. Unlike so many series
writers where the character stays the same, Honor grows and is
enriched by her experiences. Here, we see an older and wiser
Honor who has been bloodied but unbowed by the system. As she
continues to grow, David Weber leaves us saying "What a remark
able woman!"and leaving us breathless to see the next install-
ment of her legacy. Honor has great virtues, great insecuri-
ties, and an extraordinarily well developed sense of leader-
ship. She and Nimitz (her treecat) are so well developed that
they become living breathing persons in their own rights. If
only we could invite them to stop by for a drink and some
story swapping. I'd even lay in a supply of fresh celery for
Skye M. Barnes, Capt. USAF Ret.
on 18 June 1996
Honor Harrington, the celestial Horatio Hornblower Captain of the Royal Manticoran Navy is finally offered the opportunity to once again don the white beret of starship command. In this sixth novel, Honor assumes the task of commanding a rag-tag fleet of Q-ships (armed merchants) to try to discourage the piracy against Manticoran merchants in the Silesian quadrant. She is hampered, as always, by enemies on both sides. Like the other books, this novel occurs mostly from Honor's viewpoint, but you can take delight as many of the secondary characters are fleshed out as well. An added treat is the appearance of a female treecat, which gives the author more opportunity to enlighten us on the background of the species and its link with mankind. This novel, like the others, leaves you hanging onto the edge of your seat and swearing that your beloved characters won't make it out alive! A must read for Honor fans!
on 2 April 2016
What a fantastic novel. Honor is brought back into the RMN to resume her career, but in a seemingly lesser posting. This doesn't stop Honor from not only completing her mission, but taking out the source of the problem. This is a very smartly written novel which actually focuses less on Honor than on other personalities, especially officers in the rival People's Republic of Haven Navy. I liked the way that the novel showed that although they might be on opposing sides, Honor and the PN Officers she interacted with shared the same values and sense of honour, showing that there can be "Honor among Enemies"
on 19 May 1997
If you liked the previous books in this series you will not be disappointed in this one. Once again David Weber has written an entertaining story of courage, convictions and, above all, honor.
Having said that, be warned that the entire scenario of space battles seems contrived and artificial. In essence, the author needed a way to reproduce or create standard naval battles in outer space. They are fun to read but you will wonder why a single nuclear missle can't destroy a spaceship. Reality aside, Honor Harrington should be required reading for anyone ever called upon to defend their country.
on 28 December 2013
Start with the first in the series and then work your way through. The books can stand in their own right but are much better read in the right order so you can see how David Weber's characters develop. The only reason I haven't given these books 5 stars is that I am not that much of a naval (space faring) battle fan and sometimes found the detailed descriptions a bit too long.
on 23 June 1997
Another excellent book in the Honor Harrington series. Well written with good character development. The only problem is how much more can the main character do? The entire series has been great, but each new novel requires Honor to do bigger and bigger things, which is beginning to put a strain on the credibilty. Still, a good read especially to all Starfire players.
on 3 September 2001
After spending the last couple of years exiled from the RMN and being "forced" to be an Admiral in the Grayson navy, Honor is at last offered a chance to get back into her (original) uniform as Captain. But the job is in the relative backwater of the Silesian Confederacy running convoy escort in a "Q" Ship (a merchantman with its hold stuffed with additional weapons). And if she succeeds, those who'll gain most will be the Hauptman cartel.
Of course, Honor finds that convoy escort is far from dull as pirate activity is increasing at an alarming rate - not helped by the fact that the Peeps have sent a few of their own ships to make matters worse. And her own crew doesn't exactly help - due to shortages of personnel and the relative unimportance of the area, Honor has to make do with the dregs of the navy.
The title reveals an important theme in the book - just who is an enemy? While Klaus Hauptman (and Reginald Houseman) are responsible for getting her back into RMN uniform, they definitely aren't doing it for Honor's benefit. The Peeps, who really should be Honor's enemy end up helping her (though their "rescue" of Honor's "Helpless merchant ship" doesn't quite go as they planned). Some of her own crew are plotting against her and go as far as plotting murder of some of her officers. Even the Andermanians, while helpful, are presented as a possible future threat. This book also extends Weber's universe beyond that which directly impinges on the conflict between Manticore and Haven. As well as the parallels with 19th Century Britain and France, we now get the Silesian Confederacy (pre-Unification Germany) and the Andermanian Empire (it's would-be Prussian dominator).
Of course, Honor manages to overcome all her enemies and manages to cover herself in glory (again). She even, for once, manages to end the book with fewer enemies than she begins it with. A really action packed book that leaves you wanting more!
on 9 February 1998
David Weber's Honour Harrington Series ecxels at delivering one thing above all... if you're willing, you can beat the tormentor. Sacrifice, honour, duty... there is love, and there is tremendous action (will she ever RTB with a command, let alone a ship intact? = ]) But I;ve said it before and I'll say it again; She Kicks ass and takes names. As a Navy corpsman heading into my third tour, having spent the majority of my time serving with the Marines, having fought in a war hich was well executed even tho' hampered by political mishandling, it cheers me tremendously to see someone, somewhere, getting the job done, thouroughly, even tho' even in David Weber's world, no good deed goes unpunished. Read it, and wish you lived in that world, where the government works, and the subjects are on the whole worth laying your life down for.