House of Steel The Honorverse Companion
Author:David Weber

Frequently Asked Questions

David Weber

What are the other sentient species and how do they interact with humanity?

I regret to say that we aren’t going to answer this question in any detail at this time. I will say that there are additional sentient species in the Honorverse, at least one of whom has been “uplifted” to current human levels of technology and trades with humans. I have taken the position in the Honorverse, however, that it is unlikely for there to be numerous species at comparable or near comparable levels of technological development at any given moment. And, since I chose to write about a human-versus-human conflict, humanity had to be the primary star-traveling species. By default, that moved most of the nonhuman species to pre-space and/or primitive technologies. The reason I’m not going to answer this question in detail is that while I have several species roughed out, I don’t intend to introduce them into the books anytime soon, and as a storyteller, I need to keep my options open on reworking or modifying my rough notes in order to best suit my needs at the time I do introduce them. Assuming, of course, that I do!

Where is Amos Parnell as of 1921 PD? What is he doing and, most important, what does he think of the resurrected Republic of Haven?

Amos Parnell is still living in exile in the Solarian League. He is in something of an ambiguous position, given his prewar rank in the People’s Navy and his status as one of the few surviving members of a truly prominent Legislaturalist family. He is on very friendly terms with the new, restored Republic’s government, but Eloise Pritchart is just as happy to have him safely out of the domestic political mix, for several reasons. The biggest one is that despite the restoration of the Republic, people hankering for the “glory days” of the conquering People’s Republic of Haven still exist, although they are an enormously marginalized fringe at the present time. She has no desire to bring home Legislaturalist émigrés who might, willingly or otherwise, serve as a rallying point for the lunatic fringe. On the flip side, Parnell is the most visible, most senior surviving member of the Old Regime of the Legislaturalists. If he were to return home, his life would be in permanent danger at the hands of people who still have grudges, very well deserved grudges, in many instances, against the Legislaturalists. He sees the resurrected Republic as his birth star nation’s last and best chance at redeeming its soul, and having seen the corruption of the Legislaturalists from inside the belly of the beast and having experienced the brutality of the Committee of Public Safety firsthand, he is a strong and powerful supporter of the effort to restore the pre-PRH Republic. At the moment, however, his best opportunity for doing that (and surviving in the process) is to speak for it from abroad.

What are the larger political entities outside the Solarian League and how large are they?

There aren’t very many “larger political entities” outside the Solarian League, the Andermani Empire, and the Republic of Haven. Remember that even though the People’s Republic of Haven had only a teeny tiny number of member star systems compared to the League, it was the largest extra-Solarian political unit. After the League, the Silesian Confederacy was closest to the PRH in terms of inhabited star systems, but calling the Confederacy a star nation would have been too generous by the seventeenth century post diaspora. It had already become a failed state at that point. The truth is that the Manticoran Wormhole Junction had an enormous amount to do with the emergence of the Republic of Haven, its transformation into the People’s Republic of Haven, and its eventual restoration. Although it was called the “Haven Sector,” that was more an example of Solarian arrogance hanging a label that suited its perceptions on the region. The true focal point of the quadrant’s interaction with humanity in general was the Junction, which gave access to the region directly from Beowulf at the very heart of the Solarian League. However, the Star Kingdom of Manticore was a kingdom, a monarchy, and it was an article of faith in the League that monarchies (which were not members of the enlightened Solarian League, at any rate) were automatically primitive neo-barbarians, which is one reason they have appended that label to Manticore so persistently. The fact that Manticore is fabulously wealthy and refuses to kowtow to the League only strengthens that Solarian attitude towards the Star Empire . . . especially now that it has become, in very truth, an empire. Haven, on the other hand, had a robust, capitalist economy, was busily expanding and exporting its citizenry and its institutions to other star systems in the vicinity, and was a republic. As such, it was far more acceptable to the League and ipso facto became the “dominant power” of the quadrant even before the PRH turned conquistador.

It was, however, actually the access available through the Junction which drew outside wealth, migrating populations, and ever-increasing and ever-denser trade to the “Haven Sector,” with the result that outside the heart of the Solarian League itself, that region became the wealthiest and most densely settled one. And out of that density of population, that concentration of wealth, and that attractive effect on additional wealth and people, emerged the multi-system star nations in the vicinity. It may be best to think of the Haven Sector as an outlying lobe of human expansion that leapfrogged over the intervening space courtesy of the Junction. The Verge, the sort of surrounding crater ringwall of independent star systems between the League’s member systems and the Haven Sector, consists almost exclusively of single-system star nations, with here or there two or three star systems which may have leagued together into a minor local power. It is the absence of local power blocs which could be considered true star nations which makes the Verge so vulnerable to the Office of Frontier Security’s steady encroachment. The fact that the Star Empire of Manticore is creating such a local power bloc in the Talbott Quadrant, thereby preventing an option to ingestion by OFS or its minions, explains another layer of the Solarian League’s hostility towards Manticore.

There were several modest-sized star nations within two or three light-centuries of Sol in the first couple of centuries after the creation of the Solarian League prior to about 1400 PD. In the roughly 125 to 150 T-years following the development of the impeller drive and the Warshawski sail, however, the League expanded to incorporate those star nations into its membership. Aside from a handful of mini-Leagues (in the sense of economic unions) like the Rembrandt Association, however, there are very few true multi-system star nations outside the League. That is not to say that there aren’t other relatively wealthy single-system star nations (like Erewhon) or entities which would like to be star nations but which haven’t been allowed to coalesce because of OFS’ policies (like Smoking Frog), simply that there aren’t any larger political entities, which was what the question asked about.

Before the Republic of Haven became the PRH and embarked upon the Duquesne Plan of conquest, what was the tone of relationships between the RoH and the SKM?

Prior to the emergence of the People’s Republic of Haven, the Star Kingdom’s relations with Haven were actually very good. While it was the Junction which accommodated so much of the population movement into the Haven Sector, Haven was actually settled around a century before the Star Kingdom, thanks to the emergence of the impeller drive and Warshawski sail, which allowed the initial Haven colony expedition to overtake and pass the sublight Manticore colony ship Jason. It was a well-financed expedition, the quadrant contained a higher than average concentration of desirable star types, it established a vigorous economy and an attractive political system, and it aggressively and actively sought to bolster and support follow-on waves of settlers. As a consequence, it was seen as the “Athens of the Verge” by many, including the Star Kingdom of Manticore. Manticore had never had the population Haven did and, prior to the discovery of the Junction, was essentially an out-of-the-way star system which didn’t go out of its way to draw attention to itself or (after the Plague Years, at least) actively seek to promote immigration. By the time the Junction was discovered, Manticore had become accustomed to thinking of Haven as the “way of the future,” and it took some centuries for the Star Kingdom to begin to recognize the true nature of the commanding economic and strategic advantage the Junction conferred upon it. There was no Manticoran merchant marine, really, before the Junction was surveyed in the 1580s, and by 1650, the Republic had begun its slide into the People’s Republic, although that didn’t become readily apparent to the outside galaxy for quite some time and immigration into the Republic actually increased rather dramatically once the Junction gave access to Beowulf. During that seventy-year window, the Star Kingdom became an ever more potent economic force, building its merchant marine and coming to decisively dominate the carrying trade of the Haven Sector (including the transport of quite a few of those Haven-bound immigrants). What was not immediately apparent to either Manticore or Haven was that in the process, the Star Kingdom was replacing the Republic as the region’s dominating economic power.

Throughout the period prior to 1750 (that is, for a period of very nearly two hundred T-years following the discovery of the Junction) Manticore and Haven traded with one another, joined with Beowulf in endorsing the Cherwell Convention, cooperated in piracy suppression and the suppression of the slave trade, and were, in fact, the two poles of the economic engine of the Haven Sector. However, the truth was that the Star Kingdom could be, and would have been, a major economic power even if the Republic of Haven had never existed, given the existence of the Junction. Following the Havenite Economic Bill of Rights in 1680, a gradual cooling of the relationship set in. By the time Haven promulgated the Technical Conservation Act in 1778, the once close relations between Haven and Manticore had largely disappeared. The growing resentment of Manticoran prosperity among Havenites, and especially among the growing Dolist class, as the Republic’s economy stalled and then began to contract, only made that situation worse. The new Constitution of 1790 was the frosting on the cake as far as Manticoran admiration of Haven was concerned, and by the time the Duquesne Plan was formulated, the People’s Republic already recognized that its greatest potential stumbling block would be the Star Kingdom.

If the revolution hadn’t happened, is it fair to say that the Peeps would have had a very good chance of beating the Manticore Alliance?

I don’t think I’d go so far as to say that the Peeps would have had a “very good” chance of beating the Manticoran Alliance. I will say that they probably would have had at least an even chance of victory if the Revolution, the Committee of Public Safety, and the Pierre purge of the Legislaturalists (and, of necessity, the officer corps) hadn’t intervened. Their fleet was bigger, they actually had more experience in combat operations than the RMN, and their economy, although much less efficient, was much larger than Manticore’s. In order to win, however, they really would have had to overpower the Star Kingdom in the first rush, the way they had all of their earlier victims. With time for Manticore to absorb the shock of the initial attack and fully mobilize its economic and industrial power, the numerical odds were bound to begin to equalize, because unlike Manticore, the PRH had very little “slack” in its economy and industrial sector. In effect, Haven was already running at wartime production levels, whereas Manticore was still running essentially at peacetime production levels, with significant capacity for increasing its output. Moreover, the R&D programs which had been put in place by Roger III in the forty years or so leading up to his assassination had unbalanced the playing field more than anyone (including Manticore) realized at the time. It would have come down to a question of whether or not the PRH would have been able/willing to pay the cost in very high casualties to overwhelm the SKM’s already developed and deployed qualitative superiority before the even greater qualitative superiority inherent in Manticore’s R&D came into play. By the standards of the later period of the Havenite Wars, the casualties involved probably would have been no more than moderate, but no one knew that in 1905, and I would say that it’s probably unlikely the Legislaturalists would have risked the scale of losses involved, once they realized what that scale was, because of the implications it would have had for the internal stability and security of the PRH. In many ways, Pierre’s successful coup, which owed a great deal to the PN’s initial losses, was simply a demonstration of what probably would have happened at some point fairly early in a protracted war between the Legislaturalist regime and the Star Kingdom if the PRH had decided to wage a war of attrition against the SKM’s superior weapons systems, 1905-style.

To what extent are planets in the Honorverse dependent upon food import from other planets?

That depends entirely on the planets in question. Grayson was something of an extreme case of a planet finding it difficult to feed its own population because of environmental circumstances, but for all intents and purposes, the orbital farms could be said to be a sort of surrogate for food imported from other planets. There are other worlds which for various combinations of reasons have found it more economically advantageous to import food in substantial quantities rather than producing it locally. The relative cheapness of interstellar transportation in the Honorverse is such that it is viable to rely on out-system sources of food, but most planets get nervous if their total food supply depends on imports. It is much more common for imported food to consist of luxury items or staples which happen not to do very well in their local ecosystem. Beef from Montana, for example, commands a very good price on the import market. There are also planets whose populations have simply grown to a level at which supplementary food sources from out-system are necessary to sustain a comfortable nutrition level. Old Earth falls into that category, at least at the present time, because the inhabitants of Old Earth have chosen not to produce food in the quantities needed to sustain their diet from internal sources. Partly that’s because the planetary population is so large, partly it’s because land values are so high that people can always find a “better use” for it than as cropland, and partly it’s because imported food supplies are simply cheap enough that it would be extraordinarily difficult to compete with them pricewise given land costs, material costs, and wage costs on Old Earth. That doesn’t mean the planet couldn’t produce enough food on its own surface to feed its population; it simply means it hasn’t chosen to produce food in those quantities. As a very rough analogy, it costs less to truck commercial quantities of lettuce in from Florida than it does to grow it in roof gardens in Manhattan.

Are there any sublight colony ships still in transit to very distant destinations at the time of the Honorverse novels? Likewise, have there been exploratory or colonization missions far beyond what is considered human settled space?

I don’t know (he said innocently). Are there?

What is the most popular sport in the Star Kingdom?

That depends. On Manticore itself, it’s soccer, closely followed by grav skiing. On Sphinx, it’s hang-gliding, closely followed by hockey. On Gryphon, it’s skiing, closely followed by skiing, with skiing in third place. The Star Kingdom doesn’t really have a single “trademark” sport the way Grayson does with baseball or Haven does with lacrosse. Rather it has what you might think of as a broadly diversified sports landscape.

What kind of beer is Old Tilman’s?

Old Tilman doesn’t actually have a precise terrestrial analog. The best way to think of it would be as a hoppy oatmeal stout with a touch of honey added for sweetness. What gives it its distinctive flavor, and the reason there isn’t a precise terrestrial analog, is that it is brewed exclusively on Sphinx using both oats and hops which have mutated/been genetically altered to suit their new environment. As a consequence, the oat-based malt has a fuller, sweeter flavor with a hint of almond and the hops are milder, not quite so bitter flavored. It’s really quite good, but I’m afraid I’m not prepared to share my personal stock of it with anyone else at this time. Sorry.

I don’t get the feeling from the books that there was a real sense of “being at war” in Manticore. The feeling I get is best portrayed by the famous whiteboard picture saying: “America is not at war, the Marine Corps is at war, America is at the mall.” Is that an accurate assessment?

No, that isn’t an accurate assessment. The problem is that one cannot draw too tight a parallel between the economy and society of the Star Kingdom of Manticore and historical experience. There are parallels, of course; don’t get me wrong. But there are also ways in which I have deliberately “broken” the historical model by altering bits and pieces of it.

Warfare in the Honorverse, at least prior to the end phase of the Havenite Wars, is generally very “civilized,” at least where “first world star nations” are concerned. What happens to the locals when the Gendarmerie battalions arrive to do Frontier Security’s bidding, or what happens when the local President for Life decides the opposition element needs to be wiped out, is quite another thing, of course. However, for “civilized parts,” where the threat is from another star nation, standing fleets are the key to survival in the Honorverse and the accepted rules of war (reflected, in part, in the Eridani Edict) mean that if your fleet is defeated, you are defeated. The People’s Navy crewed its ships using conscription, which was a comfortable fit with its statist economy and command society. The Royal Manticoran Navy crewed its ships using voluntary recruitment and drawing upon its merchant marine as a seed bed for experienced spacers.

Perhaps a workable (although flawed) analogy would be Great Britain during the Napoleonic Wars. The analogy is flawed because the UK confronted an adversary whose military power was land-based while its military power was sea-based, but the sense that Manticore itself was safe from Peep depredations as long as the Navy was able to guarantee the security of the Manticore Binary System and the Manticoran Wormhole Junction was very much a part of Manticoran thinking and attitudes. At the same time, Manticore’s carrying trade was virtually completely secure from Havenite raiding because it passed through the Junction and went to places far beyond the People’s Navy’s reach. (Recall the nature of Javier Giscard’s mission to Silesia, and the reasons for it, in Honor Among Enemies.) So the economic stability of Manticore, aside from the fiscal demands of building and maintaining the Navy, was also secure as long as the RMN protected the home star system. That doesn’t mean Manticorans didn’t follow the war closely, that people who have families and friends in the Navy weren’t agonizingly aware of their losses, or that the Star Kingdom took the war lightly. It simply means that the strains were distributed differently from, say, our own experience in World War II. And, of course, much of the Manticoran attitude during the first fifteen years or so of the Havenite Wars has been changed forever following Operation Beatrice and Oyster Bay.

Given the population density possible with residential towers in the setting, how is the land on a planet like Manticore used?

There are several factors to consider when looking at residential patterns and land-use on a high-tech planet in the Honorverse. First, these are incredibly productive economies, by any standard with which we are familiar. Consider how someone living in first-century Rome might regard a twenty-first-century shopping mall, for example. They are also, with the exception of planets like Old Earth herself, worlds with relatively (note that I said relatively) low population densities compared to the present day. If you can imagine an entire planetary population with a twenty-first-century American standard of living, you’ll begin getting close to visualizing Manticore. One of the consequences of this is that what is considered an acceptable amount of living space has actually increased significantly between now and then. Residential towers, with their huge height and amenities, make it possible for an “average family” to enjoy very expansive and comfortable space in an urban environment. At the same time, routine supersonic transport by air car, electronic networking, virtual workplaces, etc., mean that many of the factors driving urbanization in our own experience no longer apply. This can be seen in Stephanie Harrington’s story or the Harrington freehold in Honor’s time.

What this means is that planets can be far more flexible about where people live, how they live, and what use is made of the land. By and large, population per square mile is very, very low compared to our standards, and even in an urban environment, population per cubic mile (bearing in mind the sheer size of the towers involved) is low compared to someplace like New York City or (far more so) someplace like Shanghai or New Delhi. Vast amounts of the planetary surface of a world like Manticore or Sphinx is left fallow, undeveloped, available for recreational use, perhaps, but not built over or farmed. Nor, given access to asteroid belts, gas giants, moons, etc., is it generally necessary to mine planetary surfaces or exploit fossil fuels, while Honorverse civilizations’ energy budgets are stupendous . . . and cheap . . . and have very little environmental impact.

This may not have answered your question entirely, but I hope it moves in the direction of an answer. Of course, given the diversity of planets and (especially in the Verge) of the technology actually available to a given star system or world, conditions can vary greatly from star system to star system, and the lower the tech level available, the more negative impacts are likely to be felt by the local planet and its ecosystem.

About BuNine

BuNine is short for “Bureau Nine,” and is both a play on the Royal Manticoran Navy’s bureau structure as well as an indication of the number of founding members.

BuNine got started in a group of science fiction fans that coalesced around Ad Astra’s Saganami Island Tactical Simulator and its designers, Tom Pope and Ken Burnside. David Weber is himself a former game designer, and was quick to recognize both the necessity for game designers to pick his brain to get the game right, and the advantage to him in having a group of people double-checking and extending his work. The so-called “Great Resizing,” for instance, came directly out of the game designers realizing that they couldn’t make the math work under the assumptions they were given.

BuNine is not just a group of Honor Harrington fans. About half of us have some sort of connection to the US military, mostly the Navy, in either a civilian capacity or in uniform. Those who don’t are artists, lawyers, computer specialists, and the like, all accomplished experts in their fields. What sets us apart is that not only are we fans, we are fans with day jobs that directly or indirectly relate to our hobbies. If you read a BuNine article about the evolution of Manticoran law concerning treecats, for instance, you’ll discover the author is a practicing attorney. As one of our members says, “In my day job, I’m a naval analyst. My hobby is that I analyze navies that don’t actually exist.”

Over time, BuNine went from a loose collection of people to a more formal organization, usually because of events involving other people working with the Honorverse. When a would-be motion picture developer needed help thinking about how the bridge of a starship would be organized, we adopted our current name and started having annual meetings. When Toni Weiskopf at Baen suggested to David that the twentieth anniversary of On Basilisk Station warranted a companion volume, David said “I know just the people to write it”—thereby forcing us to actually create a legal entity to go with our group identity. Along the way, we’ve designed ships, drawn blueprints, invented doctrine, asked probing questions, and done the math to fill in the elements around which David has built stories. BuNine is not a club; if anything, it’s closer to an invitation-only professional society or a technical consulting organization.

This book is the result of many, many people, both inside BuNine and out, working long hours. None of us could have done it alone; all of us enjoyed doing it together. We hope you enjoy reading it as much as we did writing it.