E-book review: Of treecats and grapeshot (Honor Harrington short stories)
October 23, 2011 | 1:27 am
Next up, chronologically, in the Honorverse are a pair of short stories. Although they have nothing to do with each other, they both cover events that become important in the next book. And they both involve events of great change to their respective worlds—one not violently, but the other very much so.
- Treecat Trilogy
- A Beautiful Friendship
- Young Honor and Elizabeth
- Prince Michael rescues and Honor dances
- On Basilisk Station
- The Honor of the Queen
- The Short Victorious War
- Irresponsible captain, itinerant noble
- Field of Dishonor
- Flag in Exile
- Honor Among Enemies
Continuing my review of Honor Harrington stories and novels in chronological order:
- “Changer of Worlds” by David Weber (Changer of Worlds anthology)
- “A Whiff of Grapeshot” by S.M. Stirling (More than Honor anthology)
“Changer of Worlds” is another story concerning the treecats, told from the treecats’ point of view—and is currently the only such tale apart from the three stories in the “Treecat Trilogy” above (plus the novel A Beautiful Friendship), It’s also the only story where we actually get to see Nimitz and Samantha (or “Laughs Brightly” and “Golden Voice”, as they name themselves) as other treecats see them.
The story forms a sort of companion piece to the much earlier treecat stories, as in those stories the treecats decided to conceal how clever they truly were. Now, after their experiences in the humans’ war, Nimitz and Samantha have concluded it is time for the treecats to end their charade and expand, with the humans’ help, to form colonies on other worlds. The question is whether the older and wiser treecats at Nimitz’s home clan can be convinced of that.
The story brings out a number of revelations about the ‘cats which the humans in the story don’t get to learn until several books later. For example, Samantha is an extremely unusual treecat in more ways than just being an adopting female. She’s also a memory singer, one of the treecats who is gifted with an extraordinary memory and psychic projection abilities that she can use to pass on accumulated treecat knowledge.
As with the other stories, treecats’ psychic conversations are rendered as idiomatic English, which some may find a trifle unrealistic given how treecat communication is presented from humans’ point of view. But it helps to demonstrate the treecats’ distinctive personalities, and even rendered into English the treecats still speak differently than human characters.
From an action standpoint, not a lot happens in the story: it’s basically one long psychic conversation. But the decision the treecats make is an important one, and the first direct result is seen in the next novel, In Enemy Hands. It’s not strictly necessary to read the story to understand what happens the novel, of course, given that Honor pretty correctly pegs the reasoning behind it at the time. Still, it’s interesting to see it from the treecats’ point of view.
I wonder why there aren’t more treecat stories, or treecat points of view rendered in the novels? Perhaps it’s because a little goes a long way, and Weber doesn’t want to dilute the specialness of treecats in his stories—or doesn’t want to annoy further the people who find treecats annoying enough already.
(And as an aside: I think that the story collection Changer of Worlds has one of the most awful covers of any of the Honorverse novels. It does have the starships at least roughly correct, but on the other hand it has a couple of rather awful depictions of treecats, not to mention Honor Harrington’s giant…blue face in the background. What a mess!)
The other story, “A Whiff of Grapeshot,” represents the first chronological appearance of Esther McQueen, another one of those characters who is a direct analogue of a historical figure from the French Revolution. McQueen shows that, despite giving Pierre, St. Just, and Admiral Lester Tourville similar names to their historical antecedents, Weber does have some sense of restraint—otherwise he would have named McQueen “Esther Bonaparte.”
Indeed, the phrase “a whiff of grapeshot” harks back to Napoleon clearing the streets of an angry mob in 1795 by firing cannons into it. (It was coined by British historian Thomas Carlyle, not said by Napoleon himself.) And that is essentially what happens in this story, albeit scaled up to futuristic military levels.
Rob S. Pierre and his Committee for Public Safety are under assault by a huge mob, prompted by a group of anarchists that wants to unseat them in a coup. With its communications paralyzed, almost every unit in the Havenite navy is unwilling to act lest the rest of the navy think it is taking part in the coup. It’s left up to Admiral Esther McQueen, already under suspicion from the Committee for her demonstrated ambition, to rescue the Committee and disperse the angry mobs with her own form of “grapeshot”—much more lethal than anything the original Napoleon ever had.
McQueen is shown to be very clever—perhaps too clever for her own good, as she demonstrates to her political minder Erasmus Fontein that she had a squad of marines on call ready to charge in and rescue her on a moment’s notice. But Fontein (and his superiors in the Committee of Public Safety) soon have ample reason to be glad she did.
This is the first story, chronologically, that goes into any real depth concerning Pierre and cohorts in their tenure as the rulers of the People’s Republic of Haven, which means it is a sort of introduction to the politics that characterizes subsequent books in the series. The events covered here set up some changes in leadership that come during In Enemy Hands—as well as certain climactic events further down the road.
Rob S. Pierre makes an interesting contrast to Weber’s usual run of villains. Unlike the rest of the cavalcade of self-important idiots or scheming manipulators, Pierre always struck me as something of a tragic figure—spurred into taking out the Harris government by the death of his son in a military action, he started out thinking that he could make great changes and rescue his society from the rut it was trapped in. But when he got to the top, he found the seat of power was as much prison as throne, because the old system simply had too much inertia to allow the reforms he wanted to make—Haven’s citizenry might well turn violent if he tries, and as this story shows there are those who will try to unseat him no matter what he does.
Pierre seems to be a decent person trapped by circumstances, unlike his fellow rulers—the sociopathic Oscar St. Just, the psychopathic Cordelia Ransom. He is often troubled or even horrified by their excesses, but there isn’t much he can do except continue to ride the tiger and hope he doesn’t fall off. But even if Pierre manages to survive the mob attack in this story, it’s pretty clear that things are probably not going to end well for him.
Of course, both the Committee and McQueen will see much further action in the next Honor Harrington novel, In Enemy Hands—as will the treecats. I’ll have more to say about that in the next Honorverse review.