A MilSciFi Adventure Straight Out of the Great Age of Sail
Post date: Mar 28, 2015 5:31:47 PM
I'm a big fan of novels about the Great Age of Sail when “ships were made of wood and men of iron,” especially those dealing with Britain's Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars. I've read all of C.S. Forester's Horatio Hornblower books and Patrick O'Brian's Jack Aubrey books, many of Captain Frederick's Marryat's sea novels, and several other authors who pen tales of that period. So when I read the blurb to H. Paul Honsinger's book, To Honor You Call Us, I knew exactly what he was doing and had to read it.
Set in the 24th century, Honor is the story of a Union Space Navy officer, Max Robichaux, who is assigned command of the USS Cumberland, a space destroyer with such a poor battle record it's known among the fleet as the Cumberland Gap. Max and the Cumberland are given orders for detached duty as a commerce raider in the neutral Free Corridor to stop ships from smuggling war materiel to the Terran Union's nemesis, the Krag. In the few weeks it takes to travel to the Free Corridor, Max must turn the demoralized men of the Cumberland into a fighting crew, overcoming cowardly sabotage and rampant drug abuse.
In its most basic plot elements, Honsinger borrows heavily from the works of Forester and O'Brian. And that's okay. O'Brian borrowed heavily from Forester, who borrowed heavily from Marryat, who borrowed heavily from the real life adventures of Lord Admiral Thomas Cochran, RN, under whom Marryat once served. Max's first battle in his new command – against a much larger Krag warship – comes straight out of the earliest of the Hornblower and Aubrey books. Those battles themselves were inspired by the victory of Lord Cochran, then commanding a small war sloop, over a much bigger and more heavily armed Spanish frigate.
Yet this is not to say Honor's plot is old hat or boring. Like O'Brian's books, Honor is a character study of men at war – a long, often boring war punctuated by moments of terror and self-sacrifice. The major members of the crew are well fleshed out, and the ship's technology is well conceived. The writing pulls you along as if you were a member of the crew yourself.
Honor is a clever idea well executed. A lesser writer may have failed in its execution. As Honor is the first in a series, I look forward to reading the follow-on books.