One of the cooler things about David Weber's Honorverse (which I recently described here) is that he allows other science-fiction writers to contribute, sometimes collaborating with him for full-length novels, sometimes (as here), penning short stories and novellas for a series of volumes collectively entitled, after the second, Worlds of Honor. They are, of course, of varying quality – or maybe a better word would be pertinence (I'm thinking mainly of a story by David Drake in the first volume, I think, that basically has nothing to do with the particular aspects of the universe Weber has created, but rather could have been set in any science-fictional context) – but generally all make good reads. Sometimes characters that will later play an important role in the main series are introduced by one of his fellow authors in a story contained in one of these collections. And in each of the Worlds of Honor volumes thus far Weber himself has included a short story or novella set at some earlier or unexplored stage in the career of his main heroine, Honor Harrington. Here we have three stories including one by Weber, plus a treatise on one aspect of the technology postulated in the series that allows the rousing tales of interstellar warfare.
“Ruthless” by Jane Lindskold is something of a follow-up to a story by the same author in the previous volume, which introduced the characters of Judith, her daughter Ruth, and Queen Elizabeth's son Prince Michael. Ruth is, of course, an important character in the Crown of Slaves spin-off series by Weber and Eric Flint. Here, she is a child, little more than a toddler, become a kidnapped pawn in a plot to force Prince Michael to disgrace himself and discredit a recent development in the Star Kingdom's diplomatic maneuvering against the People's Republic of Haven. As in the earlier story, Judith once again proves herself a strong young woman and, along with Michael himself, tracks down the kidnappers with the help of the instigants' own daughter, a former classmate of the prince, thwarting the plot against the Star Kingdom.
“An Act of War” is something of a lark by Timothy Zahn. When a con man playing a dangerous game in the People's Republic of Haven is caught out, he must orchestrate a real con to try to get the Star Kingdom of Manticore and the Anderman Empire into a war which will divert the Manticorans' attentions and resources away from Haven. … Except that that's not his real goal at all. It's a complex and twisty tale that leaves me wanting to read more about the mysterious Solarian dissident agent “Charles.”
“'Let's Dance'” is this volume's contribution by Weber himself, and the longest. It takes place a few years before we actually met Honor as captain of the H.M.S.S. Fearless in the first novel, On Basilisk Station. Here she is commander of a destroyer, the H.M.S.S. Hawkwing, recently dispatched on a cruise in the Silesian Confederation, a lawless and corrupt loose association of star systems – Weber describes it as a “kleptocracy” – that just happens to be an important trading partner with Manticore. The story takes up with the immediate aftermath of the Hawkwing's encounter with pirates and finds Honor dealing with the local Silesian authorities who are in bed with the pirates. Not all of the Silesian navy's own officers are corrupt, however, and through an encounter with one who seems a cut above the rest she finds herself approached by the anti-genetic-slavery Audubon Ballroom, ultimately carrying out a joint raid with that officially terrorist organization against a base in a Silesian system – with the full knowledge that her actions will cause a diplomatic furor that will likely ruin her career. “Let's dance!” is the battle-cry of the Audubon Ballroom, and let's just say you don't want to be a genetic slaver on the Ballroom's dance card! One thing Weber does very well is convey the complexities of the situation and the moral debate over whether terroristic tactics are ever justifiable even if understandable given the horrors that the victims of genetic slavery such as make up the Audubon Ballroom have been subjected to.
The last section in the book is not really a story, but a dry exposition on “An Introduction to Modern Starship Armor Design” by Andy Presby. Sometimes these can be good reads in and of themselves, such as when Weber in the first Worlds of Honor collection described the basic theory of faster-than-light travel, laser-head missile warfare, and the history of the “Diaspora,” man's expansion in the galaxy with special attention to the development of Haven and Manticore. This time, unfortunately, even this fan of such technical detail and extensive datadumping couldn't get more than a few pages in. There are also a few pages of technical schematics that, frankly, don't illuminate anything for me either. But I'm sure there are Honorverse fans that eat this kind of stuff up even more than myself.
All in all, “'Let's Dance!'” is by itself enough to warrant picking this volume up, especially given the increasing importance of the evils of genetic slavery in the developing plot in the most recent books of the main series. The other two stories, expecially “Ruthless,” are well worth reading as well.
Cheers, and Thanks for reading!