While my first love is fantasy I have also grown to love military science fiction. I constantly look forward to the latest Honor Harrington novel from David Weber or Lost Fleet novel from Jack Campbell. When it comes to my military science fiction I tend to enjoy those that most strongly resemble naval warfare novels though instead of sailing the sea the ships sail between the stars. It’s a bit odd since I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have the patience to read say a C. S. Forester novel, but set that thing in space and suddenly I’m all in. With the advent of self-publishing there has been something of a resurgence in military science fiction with authors like Ryk Brown, Evan Currie, B. V. Larson, Thomas DePrima, Ian Douglas, not to mention countless others leading a new charge of self-published military science fiction. The relatively low cost of entry in the self-publishing world has many of those authors already having released upwards of 10 novel each over the last six years or so. With Amazon’s introduction of its 47North imprint some of these authors are getting mainstream paperback releases, and some even getting high-production audiobooks from major audiobook publishers like Tantor and Brilliance.
H. Paul Honsinger, while not as prolific in terms of output as some the aforementioned authors, has created a taught and exciting series called Man of War. The first title, To Honor You Call Us was originally released for Kindle (and via CreateSpace) in 2012 and was recently re-released via 47North (paperback) and Brilliance (audio) in 2014. To Honor You Call Us, sees brash young Captain Max Robichaux, taking command of the Terran Union destroyer USS Cumberland, a problem ship with a poor record. The Terran Union is at war with the Krag, who see the extermination of humanity as a religious necessity. Honsinger, paints the Krag as an uncompromising foe willing to go to extreme lengths to exterminate humanity from the universe. Readers, are told that early on in the war the Krag released a virulent gynophage on the human populace which ravaged the female population. This is important to note as there are almost no women in the entirety of the series since, as a result of the plague, women are no longer allowed to serve in the Navy; they are too precious to risk in combat. There is definitely some discomfort with this aspect of the novel since we don’t really know how women are treated or how they live their lives. In fact you could probably write a who novel just on the social, political, and emotional impact of a bioweapon designed to take out the female population. However, Honsinger really relegates this to the background and while it’s important to Robichaux’s history (he watched his mother and sister die, then his father slip away into depression) it doesn’t legitimately impact the events of the novel directly.
Max, short for Maxine, Robichaux is in interesting character. Honisnger reveals his history in slowly and while he doesn’t talk to much about previous military assignments you do learn that Robichaux has experienced significant trauma and that he suffers from PTSD. Robichaux is from a world settled by Cajuns and his conversations with the Cumberland’s cajun chief helmsman provide a nice touch of character and help ground the novel with a sense of familiarity. Early in the novel Robichaux and the Cumberland are assigned a new Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Ibrahim Sahin, and the two begin a close friendship. The relationship between Robichaux and Sahin is an important part of the novel and helps provides insight into both of these character’s personalities that wouldn’t normally be present in the day to day ship board activities. Robichaux’s psychological state is extraordinarily important to the story of the Cumberland as the ship was previously under the command of an obsessive compulsive captain who micro-managed his crew. Like its new captain the crew of Cumberland is nearly to buckling under the psychological strain of its former commander. The parallel between Robichaux’s need to fix his new ship (with compassion where possible) and his growing cognizance (thanks to his friendship with Sahin) of his own issues.
To Honor You Call Us, is a bit of an homage to the Age of Sail. In addition to hearkening back to a host of science fiction authors others have drawn comparisons Patrick O’Brian and C. S. Forester in the tone of the novel. My familiarity with the Age of Sail is more through film and television than fiction but it is definitely an apt comparison; Robichaux even evidences a fondness for Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance. Like in many military sci-fi stories involving naval warfare there is a very deliberate pace when it comes to the ship to ship combat. To Honor You Call Us sticks to its guns when describing combat in the vastness of space easily balancing the amount of time it takes with the level of tension it causes. I found Honsinger’s description of the Cumberland using its stealth systems to sneak up a ship interesting from a technical standpoint and rife with a welcome degree of tension. Over the course of the novel Honsinger reveals just enough about the war, and the state of affairs in the military, to make the Cumberland’s mission feel important but not like the entire war effort hinges on its outcome; he easily captures the notion that the Cumberland is part of a greater whole.
To Honor You Call Us is an amazingly accomplished debut novel from an up and coming author. The problems are few and minor. While Honsinger has a tendency to lean on the technical, he has a clear handle on his lead characters and has invested his narrative with a personal story as well as grand one. If you are graving something new and exciting in the world of military science fiction, particularly if you enjoy the work of Jack Campbell and David Weber, you should definitely give To Honor You Call Us a shot. The second novel For Honor We Stand is out now with a third, Brothers in Valor, due out later this year. This book was a definite surprise and I look forward to see what H. Paul Honsinger and the “crafty” Maxine Robichaux have up their sleeves.