And now, the final installment of my conversation with author David Weber, in which we discuss vampires, aliens, and most importantly: the Honor Harrinton movie.
JPH: Now, going back to Out of the Dark for a minute. When I got the book…
I got the promotional sheet from Tor, that says “this is vampires versus aliens”, and I thought “oh, this is exciting; this is a fresh perspective” and the vampires don’t really show up until toward the end, and I thought, “Wait a minute. I thought this was vampires versus aliens.” That was a really intriguing notion for me, because it’s something we hadn’t seen before. We’ve had the alien invasions done to death, for I don’t know how many years. Now I’m told that you’ve been told that this is the beginning of a series. Is this something that you were aware of when you wrote this book? That you knew there was going to be a continuation of this …?
There’s a tangled trail here. I originally wrote a novella for an anthology for Gardner Dozois and George R. R. Martin, who were editing. And I wanted to do something besides an Honor Harrington story. So I did a novella in which Vlad the Imaler is the guy who winds up defeating the alien invaders. All right. The vampires turn up in the novella about halfway through. And that’s when you start to figure out they’re vampires. Maybe a little more than half, but not a lot. And there’s foreshadowing throughout the novella, and through the novel, too, if you look for it –
There was, yes.
– That there were vampires in the woodwork. The problem is, that when Tom Doherty saw the novella, and he and I were talking about projects, and he says “You know, I’d really like you to expand this one into a novel.” So I did, and instead of adding more on after the end of the novella – which would have difficult, because I’ve defeated the invasion, and they’ve gone away, and so forth – I put it in the first half of the novel, which moves the point at which the vampires become overtly a factor in the story, back towards the back. At the time that I was writing this, I was thinking it was a stand-alone novel, and I was thinking of it as the stand-alone novel with a twist in there. I foreshadowed and all that, and people should remember that I’m the guy that wrote Path of Fury and cheerfully injected the last surviving Greek Fury into a hard science universe.
I see this working as a series. And to be honest, the vampire is not going to be the central element of the series. I mean, it will be a factor. The real vampire element, for me, is Vlad having spent five hundred years learning not to be a monster, and then having to turn the monster loose again. And then how does he deal with this? Who is he, and what does he become, and where does he go? I think that’s a very valid line. And I see vampires as special forces and that kind of thing.
But I also see a society which is going to have so much technology going for it, that it can virtually do a lot of the things vampires could do anyway through bio-enhancement technology available to flesh-and-blood humans. And to me, the novels will concentrate on – if we do proceed with the series – will be much more how this society on Earth, which has now discovered that there are absolutely two sentient races, one of which likes sunlight, one of which doesn’t – how it deals with the galactic society out there, which has relegated all of them to barbarism and thinks we’re all clinically insane because of how we structure our society. To me, that would be the main thrust of any future novels.
I think that some people that had a problem with Out of the Dark had the problem because it is so uncompromisingly hard, tech-heavy SF up to the point at which the vampires come out of the hills and deal with the situation. And some people resent that turn in the book. And I’m sorry that they have that reaction. I think partly my reputation is writing for the wire-heads rather than the courts and skirts crowd.
But I’ve always loved fantasy. That’s why I do the Bahzell books. By the way, I’m working on the fourth Bahzell novel now. People have been asking me when that is going to happen, and the answer is: as soon as I can wrestle it into submission.
Now, are you working multiple projects at the same time, or do you try to do these one at a time?
I do one book at a time with multiple projects going on. I don’t work on an Honorverse book on a Wednesday and go over to Bahzell on Tuesday – I can’t do that. I need to do books as complete, discreet projects. I can pull off of one and come back to it. It’s hard. But I’m pretty much focused in on whatever the current project is, doing it until I get it finished.
A good day, when the book is coming together, I’m in the swing of it, I can do between five to eight thousand words a day. It will usually take me a while to build up to that level. I may start doing only a few hundred or a thousand words a day and gradually work my way up. I try to work in chapters, and a comfortable chapter for me is about five thousand words. I usually shoot for one chapter, but I may wind up doing two shorter chapters in a single writing session.
But I’m not good at multi-tasking in terms of keeping multiple projects simultaneously, unless they’re projects that are primarily editorial from my perspective. That I can do more than one at a time. But if it’s primarily me doing the writing, I need to concentrate on whatever’s on my plate at that moment.
So, the Bahzell book is in process.
It’s in process.
And another Honor book is in the pipeline? The next Honorverse book?
Well, we have A Rising Thunder, which is coming out in March. And I’ve already written the next – I think of it as mainstream Honor, although it’s focused on the Talbott Quadrant. Part of the problem is that the Honorverse is proceeding over such huge distances now and with so many different political and military elements coming together, I couldn’t put Honor in where all the action is going on, no matter what I did. So, in that respect, it’s a fortunate thing that I’ve always done a lot of secondary characters. And I like to develop secondary characters into more than just a spear carrier or “the Lieutenant said” or whatever. It gives me all kinds of handles to work with.
Eric (Flint) is going to be working on the next collaboration, which is going to be basically Victor Cachat and Anton Zilwicki and that group…
As part of the Torch storyline?
Well, but the Torch storyline is now firmly integrated into the Honorverse at large. It’s really difficult. That’s why I’m now dividing the books by month and year, so that the reader can tell where they fall, and why I’m actually deliberately using chapters from one book in another book, because they help to put down ranging stakes. It’s not just me finding a quick way to do word count. It’s there deliberately for the reader to be able to say “OK, that’s what’s happening right now” and sometimes to give a different perspective on the scene by sticking another character into the scene. And that gets a little difficult because you’re stuck with the dialogue and so forth in the original scene, and you have to work carefully within that constraint.
There have, for a number of years, been a lot of fans wanting to see an Honor Harrington movie. Have you ever given any thought as to who could play Honor? She’s very physically distinctive.
How would you go about – if you had to pick an actress to play Honor Harrington, who would be your top one or two?
I’m not sure that I have any part actress in mind. This may sound a little strange, but I think that – bearing in mind that there are age questions, I think that Lucy Lawless could have done Honor, absent the Xena physics, with the same person who did the make-up for – did you see the Remo Williams movie?
– who did Joel Grey’s make-up in that. Doing just her eyes. I think she could have handled the physicality of the role. The thing that we’re going to have to settle for, if/when we cast the movie, is going to be somebody who can handle the physicality of the role and Honor’s command style. Everything else is secondary to that. Because that’s the central part of the character. We’re going to find it very difficult to find a six-foot-two Eurasian martial artist who can act.
And handle the sword.
And handle the sword. So there’s a lot of stuff – also, to be perfectly honest in casting the movie, we can’t cast someone who looks as young as Honor looks and have the movie-going public accept her as the commander of a starship. In the book, I can make this clear as to why this works the way that it works. In the theater, you can’t do that. And for a movie to succeed, viewers are going to have to enormously outnumber readers. That’s just the way that it works. And for that to work, you have to worry about what is going to be believable and acceptable to the movie-going public, and having Honor looking like she’s 19 when she’s actually 42 and commanding a cruiser, it’s going to be a bit difficult.
I would imagine the physics of the combat would be something else that you’re going to have to work out, because you do a lot of ballistics where a lot of this happens in real time, and it’s several minutes passing back and forth…
[Editor’s note: at this point, we started talking about the possibility of the movie deal being done, which was still in flux at the time we chatted. Since then, Mr. Weber announced on his site, that a movie deal is in place and they are moving forward with the adaptations.]
At this point in time, I feel very, very good about the way that they are approaching it. They are essentially special effects, 3D house but what they have said to me is that all the special effects in the universe won’t make a satisfactory movie. They may make a satisfying visual spectacle, but to make a satisfying movie you need the story. And to make a satisfying series of movies, you need character. And it’s the Honor Harrington universe’s story line that they want and “we want the characters. We don’t want to pasteurize them. And they’re very insistent on recognizing Honor’s dark side as part of the character. And some of the discussions that we’ve had… they want me on board as a creative advisor during the development stage.
Some of the discussions that we’ve already have had started out with me going “I don’t know about that.” Then thinking, “That would actually be cool.” And one of the things that we’ve talked about is how you handle Honorverse combat, because as they’ve pointed out to me, nobody has done fleet combat in science fiction. Not really, not where you have whole battle fleets slugging it out and what that implies.
But I can see, for example, firing your missiles and you compress somewhat – not the distance but the time of flight, and you actually ride with the missile and at first you’re just sort of going through space and you see these little pinpricks of light in front of you, that turn into nuclear explosions from the preceding wave and then you start picking up the images of the ships, and then everything starts accelerating. And blam! You’re right there with the attack. As opposed to “Yes, we have a three hundred thousand mile range on our phasers, but we’re going to close to visual range because otherwise they can’t get both of us onto the screen at once.”
And so they are very much aware of – they’re excited about the possibilities of what they can do with the combat ranges in the Honorverse. And there will be room for the short-range duels, like in Honor of the Queen, when Honor brings the Fearless literally into knife range of this battle cruiser, expecting to be killed when the engagement takes place, but figuring she’ll get close enough to hurt the battle cruiser in the process. Or the dogfight between the light cruiser Fearless and the Havenite Q-ship in On Basilisk Station, so there’ll be a lot of room for that kind of thing.
Editor’s note: According to IMDb.com, Honor Harrington is slated for a 2014 release. The production companies listed are Evergreen Films (“Dinosaur Planet” and “Science of Star Wars“) and Grok! Studio (“Game of Thrones”). Grok! is also listed as the production company on The Forever War, which is also in development. We’ll be keeping a close eye on things as they develop.
Again, my thanks to David Weber for spending so much time talking with me when he should probably have been prone on a couch, nursing the migraine.