Honor Harrington is one of the all-time great heroes of military science fiction. The star of over a dozen novels by David Weber, she's inspired a real-life army of fans who belong to the Royal Manticoran Navy. And now she's coming to comics, games and eventually movies, from Evergreen Studios. We talked to Weber plus Evergreen CCO Scott Kroopf about the next phase of the Honorverse.
The Honor Harrington series follows a brilliant genetically engineered starship captain, leading her crew on difficult assignments 2,000 years in the future, when the human race has discovered hyperspace travel and has colonized the far corners of the universe. She fights for the Star Kingdom of Manticore, a relatively small empire based in a binary star system.
The new Honor Harrington website, Tales of the Honoverse, goes live tomorrow, and the first issue of her new comic book comes out on March 5. A mobile game is coming out sometime soon after, and meanwhile her first big-screen movie is in the pipeline. But we've got the exclusive first look at artwork, plus the inside scoop about these projects.
Here's what we found out from Weber and Kroopf:
They're doing the game and comic first for a couple of reasons
The movie is "what everybody who is an Honorverse fan is really looking for," says Weber. "The comic books are retelling a story they already know," without "the added visual immersion that a good movie produces."
But Evergreen has decided to do a mobile game and a comic book first for a couple of reasons, says Kroopf.
For one thing, they wanted to try and bring Honor to a new set of fans, while reaching out to her existing fanbase in a new way. "Honorverse fans tend to be very, very loyal, and very much involved, but they tend to be in their own little world," says Weber. "Science fiction is a genre that actually has a relatively small readership compared to other genres, but the readers we have are very, very loyal to the authors they support."
"One of the things Evergreen helps to accomplish with the graphic novel and the games is to reach out to an audience that hasn't already met Honor through the novels, and give them an easier 'in' to the universe than saying, 'Oh God, you have to read 19 books before you understand what's going on.'"
But also, this gives Evergreen a chance to build up a library of art showing how everything looks in the Honorverse before trying to create a movie. "We could start visualizing what the world was, and really redoing it," says Kroopf. "Because Honor has had a lot of really good book covers and fan-inspired art and all of that, but it's really been done surrounding the publishing of the books."
"I am seeing the comic books as an developmental step in the process, as a place to work out concepts before they actually dive into the movie itself," says Weber. "I think the amount of feedback they are going toget on it may be very useful to them. They have actually established a forum on my website where they are interacting directly with Honorverse fans."
Usually, in the movie business, a studio will concentrate on getting a movie off the ground and maybe then worry about tie-ins like comics and games — so Evergreen's approach of focusing on the game and comic first seems innovative, says Kroopf, who was brought on board in October 2012 to help develop this "multiplatform" strategy.
So what's holding up the movie?
According to Kroopf, the biggest holdup is getting the screenplay to a place where everybody is happy with it. And Kroopf confesses he was responsible for one major setback for the film script — before Kroopf came on board in late 2012, Evergreen was working on the idea of adapting Weber's first novel, On Basilisk Station, into the movie. But Kroopf wasn't happy with that idea.
"There are several elements in [Basilisk Station] that are a little atypical" of the series as a whole, says Kroopf. "And a lot of things are being set up and put in motion," but the book "doesn't have quite as much action" as some of the later books. "It's a subtler introduction to Honor," he adds.
So Kroopf decided to toss out the screenplay based on Basilisk Station that had already been written, and instead make a movie based on the second book, Honor of the Queen. In that book, Honor goes on a mission to a planet whose ruler doesn't believe that women should command starships. Because Honor is from a society that's totally "gender-blind," she's startled to realize that someone thinks her gender is an impediment to command.
"It felt, to me, that that idea married up more powerfully to the idea of introducing a female starship captain," says Kroopf, who felt this was "a great opportunity." Strong female characters have always been in science fiction, but this conflict "hasn't been pushed forward as much," and he felt this "had some contemporary resonance."
"It just felt like a better starting point," adds Kroopf.
So in the end, Evergreen decided to turn the work they had done on Basilisk Station into their comic book, which is actually based on Weber's first Honor book. And switched the movie to be based on Honor of the Queen.
Weber completely agrees with their decision to film his second book instead of his first. "I actually suggested that," he tells io9. "I love Basilisk Station and it does a huge amount to set the character of Honor in the readers mind and so forth." But so much of the story takes place in "internal viewpoints, to understand what's going on beneath the surface of the crew's actual thoughts and interactions and so on, and on the other hand, so much of the book is involved with Honor's internal struggles with building the crew."
"I think it would make a good movie," adds Weber. "I do not think it would make the best starting movie for the Honorverse. I do think that means Basilisk Station as a standalone movie will never be made." But one option is to film "flashback episodes" from Basilisk Station to build the characters — which could be included in the film, or posted online as webisodes.
And meanwhile, the graphic novel is making Basilisk available to a new audience, as well.
How will they bring the treecat, Nimitz, to life?
Readers of the books will know that Honor Harrington's constant companion is a Sphinxian treecat named Nimitz, a telepathic creature that bonds with few humans. Bringing Nimitz to life on screen is "going to be the hard part," says Weber. "It will probably be marginally harder to do it than to find a 6'3 Eurasian actress who can do martial arts and act."
Nimitz is "going to be on camera so much of the time, and he is so integral a part of Honor that just figuring out how a six-limbed creature moves and generating the muscle movement and limb placement is going to be a real, real challenge," says Weber.
The second challenge will be "creating a Nimitz that works withthe notion that a lot of people think, 'It's a pet,' when they first see him," but this is actually "a critter that can rip your throat out, foiling an assassination attempt."
The version of Nimitz appearing in the first couple issues of the comic book has "very little extra detail," because they still haven't figured out how his musculature works, and then how the "big fluffy coat" looks on top of that. "I have a pretty strong notion of how treecats look, and I think we're going to wind up departing from that in the movie, for reasons that have been explained to me and make sense," says Weber.
"What people have to understand when they look at the comic books is, this is the starting point of Nimitz's development, not the end of his development, that is one of the potential potholes for starting with the comic book: a lot of people are going to leap to the conclusion this is the finalized imagery for the film, which it isn't."
"If I'd been thinking from the beginning about a movie being made of these books," says Weber, "Nimitz would have been quadripedal. It would have been a lot easier. The technology is there to do him in a believable, realistic form but it is going to take a lot of work and nailing it is going to be one of the great challenges."
What's the game about?
Basically, it's a space combat game, where you become the captain of a starship "through a set of circumstances the game tells you," says Kroopf. You manage your starship and go through a series of battles, as you work on a larger "story mission, that ties back in with the overall story-world."
The hope is this game will teach people the nuts and bolts of running a starship and winning battles, on a very basic level. "One reason the IOS game was chosen is, it's kind of a great vehicle to do that," says Kroopf. "It lets you get your feet wet." Over time, the game can keep developing and building people's knowledge of the Honorverse, and "break some story ground."
"It really is first and foremost a game about running a starship," says Kroopf.
The comic will be somewhat non-linear
Given the wealth of material in the Honorverse, Evergreen didn't want to do a straight-up adaptation of On Basilisk Station in the comics. Instead, the comic starts with an incident from book seven of the series, where Honor has been captured and is being taken to her execution. "We thought this was a great starting point," says Kroopf. "Who is this woman? Why is she going to be executed? As opposed to a more conventional set up where we see her, and this is her first mission."
They hope to explore more of Honor's backstory
The great thing about the Honorverse is, between David's ever-growing series of books and the large number of tie-in stories by other authors, there is a lot of material out there. Any time you need a piece of backstory for someone or something, chances are it's already been developed.
For example, says Kroopf, Honor is the daughter of two doctors, so she's automatically not like any other hero — she has "more complexity and density, and more badassness." Weber wrote "this incredible story about how her mother and father met, and how before he was a doctor, her father was kind of black-ops marine. And suddenly, it all just gets juicier and more fun."
They're trying to be true to the science and the books
Not only does Honor have a large and passionate fanbase, but a lot of them are scientists or military personnel themselves, says Kroopf:
"They are such an incredible resource, because we can bounce ideas off of them and create a really lively debate. What we're looking for is, we're pushing it into a lot of visual mediums where we can make it exciting and thrilling, and look cool. We keep pushing it, and it's nice to have a reality check where they come in and say, 'Oh, that's not really how things work.' And then we argue about, 'That's not how things work in the book, but it's not really visual."
In the end, they usually "find a happy medium, where it looks cool and we get the spirit of the book right."
One of the main debates is over which characters can get screen time in the movie, and who has to be left out or combined for viewpoint purposes, says Weber. "A lot of my fans have favorites among those characters, and in a movie you don't have a lot of choice, unless you plan on making a 12-hour movie." Some characters who don't get into the movie may get their day in the sun in the comics, however.
Weber confesses to being nervous, because "as a writer, I have an unlimited special effects budget," but in movies and games, things are bound to look different. "What I say at conventions for many years is that nobody has ever read a single book that I've written. Everybody who reads one of the books brings to it their own concepts and ideas." The books are always different, depending on who reads them. But "when you look at a movie, you are looking at an authoritative visual presentation, and instead of interactions being colored by the reader, those presentations are right in front of you."
But Weber believes that if the movie and other tie-ins are done well, they can "add a huge amount of texture to the story.... I am looking forward to it, and excited by it, and very pleased by the extent to which it seems to me Evergreen is determined to do the Honorverse, and not just slap the name on it, and very pleased by how they are involving me in the process."
It helps that Mike Devlin, the CEO of Evergreen, is a "big Honor Harrington Fan," adds Weber. "He is adamant that in portraying Honor, the dark side of her character has to be portrayed as well, and when you start talking about the political systems and motivations, it has to be integrated into the spine of the movie to give it continuity and context." At the same time, "Mike is a very hard-headed business man," so in the end he's going to make decisions based on what's going to work.
"One thing an author who options a book for movie or TV has to understand is,it is the people who are making the film or TV series or whatever who are running the financial risk in this operation, and that means they have a moral right to deal with the material the way they think it needs to be dealt with. They also have a moral responsibility not toignore the original material, and not to ignore what made the original book successful in the first place. There is a balance out there in the middle."
He learned a lot from working with cover artists — if you try to constrain an artist too much, you don't get his or her best work. Instead, you get something where they're trying to include every detail you insisted on, and it cramps their style. But when a cover artist "decides a character who is Eurasian has blonde hair and blue eyes, then you have a problem," says Weber.
And here's some exclusive concept art showing some of the main characters from the Honor Harrington saga: