Review: A Call to Duty

A Call To Duty (David Weber, Timothy Zahn; Baen Books) is a passable extension of Baen Book’s tent-pole Honorverse franchise. Though billed as by David Weber, it resembled almost all of Baen’s double-billed “collaborations” in that most of the actual writing was clearly done by the guy on the second line, with the first line there as a marketing hook.

Zahn has a bit of fun subverting at least one major trope of the subgenre; Travis Long is definitely not the kind of personality one expects as a protagonist. Otherwise all the usual ingredients are present in much the expected combinations. Teenager longing for structure in his life joins the Navy, goes to boot camp, struggles in his first assignment, has something special to contribute when the shit hits the fan. Also, space pirates!

Baen knows its business; there may not be much very original about this, but Honorverse fans will enjoy this book well enough. And for all its cliched quality, it’s more engaging that Zahn’s rather sour last outing, Soulminder, which I previously reviewed.

The knack for careful worldbuilding within a franchise’s canonical constraints that Zahn exhibited in his Star Wars tie-ins is deployed here, where details of the architecture of Honorverse warships become significant plot elements. Also we get a look at Manticore in its very early years, with some characters making the decisions that will grow it into the powerful star kingdom of Honor Harrington’s lifetime.

For these reason, if no others, Honorverse completists will want to read this one too.


  1. I don’t know the level of collaboration in this book, but I do know that this can very considerably. For example in the Belisarious Darke/Flint collaboration, Drake wrote a very detailed outline that Flint then fleshed out and then there was a good deal of back and forth and I know some other collaborations have had a good deal of back and forth with Author A doing one chunk of scenes and author B doing another and then they merge the two. OTOH the Ringo/Kratman ones were 100% Kratman with Ringo there simply because Kratman was playing in his world and was a bigger selling author.

    1. >For example in the Belisarious Darke/Flint collaboration, Drake wrote a very detailed outline that Flint then fleshed out

      Yeah, that was more than a decade ago. I read those, and if you’re familiar with both authors (I was) you can spot both their traces. More recently, the “second guy did the writing” rule has become much more reliable.

      In this book it’s really obviously Zahn’s writing style rather than Weber’s.

  2. So wait – is this a David Weber book with a character who isn’t either a) a noble, upstanding, dutiful, steel-jawed, flint-eyed protagonist with a minor temper problem so they’re *totally* not a Mary Sue, or b) a venal, corrupt, megalomaniacal, cowardly, capital-V Villain?

    And I’d figure Zahn is a big enough name that he might well rate actual co-author status, instead of merely the old “I’ll sell the books if you write them” deal.

  3. I highly recommend Zahn’s novel _Cascade Point_. Interesting ideas about the physics, excellent characters who are both plausible and likable but with flaws, plot tension, etc. If all his fiction was as good as this and _Spinneret_, I would watch closely for his next work.

    1. >I highly recommend Zahn’s novel _Cascade Point_.

      I, too, thought that was very good. Alas, Zahn has not to my knowledge quite reached that level of originality and vigor since. After a very promising start he has seemed to settle into a career as a relatively unambitious midlist writer, mostly content to write endless media tie-ins rather than break new ground. He’s a solid craftsman, though.

  4. How versed with the Honorverse do you need to be to enjoy/understand what’s going on? I read On Basilisk Station a while back and nothing more in the series – it didn’t tickle my fancy. I do like Zahn however and might give this a shot.

  5. Shouldn’t it be in “Review” (and perhaps with “Science Fiction” tag) and not “General” category?

    BTW. how difficult would be to add the list of categories to this blog sidebar, e.g. above “Archives” block?

  6. I’ve only read the sample chapters (I have a hold in at the local library and will be first to get a copy when it goes on shelf), but I’ve noticed a difference in style between the bildungsroman sections focusing on Travis (which I’ll agree are mostly or entirely Zahn’s work) and the political scenes that focus on his brother, which feel far more like typical Weber. I would surmise that those parts of the book were either written or tightly scripted by Weber.

    1. >I would surmise that those parts of the book were either written or tightly scripted by Weber.

      That is quite possible, yes.

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