Interview by Alyce Wilson
How important to your writing is the historical research you've done? How does your love of history connect to your writing?
Well, it connects at every level. I didn't do any specific historical research for the Honor Harrington books. They're basically based on information, concepts and so forth that are simply part of my everyday, day-to-day life, from my love of history and my studying.
I'd say that I come from a historian's perspective on all of the science fiction that I write. And, for that matter, in the fantasy that I've written.
Does it help make it that much more realistic? Does knowing how things happened in the past inform your view of what might happen in the future?
Well, when I build the matrix in which these books are to be set, I build it the way that a historian would build it, studying it.
If I'm going to study 17th century Britain, what are the aspects of 17th century Britain that I'm going to have to look at? There's government. There's economy. There's major social movements in England. There's the beginning of the move towards colonization of the New World. There's the English Civil War in 1642.
So when I set out to structure the Star Kingdom of Manticore, I started by structuring the things that an historian would look for, studying the Star Kingdom. And it was my sense of history as a living, changing thing that produced the template for the Star Kingdom.
One of the points that people miss continually is that every human being on the face of the planet is in the midst of a dynamically changing situation. It may not look that way. You may look around, and things may seem pretty fixed. This is the way it's always been. There's no real prospect of change. The United States will always be here. Well, that's what they thought in 1859. In 1860, it didn't look so sure. In 1865, it was again.
And the fact that where you are right now, the things that look the most solid right now, are actually the result of dynamic pressures pushing against each other. Therefore, when one of those pressures shifts, the entire paradigm transforms.
And I think that historians are, or ought to be, more aware of that than many people are. And I'm certainly aware of it when I structure the societies. The People's Republic of Haven, when you read it, is definitely the bad guys. But if you look carefully at the books, you'll begin to find out that it started out being the good guys when it was the Republic of Haven, and it got into trouble as the People's Republic of Haven.
Then you have the Committee of Public Safety. Now you've got the Republic of Haven back again. It's all one continuum: growing, changing, shifting. And the Star Kingdom is growing, shifting, changing. The crown is ascendant over the House of Lords now, and the Star Kingdom, which has been one binary star system for 400 years, is expanding hugely, and it's going to have massive consequences for Manticoran society and the economy and everything else. Some will be good; some will be bad. But that's where the historian, and the historical training, to me, comes in.
I think that that is what helps to produce the sense of solidity to the reader, the sense that this is a well-developed, fully realized universe.
Somebody once said that most fantasy novels, if you look at the weather, take place on a planet the size of Connecticut, because of the differences in the weather. If you look at my Bahzell novels [Oath of Swords (1994), The War God's Own (1998), Wind Rider's Oath (2004)], they start out in late summer, early fall. They slog through the middle of a high plains winter, and they come out on the southern shore of the continent with the water warm enough to wade in and swim in. Because I've got a continental land mass, and I keep track of where they are when they're going across it.
What about when you're writing historical fiction, and you're moving from a universe which you may be approaching from an historian's point-of-view but is completely your own, to one which is based, at least in part, on things that have happened?
I haven't done a whole lot of that yet. The Excalibur Alternative (2001) was probably the biggest. And even there, I cheated. I started out before the Battle of Crecy and the Battle of Agincourt, but then I took them out of that matrix. And so I took an historical entity in the form of the English troops and threw it into a science fiction environment. By the time I brought them back to Earth, Earth had been developing long enough the Earth was a science-fiction environment, as well. So it's not like 1633 or 1632 would have been.
In terms of 1633 (2002), the collaboration that Eric [Flint] and I did, to be totally honest, Eric had done most of the historical research in that before I ever came along, because 1632 is his universe. And so when he writes in my universe, he accommodates himself to my literary furniture. And when I write in his, I accommodate myself to his furniture. And he was the one who put the basic furniture in place for 1633, and he has a huge support team helping him do that, over on Baen's Bar.
How does that collaboration work with Eric? What do you do?
Basically, we will discuss thought concepts. The person whose universe it is will say, "This is what I need this book to do. This is how I figured we'd do it." The collaborator outside that universe will say, "Well, OK, that makes sense to me. What about if we do this or that?" And it will be accepted or rejected. It's kind of a consensual thing, except that the person who owns the universe has a deciding vote, ultimately.
And then we decide what part of this book do I need you to write? For example, 1634 (2007), I basically wrote the naval portions of the book. And the big battle up in the Baltic where Hans was killed, that was mine.
And in 1634, probably two-thirds of the book is done by Eric. Because I'll be dealing with the actual naval campaign in the Baltic, and he'll be dealing with the rest of the political ramifications.
And he may say to me, "OK, Dave, here's what I need to accomplish. Tell me what John Simpson's naval capabilities to pull it off are going to be."
And I'll say, "Oh, we can do it this way; we can do it that way; we can do it the other way. Which of these works best for you dramatically?"
And he'll think about it, and he'll say, "What if we did it way number three and we tweaked here, and we tweaked there? Would that make sense from a naval perspective?"
And I'm like, "No, but we could get to the same thing by tweaking over here and over there."
But a collaboration is supposed to work, in my opinion, by providing the strengths of both writers to the mix. I'm not really interested in doing a collaboration with someone unless I think the work is going to be better than either of us would have done on our own, or I have something to learn from the other writer, or I have something to teach to the other writer in the process. I'm not interested in collaboration solely for the sake of increasing output. I would be interested in doing a collaboration with someone who I thought was a strong writer, if it would let me get a story told I wouldn't be able to tell otherwise.
Collaboration, whether it's with Eric or John [Ringo], is vastly easier these days because of e-mail.
So what are the actual mechanics like? Do you write your portion of it and show it to the other person? Do you get feedback along the way?
We show each other everything we write, and the other person would say, "What if you did it this way?" We may insert type. Mine will be colored green, Eric's will be colored red. We throw it back and forth. And the person whose conception it is has the ultimate voice on how it's going to be done.
But to be totally honest, it would be very difficult, I think, for
Eric or for me to look at any given passage in 1633 and say,
"This is all mine. This is all Dave's." And literally, to
remember which passages would fall into that category would be very