Thu 1 Mar 2012
A Beautiful Friendship
by David Weber
David Weber is an exceptionally well-known writer among those who read science fiction, most particularly for his military science fiction series featuring Honor Harrington. The series spans Honor’s career in the Royal Manticoran Navy from midshipman to Grand Duchess and Admiral. And wherever Honor went, she was accompanied by her treecat, Nimitz, usually riding on her specially-padded shoulder.
Honor was born on Sphinx, a planet in the Star Kingdom of Manticore–a world settled by colonists from Earth. Treecats were the native sentient species on Sphinx, six-legged, telepathic, and looking something like domestic cats with very long prehensile tails. Treecats and humans sometimes formed an empathic lifelong bond.
A Beautiful Friendship is the story of Stephanie Harrington, one of Honor’s ancestors, and the colonist who made first contact with the treecats. This is a coming-of-age story, showing interactions between human and treecat even as Stephanie is growing up and trying to figure out what to do with herself and her future. It’s a colonization story, set on a pioneer planet that still holds many dangers, with people exploring and learning about their new home. And it’s also a classic “first-contact” story, handling the complicated twists and turns that occur when the colonists realize that they share the planet with another sentient species–and that species was there first!
Most of the story is told from Stephanie’s point of view–this is her story, make no mistake. Occasional scenes and chapters fill in gaps using some of the adults as viewpoint characters where absolutely necessary to the plot. The other main viewpoint character is Lionheart, Stephanie’s treecat, or as he is referred to by his clan, Climbs Quickly. The chapters from his point of view, explaining treecat society and motivations is a real treat. The treecats find “two-legs” very confusing. For those familiar with Carole Nelson Douglas’s Midnight Louie mysteries, these chapters are a similar read to those from Louie’s viewpoint (a Las Vegas private eye with four black paws–see here for a review of Midnight Louie’s latest).
While Stephanie is an exceptionally bright girl, she is also quick-to-anger, and fiercely protective of those she loves. When she is in trouble, she looks for a logical solution to the problem, and really tries to think outside the box. But sometimes there isn’t an easy or quick solution, and she ended up frustrated, but that made the book a more satisfying read as she worked her way through more complex and layered problems.
I particularly enjoyed the insight into treecat society and their description of human activities–“Why should they need a nest place so large?” I also enjoyed the brief forays into the economics of colonization, and the concept of aided immigration: paying for your passage to the colony and earning the right to vote sooner versus having the government cover your passage and then paying taxes for several years before you voted in planetary elections.
While clearly aimed at and marketed as a young adult book, A Beautiful Friendship is suitable for people of all ages, most especially those who have shared a special relationship with a feline at some point in their lives.
A Beautiful Friendship is based on a short story of the same title, which appeared in the anthologies More Than Honor and Worlds of Weber.