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Hornblower in Space

Entry updated 28 April 2021. Tagged: Theme.

Sea stories of the Napoleonic war era, especially the Horatio Hornblower sequence by C S Forester, have long appealed to sf fans. Obvious parallels with Spaceship voyages include the frail and crowded vessel in a lethal environment, an assumed need for tight naval discipline, and a profusion of technical Terminology. Walt Willis in his column "Fanorama" (February 1958 Nebula) said of the Hornblower stories that "... they appealed to something very similar to the sense of wonder, and equally the soul of what science fiction should be, the thrill of discovery." The Aubrey/Maturin naval-historical sequence by Patrick O'Brian (1916-2000) later became at least equally popular in sf circles.

Sea stories were duly echoed in sf, a notable example being the extensive John Grimes/Rim World series by A Bertram Chandler, whose clever but moody hero was avowedly inspired by Hornblower. In David Feintuch's Nick Seafort space-navy novels (see Military SF), beginning with Midshipman's Hope (1994), Seafort echoes several aspects of Hornblower's personality: mathematical ability, personal attractiveness unrealized by himself, concealed qualms about the brutality of the naval regulations he must enforce, and (here very much amplified) a tendency towards self-doubt and guilt. Far less tormented is the protagonist of David Weber's Honor Harrington sequence beginning with On Basilisk Station (1993), who shows Hornblower's tactical ingenuity but in other areas plays against type by being female, mixed-race, poor at maths, and possessed of perfect pitch rather than tone-deafness (Hornblower's single physical defect). Looking back to Hornblower's own prototype Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson (1758-1805), Harrington loses an eye and, later, an arm. Weber additionally devotes some effort to Imaginary-Science justification for Spaceships which manoeuvre like sailing vessels and must position themselves to fire broadsides rather than deploying mounted weapons to cover every angle of approach. Another woman with a flavour of Hornblower is Admiral Barbara MacEwan in Walter H Hunt's Dark Wing series.

Harry Harrison's "Captain Honario Harpplayer, R.N." (March 1963 F&SF) is a broad sf Parody of the original C S Forester stories, whose colour-blind captain is unable to perceive the pressed Alien crewman "Mr Green" as being, in fact, green. Captain Picard of Star Trek: The Next Generation has a touch of Hornblower which Captain Kirk in the original Star Trek lacked. Further sf novels with an old-fashioned naval flavour, though without specific reference to Hornblower, include The Mote in God's Eye (1974) by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle; Yoshiki Tanaka's series Ginga Eiyū Densetsu ["Legend of the Galactic Heroes"] opening with Reimeiki ["Dawn"] (1982), whose interstellar wars are full of Napoleonic echoes; and Her Majesty's Starship (1998) by Ben Jeapes. Kenneth Bulmer, writing as Adam Hardy, produced his own 14-volume Fox sequence of Hornbloweresque historical sea stories beginning with The Press Gang (1973).

Less specifically pegged to the Napoleonic era, Spaceships which are literal sailing ships feature in Star Winds (1978) by Barrington J Bayley, The Urth of the New Sun (1987) by Gene Wolfe and Harm's Way (1993) by Colin Greenland. The two films titled Treasure Planet (1982; 2002) are loose spacefaring adaptations of Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island (1883). [DRL]

see also: Imperialism.

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