A Point of Honor
Dorothy J. Heydt
published in 1998
A Point of Honor is the seventh book I’ve read in my Year of Reading Women challenge and the first I’ve read before. When I was setting up my reading list last year I wanted to include not just feminist sf classics or books to challenge myself, but also some old favourites that deserve a wider audience, of which this is one. I had read A Point of Honor when it was published back in 1998, after it had gotten some buzz on the old rec.arts.sf.written Usenet group, back in the day when that was still the number one science fiction hangout on the internet. The author herself was one of the group’s regulars, well respected and liked, one reason why I tried out her novel. This wasn’t the first nor the last time I did that: other writers I got to know through rec.arts.sf.written were Jo Walton, Brenda Clough and Matt Ruff, to name just three.
A Point of Honor is one of only two novels Dorothy Heydt wrote, the other being The Interior Life, a fantasy novel she wrote under the pseudonym of Katherine Blake. Apart from that she has only written short stories, some two dozen in total, the last ones a couple of years ago. None of her work is currently in print that I know off. A pity, but unfortunately an all too common fate for science fiction writers as their books for one reason or another fail to reach an audience. Which is another reason why I wanted to talk about this book, to bring some attention to an unfairly overlooked writer and do for A Point of Honor what Jo Walton did last year for The Interior Life.
Sir Mary de Courcy’s troubles all began the day she defeated the mysterious Grey Knight of the Sea in jousting and he paid off his ransom by deeding her his manor of St. Chad’s-on-Wye. First the plane from where the VR tournament had taken place is hit by a light aircraft and almost crashes as somebody had fiddled with air traffic control, then on the way home from the airport her little electric car is driven off the road by a truck and to top it all off when she finally is home her security system wakes her up to alert her to an intruder in the house… Once is happenstance, two times a coincidence, three times is enemy action, but is somebody really trying to kill Mary Craven for what her VR personality had done? And if so, why?
Sure, as Sir Mary de Courcy she is the reigning champion of the Winchester lists, one of the best players of Chivalry, good enough to make a living from it, but nobody special. She certainly hasn’t made anybody angry enough in the game to try and kill her outside surely, yet the very next day, while she’s teaching some newbies the ropes of VR and Chivalry, somebody not only puts a heart medication patch on her arm that could’ve killed her had she not noticed it immediately, but also stalks and mutilates her VR persona…
Luckily at this point she gets help, in the form of Brother Gregory, who in his mundane guise of Greg Hampton is one of the original hackers who build the world of Chivalry. Talking it through, Mary and Gregory decide that the best thing to do is for Mary to stay with Gregory in his secure flat, while the two of them go on a quest in Chivalry to her new manor of St. Chad’s-on-Wye to see if they can find something wrong. And they do of course, as it turns out the world of Chivalry is much bigger than it’s supposed to be and has some …interesting… links to other VR worlds. There is some sort of conspiracy going on in VR and Mary has stumbled right over it: the only thing for it to get her life back is to unravel it and bring it to light.
A Point of Honor was published in 1998, at a time when broadband internet was in its infancy, the web hadn’t become quite synonymous with the internet yet and porn was something you downloaded one fuzzy jpeg at a time. So it’s no wonder Heydt’s vision of what Virtual Reality would look like is a bit dated. People need surgical implants to engage with VR and data disks to keep their identities on. The way Chivalry is set up is quite different from how real life massive multiplayer games like World of Warcraft are run, much more elitair and explicitly structured on the Society for Creative Anachronism. For me at least this datedness brought on a bit of nostalgia for the nineties internet, a simpler time…
A Point of Honor is an enjoyable, light adventure science fiction story that sadly did not get the readership it deserved, despite the support of rec.arts.sf.written. There was the possibility of a sequel hinted at in the story, but this never happened. A good novel to look out for secondhand and somebody could do worse than to bring this out as an ebook.