BOOK REVIEW: On Basilisk Station, by David Weber

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Publisher: Baen

Series: Honor Harrington (#1)

Genre: Space Opera/Military SF

Pages: 419

Publication Date: 1993

Verdict: 4/5

Honor Harrington has been given an impossible task. Protect a colony, avert a war and not get killed. It’s obvious she’s been set up to fail. But Honor is nothing if not determined . . .

David Weber is one of the big names in American SF, and if his books were any easier to get hold of in the UK, I’m sure I’d have read one by now. Probably all of them, judging by how much I enjoyed On Basilisk Station.  If ever there was a book that captured the essence of American Space Opera, it’s this one. Honor Harrington is one of the names that I associate most with Baen publishing, and it’s easy to see why she’s become so iconic. If anything, the book is too American, but the gung-ho attitude is all part of the charm.

On Basilisk Station starts off with one of my favourite tropes. The inexperienced officer is given their first command and sent to safeguard a remote outpost. here things are complicated by the previous commander literally abandoning Honor to her fate due to a long-standing hatred between the two. Honor, left to her own devices, must somehow patrol an entire star system with just one small ship to do defend it. There is of course a great deal of politicking and arguments among the crew – some of which is Honor’s fault, but overall they are all on the same side. It’s a standard formula, but Weber gets his money’s worth from it.

The science is a good deal harder than you’d expect of a Space Opera. Planets have years of differing lengths, gravity is taken into account during ship manoeuvres, and the sheer scale of space plays a crucial role. Weber clearly loves his military technology, and a lot of time is dedicated to explaining how each element of the ship’s armament works. If you’re someone who hates infodumps, fear not. It’s worked in naturally. But there is a lot of information to take in.

Honor aside, there are not that many characters. At least none that we get to know in any detail. The crew are largely painted in broad strokes, with each having a single distinctive characteristic. If this were a standalone, I’d probably judge it more harshly for that. but as the first in a long series (14 main novels at time of writing), I’m willing to be more lenient. I trust that we’ll see more character development as the series goes on.

The worldbuilding really reminds me of David Drake’s RCN series. Modelled on European powers in the great age of sail, with colonies and honour duels and everything you’d expect in a Hornblower novel. I’m not the sort to get hung up on post-imperialism, colonialism or other -isms that are supposedly bad, but if you are not keen on those ideas, you may wish to give Weber and Drake a miss. These are not pieces of historical criticism. They’re fun adventure novels with a strong military aesthetic. And that’s why they’re so good. There’s an innocence to them, unconcerned with modern politics even as they relish in the dastardly deeds and dodgy deals of days past.

 

Overall, this is a strong start to a modern classic of a series. I can only hope the rest of the series is as good.

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