On Basilisk Station by David Weber
Mass Market Paperback, 1993
David Weber is one of the most popular and prolific Science Fiction writers in the field today. Sure, he’s dabbled in some fantasy and one could argue his Safehold borders on fantasy. Though Weber’s first novel was published in 1990 - Insurrection - a collaboration with Steve White on a novel based on the Starfire board game, and his first solo novel – Mutineer's Moon –published in 1991, it was On Basilisk Station that really gave an indication of greater things to come. It can be considered a true launch of Weber’s prolific writing career, a renaissance of Military SF and the series that (along with Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan books) helped to cement Baen’s place on the FSF publishing map big time.
On Basilisk Station introduces readers to Commander Honor Harrington of the Royal Manticoran Navy upon her graduation from the Academy. Despite much promise, she is given a ship that is stripped down so suffers defeat and is assigned (more like banished) to the titular Basilisk Station. The only relief is that her nemesis from the Academy, who is in charge of the Basilisk Station, leaves to have his ship repaired thus leaving Harrington in charge of the problematic station. Honor soon discovers much clandestine and black market activity on the Station which had been allowed to occur for years as those who run the station, for lack of a better term, turned a blind eye. It is here that Weber begins to further flesh out his future universe, hinting at the divide present in a galactic society. Furthermore, this novel begins to establish the two primary powers – the aforementioned Star Kingdom of Manticore and the Republic of Haven.
Since this novel is set in space and deals with spaceships, a space navy, and a space station, a space battle is inevitable and rollicking. The last 100 pages or so depicting the conflict was terrific reading. Perhaps what made the book so enjoyable for me; however, was Weber’s wonderful handling of characters in tense situations. For example, there's a lot of tension in the air between Honor Harrington and one of her officers, particularly her Executive Officer McKeon. Weber depicts it very well and the resolution of that tension comes off nicely and plausibly. The level of respect that grew from their initial tension was as emotionally satisfying (perhaps more so for me) than the thrilling space battle. Tangentially, Weber relays a great deal of information about the universe set up through narrative info dumps as well as dialogue between the characters. The term info dump often holds an air of negative connotation, but in this case, it worked very well for me.
Weber openly acknowledges the Honor Harrington novels are basically Horatio Hornblower novels IN SPACE, but that does not deter from any enjoyment I experienced reading On Basilisk Station. Another admirable aspect of what Weber does with his characters in this novel is the balance between believable and heroically over the top. My only problem with his book is the somewhat rocky start. The first few chapters were a little scattershot, in terms of setting up the remainder of the novel. However, once Honor took center stage there was no turning back for and On Basilisk Station turned into a truly entertaining, engaging, and addictive novel.
I've got the second book on the pile and I'll likely make my way through the series over time. I recommend this novel for a lot of reasons, likeable/plausible characters, great action, superb space battles and if for nothing else, to get a glimpse into where things started for one of the leading Military SF writers of the late 20th and early 21st Centuries.
© 2011 Rob H. Bedford
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