I don’t believe I’ve reviewed On Basilisk Station before and with several long flights ahead of me I may well take the opportunity to review several old favourites.
On Basilisk Station is the first of the Honor Harrington series by David Weber and is a fine introduction to his British Royal Navy IN SPACE! series. In many ways On Basilisk Station highlights both the best, and the worst of Mr Weber’s writing, and is certainly a good guide to whether a reader will enjoy the series as a whole. The novel starts with Honor assuming her first light cruiser command, HMS Fearless, only to discover that her ship has been crippled by being “refitted” into a test bed for an experimental weapon. Then things get worse when the politics of the fleet spill onto Honor and her ship is banished to the “punishment” assignment detail of Basilisk Station.
Then things get worse again when Honor is screwed over by her aristocratic “superior officer” Pavel Young and finds herself with a nearly impossible assignment as the Senior Officer on Basilisk Station.
This is probably the part of the novel that, more than any other, sells the Honorverse as a series to stick with. Whatever his other faults as a writer, Mr Weber simply excels at character work. The chapters where Honor rallies her dispirited crew to their duty and honour, to taking pride in succeeding against incredible odds simply sing.
Less impressive (to me at least) is the technical infodumping of how the universe has been put together to make 18th/19th century naval tactics work in three dimensional space. I admire the cleverness with which the Honorverse has been constructed; as far as I know it has always been internally consistent and used to good effect within the stories themselves.
But do I really need to know all of the excruciatingly precise details? And do I really need a several thousand word diversion to that just as the major battle is about to begin?
Another complaint, one that remains valid for several volumes, is that the politics of the Honorverse are at best simplistic. Much of the real complexity of societies and politics really doesn’t start appearing in the Honorverse until Eric Flint starts collaborating on the series and/or Mr Weber starts transitioning Honor to being a political figure herself.
That said, On Basilisk Station is still a tightly edited opening novel for a series, and one that introduces the very first Death Ride With Honor Harrington (TM), where Honor takes a brutally out matched force into battle and wins anyway at great cost.
The latter is one thing that needs to be respected. I believe that there’s an interview where Mr Weber basically said that writing where only the bad guys lose, or suffer casualties, isn’t military fiction, it’s military pornography. And he refuses to do that.
War is hell, there’s always a price to pay, and the price is always higher than you know. Mr Weber may be writing military science fiction, but he’s not prepared to let any of his readers ever lose sight of that. This is where the superb character work that On Basilisk Station is built on pays off: you care when the characters introduced earlier meet their ends. Yes, Honor’s Band of Brothers is founded in On Basilisk Station, but none of them are ever safe.
With that in mind On Basilisk Station delivers a solid ending to a strong first series novel whilst doing the necessary legwork to set up the series for future installments. I don’t think it’s the best in the series, but it’s certainly up there in the rankings.