May 05 2015

On Basilisk Station by David Weber

Introduction

The Honor Harrington series (the name of our heroine and main character in the series), also known as the Honorverse, is a Military Science Fiction series by author David Weber. On Basilisk Station, published in 1992, is the first book in the series, which already spans thirteen books and a few spin offs.

Setting

The honorverse occurs on our universe, in around century 41 our reckoning. A universe where humanity has dispersed thorough the stars (Both before and after finding Faster Than Light technology) and established homes in numerous planets on different star systems, and evolved into large and complex but clearly distinct political-social affiliations grouped mostly around star systems.

Characters

The series centers strongly around Honor Stephanie Alexander-Harrington, a young officer of the Royal Manticoran Navy, whom we meet as a newly raised Commander, taking command of HMS Fearless, a light cruiser on the Royal Manticoran Navy.

Weber devotes a good large portion of the book at developing the internal thought process and psychology of Honor, developing her as an almost utopic leader, the pure image of an effective leader who looks to drive everyone under her command to give the best of themselves, and a guide who will sit with her underlings as equals (as much as military rank, which she seldom uses to push people, would allow) and gently push them to share ideas and take initiative on the running of the ship. Honor rarely pulls rank and she doesn’t micromanage, but it’s obvious she expects only the best effort from her subordinates, and views anything less than heroic efforts as a lack of self integrity and a sign of the person cheating themselves and others. Genially, with one exception, the whole ship responds by rising to their best for her in a manner that is so constantly perfect that becomes emotionally draining, and shaming, to read at times.

Honor also exhibits almost perfect morality and adherence to military rules and ideals, thankfully pulling from perfection and showing just enough pragmatism in the nick of time, and using her drive for perfection and desire of recognition to make the character still believable.

The only other character that is developed to a level, if not close at least somewhat comparable, to Honor’s is Lieutenant commander Alistar McKeon, first in command to Honor on HMS Fearless, and whose internal plot arc revolves mostly around his struggle with his mostly unexplained and seemingly unmanageable resentment towards Honor, the redemption of which marks a slightly cliche if enjoyable moment in the book.

The only area in which Weber leaves me seriously craving for deeper development is around alien (to Earth) life forms in his universe.

On one hand, treecats, like Honor’s inseparable companion Nimitz, hold an interesting niche as pets who both exhibit higher than normal sentience traits and sociological insertion into human civilization than pets in real life, yet being pets I think Weber did reach a good balance having Nimitz’s presence felt, and not stepping into the more artificial “Look at this, it’s a treecat, look at the treecat, see the special animal I made” stance some writers exploit. Yet as a lover of cats, and frustrated zoologist, I must admit, I wouldn’t mind a smaller novella, or fake sociozoological analysis stint onto treecats outside of the main Honorverse story arc/setting.

Yet where I do feel the book is seriously lacking, is around the sentient alien species indigenous to Basilisk. An interestingly non (entirely) anthropomorphic species to which the author and the humans he writes pays such little regards that it almost feels like we’re dealing with normal humans with a strange name and a passing mention of a third arm.

This species is not the main plot of the book, and certainly I do not expect a full anthropological paper on them, yet the dismissive way they’re mentioned makes me feel they’re an artifact the author was not sure to include in the verse, and somehow might still regret having come up with at times. While it’s true that not every human will launch into a deep philosophical analysis and dissertation on the meaning of nonhuman sentience, it’s also true that it’s existence will have a noticeable impact into the humans on this verse and thus the narrative around them.

Story development

The story development is pretty good for a first book in a series. Weber introduces Honor to new circumstances to herself which allows the reader to take an easy hitchhike alongside the protagonist into the playing field of the story, creating an introduction to our surroundings and environment that feels natural and not at all forced. He has also mastered a good blend of story and back-story, dropping elements from Honor’s (and the setting’s) past here and there thorough the evolving arc in manners that tie to the current story we’re following and works the background information we need to form the characters and events into easy to follow segways which do not rip the reader from the occurring action.

While this could be considered a surprise reveal story, if much softer a surprise than say, Ender’s Game, for example, the development of it does not draw onto many artificial elements, cliffhangers or soap opera-ish, so that its progression feels natural and plausible.

As someone who has a cursed knack for guessing a book’s plot’s ending, I was pleasantly surprised to enjoy a surprise reveal that did catch me partly off guard, but in a much amenable “Oh why didn’t I see that” manner rather than a “Oh, that can’t be” forced reveal.

One thing I do have to warn the reader about is that Weber seems to share a mentality with George R.R. Martin. His hand doesn’t waver at killing beloved or important characters, though, like Martin, never in a spiteful or dagger turning manner but just as part of a natural and realistic narrative.

All in all, “On Basilisk Station” was a thoroughly enjoyable, and enjoyed, book. It introduced me to a series, of which if I do not read the extensive whole available I’ll surely partake again, most surely more than once. It’s not a light read, and it needs you to be able to at least coexist with the military setting, but it’s not a burden to read either, it’s logical and well written, with language that lays easily in a very enjoyable middle between simple English and deep and thoughtful acts of acrobatic word-smithing (meaning, this book is not written in very plain simplistic English, but it’s not fanciful and show-offish either), and it will provide for sure several good hours of entertainment, with well timed emotional ups and downs, and an ending that will not leave you resentful of the author or the work.

Technical data

Book: On Basilisk Station
Series: Honor Harrington (Honorverse)
Author: David Weber
ISBN: 0-671-57793-X
Date: 1992
Publisher: Baen Books

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