On Basilisk Station (Honor Harrington 1), David Weber

Baen, 1993, 422 pages, C$9.99 mmpb, ISBN 0-671-72163-1

I’ve been eyeing David Weber’s Honor Harrington series for a while now, feeling as if I should give it a try while simultaneously being intimidated by the series’ growing number of volumes. I kept buying the books at second-hand stores, hoping to complete the dozen-book set before diving in. But that could have taken a while. Happily, Baen neatly solved the problem with the tenth novel in the Honor Harrington series, War of Honor: The C$41 hardcover included a CD-ROM containing, yep, the whole series (and more) in electronic format. No more worries about missing volumes; I could just start reading what I had and “fill in the blanks” with the electronic version on my trusty PDA.

First stop, then: On Basilisk Station, Honor Harrington’s first adventure.

Who’s Honor? She’s a starship captain who, at the start of this first novel, assumes her first command, a decrepit cruiser optimistically christened Fearless. But Honor is the embodiment of her ship’s name and at the first training exercise opportunity she gets, she severely embarrasses a cocky superior by beating him at his own game.

Mistake. Before long, she’s exiled to a trivial faraway post, where she meets an old nemesis who -in cowardly fashion- flees and leaves her to perform a wide variety of tasks with almost no assets. What others would consider impossible, Honor sees as opportunity: before long, she shapes up everything in fine fighting form. But don’t be bored yet; an enemy attack looms…

A lot of things are obvious from On Basilisk Station: First, that it’s a classical underdog-against-all-odds story featuring a plucky heroine who deserves our unqualified admiration. Second, that it’s a direct descendant of the Horatio Hornblower naval adventure stories. Third, that’s it’s completely successful as an introductory volume to the Honor Harrington series.

I’m hooked, no doubt about it: Weber writes honest military SF, sure, but unlike too many of his immediate colleagues, he never forgets that he’s primarily telling a story, not recreating a tactical engagement for the enjoyment of the armchair strategists in the audience. His secondary characters take a while to come in focus, but they do and Honor Harrington herself is the type of archetypical heroine worth absolute devotion. Similarities with Lois McMaster Bujold’s Miles Vorkosigan go beyond the fact that they’re both published by Baen books.

At least Weber’s political prejudices are obvious. The evil Havenites have a policy of expansion made inevitable by “almost two T-centuries of deficit spending to shore up an increasingly insolvent welfare state.” [P.52] Tee-hee! Then there’s the not-so-good Liberals, whose dedication to maintaining a military presence on Basilisk Station is traitorously suspect. The political system in which Honor lives is adapted directly from the English’s parliamentary monarchy: a nod to Hornblower and C.S. Forrester, sure, but also a rather convenient setting for true-blood Anglo-Saxon space opera… but I’ll hold off on any potentially embarrassing comments on the ethnicity of the series until I’ve read more of it. At least the complete gender integration of Honor’s universe is a laudable assumption.

In short, On Basilisk Station is addictive reading. I’m definitely in for the duration of the Harrington series. At one book per month (and, presumably, one review per month), I should reach War of Honor by October 2003. Stay tuned!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *