On Basilisk Station

On Basilisk StationOn Basilisk StationOrder this bookStory: Commander Honor Harrington, a promising if unconventional up-and-coming command officer in the Royal Manticoran Navy, arrives aboard her new command – the outdated cruiser Fearless, whose armaments have been stripped to make way for an experimental new weapon, the grav lance, which proves to be effective in fleet exercises…but only until its first use, after which the Fearless is pummeled in the fleet’s wargames. As punishment, Harrington, the Fearless, and her new crew are assigned to Basilisk Station – a backwater customs inspection posting on the frontier of Manticore space usually reserved for officers and ships fallen from favor. Worse yet, the ship currently commanding the Basilisk Station operation is due for a refit, leaving Fearless and her limited resources to cover an impossible area of space. When Honor deploys her crew to cover all of the bases and conduct the routine inspections, she is met with protests – apparently, no officer dumped at this posting has ever actually carried out the inspection duties. And that suits the neighboring rival government of the People’s Republic of Haven just fine – they’re planning to take Basilisk Station, the planet Medusa, and Basilisk’s strategically valuable wormhole junction away from Manticore. But Haven’s plan is dependent on Manticore’s long record of lax customs enforcement – and no one counted on Honor Harrington and the HMS Fearless uncovering the invasion plan, much less single-handedly stopping it.

Review: The kickoff of David Weber’s cult favorite Honor Harrington series, “On Basilisk Station” has a lot of ground to cover, from setting up the characters, the universe, their intricate political situation and the history that led to all of the above. The manner in which Weber accomplishes this task is something I would describe as elegant clumsiness. The author has worked out his universe, and why it is the way it is, in painstaking detail; if there’s a single fault, it’s frequently Weber’s timing in putting the story on pause to deliver enormous chunks of backstory. Make no mistake, he picks points in the story where the background information is directly related to the action at hand, but this doesn’t alter the pacing-killing fact that he puts the book’s climactic space battle on hold several times to tell you about, for example, the evolution of FTL travel in the Honorverse. It’s interesting stuff, but it’s appendix stuff (and the book still has an appendix containing more background information!), especially when the voice in the back of my skull is screaming “But there’s a bloody great space battle going on right now! Why are you telling me this now?”

If you can get past that stylistic quirk – and the degree to which it frustrates will probably vary from reader to reader – “Basilisk Station” is a great chunk of action-packed, character-filled military SF. (And this coming from someone who isn’t even necessarily a huge fan of military SF.) The strategies and their consequences, whether in blood or politics, are worked out well, and they’re smart stuff – just because Honor hasn’t worked out what the Big Picture is yet doesn’t lessen the character at all.

And about that character: it’s no small wonder that Honor Harrington fan sites have been crawling with suggestions of casting Claudia Christian in the long-rumored, almost-inevitable movie based on the book. Now, to be fair, it’s much more a similarity of character than appearance, but Honor Harrington could wipe the walls with Kathryn Janeway and probably clean up any spots she missed with Susan Ivanova. This book doesn’t really give her any token moments of overt femininity, and it doesn’t need to. She cares deeply about her crew, never fully getting comfortable until all of the pieces are in place and the relationships are worked out, but she also drives them to their breaking point. None of the characters are so outlandish that you can’t believe them as bridge officers on a starship; their differences of opinion lie within the bounds of military discipline, interpretation of orders, and the somewhat uneasy honeymoon period that accompanies working under a new commanding officer. I can honestly say I look forward to the later books in the series.

So that just leaves one question, getting back to all those rumors – is Honor Harrington ready for the big screen? Without a doubt she is, though the biggest obstacle facing a movie or TV adaptation is shared with the book: if it’s awkward to slow a book down to drop in a bunch of backstory, imagine doing that to a movie. And yet not covering all of that backstory would inevitably have some decrying it as a Star Trek or Babylon 5 clone, which would be doing “On Basilisk Station” a great disservice.

Year: 1993
Author: David Weber
Publisher: Baen
Pages: 464