Classics: On Basilisk Station

on basilisk station On Basilisk Station by David Weber

Publisher: Baen Books
Date (original): April 1993
Genre: Science Fiction / Space Opera
Series: Book One of Honor Harrington, Honorverse
Sequel: The Honor of the Queen
My rating: I’d go there again!

This space opera opens as Honor Harrington, a commander in the Manticoran Navy, transfers to her new command. Her ship is small and old, but still space-worthy, and she settles in to her new position optimistically, even though the ship’s armaments have been completely re-vamped, and not in a promising way.

Unfortunately, her ambition is blocked by an Admiral trying to avoid losing face after a radical but disappointing demonstration in the ship’s first wargames. Harrington and her ship get sent to the back of beyond, a place called Basilisk Station, which is the place Her Majesty’s Navy sends its screw-ups and oddballs to rusticate.

The plot thickens when Honor’s superior officer, nominally in charge of the fleet at Basilisk Station, excuses himself (and his ship) from duty on claims that his ship needs repairs. This leaves Honor with too many responsibilities and not enough hands to fulfill them. Nevertheless, she tackles the problems with determination and courage.

Basilisk Station, although neglected, is in fact a valuable hub for hyperspace travel, and the People’s Republic of Haven, a neighboring and warmongering system, is eager to find new sources of revenue. Fortunately for the Manticore system, Harrington is determined to do her job, and do it well, even though Basilisk Station has had a succession of incompetent and uninterested naval officers stationed there.

Harrington and her crew muzzle smugglers, conduct customs inspections, and work closely with the local government on station and on planet. The situation heats up when her vigilance leads to the discovery of a nefarious and mysterious plot.

The villains are never in doubt, not even in the characters’ minds, but this doesn’t harm the story. In fact, the mystery is in what exactly the villains have planned.

The story is so complex, with detailed intra-Manticoran and interstellar political intrigues that affect Harrington’s position and her ability to do her job, the plot development on-planet and on-station at Basilisk, the descriptions of space physics, that it is very dense reading. For all that, the book is well-paced with very few dull moments.

Additionally, the interpersonal conflicts and tensions, as Harrington struggles to lead a demoralized crew, are fascinating. In particular, the difficult relationship Harrington has with her first officer adds interest and draws sympathy from readers, but I found myself very interested in many of the secondary characters as well. Harrington herself is an impressive role model, only slightly imperfect (I love how the author, when using some of her crew as narrators, hints that they think she is perfect, and then when it switches back to Harrington’s narration, the reader sees how imperfect she thinks she is.)

The action builds smoothly to a page-turning chase scene climax.

Caution: the violence is graphic. Very gruesome, but very evocative of the dangers of (space) warfare.

Sometimes I found myself confused by the technical descriptions of the physics behind space travel, and the mechanical descriptions of malfunctioning ship parts. Otherwise, this book was exciting, well-written, and fascinating on so many different levels (politics, battle, interpersonal relationships). I look forward to continuing the series.

Read-alikes:

Trading in Danger by Elizabeth Moon  Primary Inversion by Catherine Asaro    Grimspace by Ann Aguirre    Gabriel's Ghost by Linnea Sinclair

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