David Weber – On Basilisk Station

I’ve started with the first novel of the Honor Harrington series by David Weber. The first installment, On Basilisk Station (1993), introduces the titular character in the early stages of her career in the space navy in this military science fiction series. Where many other series usually begin at the school or academy which is always an easy and familiar entry, Weber chose to skip that part as he (apparently) wants military action, not simulation.

Weber uses a fairly traditional space opera setting while using the British Empire as a rough template for the base of the space navy. The background is only lightly explored, mostly in the political sense, as the main protagonist spends all her time on her missions. The military theme dominates as there is very little time spent outside it. We only see the characters in there functional capacity and not much light shines on their personal backgrounds. The reader has to do with the main character.

The novel starts of a little awkward. Instead of providing interesting confrontations the main character is moved to the required position to tell the story. It is at that moment that the story really begins to move and Weber gets into the rhythm he has been looking for as the plot develops rapidly. Although he manages to add a few good twists most of the plot is rather predictable. The cause of this is that Weber seems to let the confrontations of the main character and the side characters go by to easily. Only in the finale he manages to do it better. I haven’t really read pure military science fiction before so I don’t know if it is somewhat part of subgenre. The formality, strict rules and position of the military provides it with constraints that can either be followed or broken. Weber decided to follow them which does support the way the different developments are handled.

One thing that is different from many other novels is that the main character is capable and skilled. There is no stumbling or growing curve. The reader is presented with a character who knows how it works. During the series the reader will (that’s what I expect) see the main character undergo experiences and challenges in which she utilizes her abilities to the extreme. For me it was a nice change to have such a main character. Of course things don’t go that easy and I hope she will counter heavier experiences in the later books.

Due to the military setting and the main character it is the story which drives the novel for the most part and there is plenty of it. Weber keeps up a brisk pace and although the main focus is on the central character he regularly switches scenes to an enemy or certain side characters to give a wide perspective.

Weber’s prose is easy to read and although there is much usage of military terms they are fairly common so that those who have read science fiction before will have a familiar feeling. As he quickly goes from one dramatic scene to the next, it is hard to put the book down as you want to know what happens next even though you can sometimes predict how it will go. Weber weaves several minor themes in the book, and although they are rather common science fiction themes, they are part of the story and give some extra depth to it as he develops them well.

There were a few minor things that could use some improvement. There were a few scenes which were almost copies of each other, where Weber used the same elements in a confrontation although the situation was different. Weber also has the tendency to put his main character in a shining light, either by her colleagues or her enemies. A few times is okay, but he did it just a bit too frequently. Another, very minor, thing were some awkward info dumpings, where Weber presents it as a character reflecting while in fact it goes into too much detail than would be normal. Weber actually creates the problem himself as he needs to explain details that the reader would not understand, but the character would.

Either way, the minor things only happen a few times, so it’s only noticeable for someone like me who pays attention to such things. On Basilisk Station is on a whole an engaging pageturner and a fun read. I did enjoy it despite the predictability and the limiting military setup. I will certainly read more as I secretly hope Weber will head for the heavy confrontations and experiences and that this is a more friendly introduction, although I would not read too many after each other because I fear (and expect) that it would tire me out quickly and that would be a waste. This is a well written mainstream science fiction novel and as it is a subgenre which I haven’t dwelled in before I can safely explore more of this series. I do think that I won’t read other military science fiction novels soon as it is too constricted and just not something I want to read too much of. If you want to try military SF or like it already, this one I can recommend.

 

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