A futuristic tale with a strong female character

Steele Giles, Staff Writer

In the far, far future, when there’s a vaccine for cancer and gravity is something you can surf on, our navies will apparently get on like they did in the nineteenth century—all broadsides and relatively slow maneuvering.


The Honor Harrington series, written by David Weber, tells just that story. “On Basilisk Station” is the first book and thus our first impression of a sci-fi premise that works very hard to have the same general limitations as the age of sail in a setting where reaching light speed is chump change.


The book starts off with Honor Harrington, a newly promoted ship captain, receiving her first independent command—an old cruiser called the Fearless. Upon taking command, she learns that political shenanigans have resulted in her ship receiving a set of weapons that makes her participation in the upcoming war games substantially more difficult.


In the end, she winds up on the outs with her superiors, through no fault of her own, and gets sent out to the Antarctica of her navy’s outposts—Basilisk Station. Honor’s superior officer, a “gentlemen” with whom she has a history involving physical violence, then attempts to saddle her with the duty of patrolling the system singlehandedly while he goes and gets his ship fixed in the lap of luxury.


It takes a while, but after some judicious skull cracking, Honor gets things more or less under control. Of course, that’s when the situation at Basilisk really starts deteriorating.


Perhaps the biggest problem with the way Weber wrote “On Basilisk Station” is how he handles exposition. It will be a cold day in hell before I knock somebody for good world-building, especially in the relatively realistic sci-fi setting he’s set up. But timing is everything, and he struggles with it sometimes.


He’ll drop the plot to explain some (usually important, admittedly) concept for the audience’s benefit, and then pick up again as if nothing had happened. As fascinating as the use and history of the hyperspace drive is, we do not need it in the middle of a high-stakes stern chase that may or may not end in war.


The other thing all this science does is make it a very dry read. In some parts, it oozes the sort of rollicking high-seas adventure story the series was intended to evoke. In other parts, I found myself checking to see whether I had accidentally swapped my novel for a textbook.


Lastly, the numbers used are simply so huge that all sense of scale becomes lost. These are ships that can accelerate so fast their crews would turn into mulch, usually at a significant portion of light speed, and shooting at each other over distances that would probably be better measured in terrestrial continents if I could be bothered to convert from metric. The scale just becomes so huge that the numbers swing from impressive to meaningless.


This isn’t to say that Weber doesn’t do a great job of writing these books. One does not create and maintain a fan base for 22 years by being a hack.


Honor herself is one of the most awesome female characters I’ve ever seen, managing to be the hard line naval officer she needs to be without becoming a man in all but form. That doesn’t sound that hard, but it’s quite the trick. Imagine crossing Black Widow with Captain America, and that’s kind of the vibe you’ll get from Honor.


Weber’s world-building is fantastic, even if his timing with it is sometimes deplorable, so it is entirely possible to get sucked in just trying to wring the details of the backstory out of the plot. The technology makes sense, or as much sense as it can to somebody who doesn’t have a particle physics degree. It gives the sense of a world that grew into its shape naturally, rather than just appearing as-is for no other reason than because Weber said so.


All in all, is it worth reading?


“On Basilisk Station” is fun if you’re willing to wade through the science and certainly an insight into a very different world where bravery and honor can mean more than life.