On Basilisk station

On Basilisk station / David Weber. Originally published 1993.

The Honor Harrington series, of which On Basilisk station is the first, is essentially Horatio Hornblower in space. Complementing the previous entry, On Basilisk station is thematically and plotwise nearly identical to Beat to quarters/The happy return. I initially checked it out, despite the terrible cover art on every single on of David Weber’s novels (seriously, Baen. What is wrong with your marketing department?), because it seemed to combine my love of naval novels with my love of science fiction.* The fact that the main character is accompanied by a psychic cat certainly helped as well.

*Considering that The wrath of Kahn director Nicolas Meyer was attempting to recreate Horatio Hornblower in space, it’s a combination that seems to work well.

Brief plot description

(Spoiler free)

Horatio Hornblower Honor Harrington is captain of the frigate HMS Lydia cruiser Fearless, tasked with defending a remote outpost of the British Empire Star Kingdom of Manticore. The perfidious government of France The People’s Republic of Haven is attempting create an excuse to annex the outpost in order to bolster their economy.

So how is it?

It’s not as racist as Hornblower, but it’s overtly political and unintentionally sexist. It’s still a fun story, if you can deal with the paper thin caricatures that are all of the villains.

Weber tries to portray Honor Harrington as a female Horatio Hornblower, insecure but driven to succeed. The intent is obviously to show a female character who is strong in her oqn right but still has to deal with harassment, etc. Unfortunately, the message is somewhat obscured by Weber’s apparent obsession with how physically attractive Harrington is. The reader is reminded repeatedly that, despite her insecurity, Harrington is actually quite beautiful. It’s a point that gets hammered in so many times for no real reason.

The other issue I have with the Honor Harrington series is how overtly political it is. The entire political set up is so overblown that it wouldn’t seem out of place in a 19th century issue of Punch. The parallels between the Napoleonic era and the fictional future of the Honorverse are emphasized in what I’m assuming is supposed to be a clever way but ends up feeling forced. The justification for the spaceships firing “broadsides” is virtually nonsensical. The worst part of it is, to me, that one of the villains from the Haven is named Robert Stanton Pierre. Of course, he signs his name “Rob S. Pierre“. In fact, the entire structure of the Havenite society resembles nothing so much as a fevered tea party dream of a world of “entitled” takers totally dependent on public assistance. It’s so absurd that it ends up being unintentionally comical for its painful sincerity.

That’s not to say that this is a bad book. I may have overstated the negatives because they touch on some pet issues of mine, but truly, I did enjoy this book. Weber handles issues of race and racism far better than Forester and indeed many other contemporary science fiction authors. His future military is, at least, not entirely populated by blond white dudes. It’s a series that I can’t read too frequently though. Over the past year I’ve read the first four books in the series and that’s about the fastest I can take them. It just takes too much of an effort for me to overlook the parade of straw men that serve as Harrington’s antagonists.

It’s fun for what it is, but what it is isn’t necessarily all that much.

Strengths:

The kindle editions of this book and its sequel are free, so that’s nice

An entertaining adventure story

Captures the “feel” of a naval novel and translates it to a science fiction setting very well

Weaknesses:

Subtle sexism and overtly right-wing political viewpoint can be frustrating

Is a little too close to a point-by-point rewrite of Beat to quarters/The happy return

Recommendation:

I haven’t recommended this series to anyone that I can recall. Still, it’s practically required reading for fans of military science fiction who have already read the classics (Starship troopers, The forever war, etc.) and are looking for something along those lines but more recent.

Readers looking for politically conservative science fiction (especially who feel like the Star Trek universe is too socialistic for their tastes) should definitely check this series out.

Anyone who doesn’t mind cellophane-thin villains in their adventure stories would probably have fun with this one.

Other titles recommended for fans of this book:

Beat to quarters / C.S. Forester

Starship troopers / Robert Heinlein

The forever war / Joe Haldeman

The Vor game / Lois McMaster Bujold

The honor of the queen / David Weber

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