On Basilisk Station

David Weber
On Basilisk Station Cover

On Basilisk Station


Every now and then a book blows away your suppositions and charges full steam ahead into your imagination. It is going to succeed or die trying. On Basilisk Station by David Weber is just such a story and it positively triumphs. I devoured this novel, and the burning question I had upon its conclusion (beyond finding out whether my library stocked the sequel) was, "Why haven't I heard of you before?"

Quick summary: Honor Harrington's first command proves less of a promotion and more of a punishment when she learns that a bigwig in the Royal Manticorian Navy has chosen her ship, the Fearless, to test a fancy new weapons system that actually handicaps her tactical ability during war games. She is eventually "banished" to the unpopular Basilisk Station patrol and given the near impossible task of patrolling the star system's shipping lines and quasi-autonomous planets. Not only that, a neighboring interstellar government has its eyes on Basilisk, the system's natives are restless, the crew is dispirited, and there are powerful politics at play. But, as the official summary says, "the people out to get her have made one mistake. They've made her mad."

Honor Harrington is now my ideal of what a military starship leader should be: smart, competent, patient, and courageous, with the ability to marshal a ship to its full potential. She is neither the crew's dictator nor their best friend, but their commander. The very best point is that neither her gender, nor the gender of the crew, ever comes up as an "issue." This book is probably the first in any genre I have ever read where men and women actually worked together without sexual tension. There is one incident of sexual harassment related as a memory, but it is related without hysterics. Harrington remembers, is human enough to resent, but is also adult enough to have moved on. I can not thank Weber enough for this aspect of the novel.

A word about the story's structure: completely new universes requires an author to explain quite a bit in a short space of time. Weber offers this information in the same straightforward, engaging way he does the rest of the novel. I was continually amazed at how well he revealed the details of his imagined worlds without distracting me from the story. I never once lost interest or became confused, whether the book followed the political machinations of interstellar politics or the tactical complexity of a space battle. The exposition itself became exciting, and that is the mark of a great storyteller.

Finally, many military yarns employ the trope of outnumbered but likeable heroes who save the day in spite of the odds. It's not a bad trope, but in the wrong hands can result in stale, formulaic plots. Harrington and her crew transcend this trope. They may start outclassed, but they work hard to make up the difference (no happy accidents or plucky heroism required). They suffer real losses, not fake ones meant to provide cheap danger. Wonder of wonders, they uphold rather than break the rules to succeed and gain respect. They form partnerships rather than go it alone, and the final battle is a true test of both sides' preparation and skill instead of a contest of personality.

If you want a wonderfully written military space novel, you can't go wrong with On Basilisk Station. I look forward to reading more about Honor Harrington's naval career, and tip my hat to her talented creator.

Addendum: I forgot to mention that this novel uses very frank language in places. I will say it didn't feel gratuitous considering the people and situations that brought it up (soldiers in battle), but it is something that might ruin the enjoyment of the book for many. Young readers should definitely wait on this one.