Sunday, July 3, 2016

Book Review: On Basilisk Station

Summary: Having made him look a fool, she's been exiled to Basilisk Station in disgrace and set up for ruin by a superior who hates her. 

Her demoralized crew blames her for their ship's humiliating posting to an out-of-the-way picket station. 

The aborigines of the system's only habitable planet are smoking homicide-inducing hallucinogens. 

Parliament isn't sure it wants to keep the place; the major local industry is smuggling; the merchant cartels want her head; the star-conquering, so-called "Republic" of Haven is Up To Something; and Honor Harrington has a single, over-age light cruiser with an armament that doesn't work to police the entire star system. 

But the people out to get her have made one mistake. They've made her mad. 

My SF reading streak continues with On Basilisk Station, the first book in the Honor Harrington series by David Weber. This book had some similarities to the last book on my reading list (Starship: Mutiny, which I reviewed here.) It's a military SF, set in the Navy, and it starts with the protagonist with stationed on the fringes of the galaxy, in what's clearly a attempt at banishment. The difference is that Starship: Mutiny builds up the main character's disillusionment with the Navy and culminates in his desertion. On Basilisk Station builds up the main character's determination and stubbornness in the face of adversity, and culminates with her triumph and promotion. It's easy to see that these two series are heading in very different directions.

I probably enjoyed reading this book a little more than I did Starship: Mutiny. To begin with, this book's protagonist is a woman who's coded as being mixed race, and if you've spent any amount of time on my blog you know that that's my jam. And more than that, Honor Harrington is just a great main character: she's fearless, smart, ingenuitive, and stubborn. Once she realizes what needs to be done in a certain situation, she'll go to any lengths to do it, and that's both her biggest strength and weakness. She never lacks the determination to get the job done, but sometimes that determination tips over into stubbornness: she will do whatever it takes to complete her mission, no matter the cost or strain.

I mentioned in my previous review that the main character of Starship: Mutiny reminded me a little of Horatio Hornblower. I'm getting that feeling again here, the protagonists of these last two books are so similar, personality-wise. However, I think that the Honor Harrington series is more likely to follow the Hornblower series in terms of overall plot and structure. The Starship series probably isn't, since the first book ends with the main character becoming a pirate.

Overall, I really enjoyed On Basilisk Station and I would recommend it, but it had some quirks that might keep it from being unilaterally enjoyable. For one thing, there's a fair amount of politics interwoven with the plot here. I didn't mind that, because I actually love sci-fi politics. (I blame the Star Wars prequels for that.) But it could be considered distracting from the main story. There's also a few places where the author breaks off in the middle of, say, a spaceship chase scene to talk about how faster-than-light travel works in this universe. There's context for those types of tangents, and they only happen a couple of times, and only go on for a couple of pages, so I was okay with it. But it is a little jarring and, again, could very easily be considered distracting.

I also feel the need to give a couple of content warnings. There are instances of strong language throughout the story, and a few fairly detailed descriptions of battlefield gore in the last third of the book. There's also mention of and rumination upon an (unsuccessful) attempted rape in a character's backstory. (That's actually one of my only major pet peeves with this book. I wish the author had found some other way to set up conflict between a male character and a female character, because the whole "attempted rape" backstory felt kinda forced and really unnecessary.)

On the whole, though, I really enjoyed this book and look forward to reading more of the series. If you like science fiction that has action, politics, economical intrigue, and well-thought-out scientific explanations for faster-than-light travel, then this just might be the book for you.

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