On Basilisk Station

Review: On Basilisk Station, by David Weber

I went into this book expecting it to be fluff, but given the good things that I'd heard about it, I really hadn't expected it to be this badly written. But it is. It's absolutely atrocious.

There are no actual characters in this book, not even the vaunted Honor Harrington, just emotions and stereotypes given names, cardboard cutouts who have no depth below their single defining characteristics. There is no character development to speak of, just predictable resolution of a ham-handed conflict that's telegraphed and painfully obvious. You know exactly how the only real character conflict of the book is going to play out from the moment it was introduced -- it's that cliched.

All of this is, even the painfully earnest writing style, is perhaps forgiveable. The book is, after all, feel-good fluff. There's no attempt to be a serious novel here, just light space opera. And I don't necessarily need a lot of believable character development in my feel-good fluff (although it's certainly nice). But there are more problems.

First, Honor Harrington is one of the most blatant Mary Sue characters I think I've ever seen in a published novel. A Mary Sue character, for those not familiar with the term, is most commonly seen in fanfiction, and is a viewpoint character representing an idealized view of the author (except generally female if the author is male), inserted into the starring role in the universe. The character is invariably uber-competent, initially misunderstood, provokes jealousy, doesn't play by the "rules," but eventually accomplishes such wonderful feats by doing things the way that they should have been done that everyone comes around to realizing how amazing they are. This is Honor Harrington to a tee.

Second, the villains. I almost didn't make it past the introduction where the villains are introduced. That the world is essentially the loyal military of a monarchy battling the evil communist welfare state is perhaps forgivable, if worthy of a few eyerolls. What isn't forgivable is that the villains are unbelievably stupid, walking cliches, regularly engaging in behavior that is completely incompatible with their supposed standing in the galaxy.

Now, I've thoroughly enjoyed books that have some of these same flaws. The Lensman series, for example. And once the book settles down into the business of the good guys beating the bad guys silly, it manages to pull on some feel-good emotional strings (although if I'd actually ever believed in the villains as a credible threat -- or, for that matter, as credible period -- the suspense and victory would have been much more effective). But the Lensman series was fun, and didn't take itself seriously, so you could just laugh at the absurdity of the dialog and go along for the ride, seeing how the next set of weapons will top the last. On Basilisk Station, on the other hand, tries to take itself far too seriously for the quality of the writing, and as a result is simply bad.

If you really, really need some feel-good military SF fluff and don't mind one-dimensional emotional point sources instead of characters, this book isn't worthless. But if you can keep from being knocked right out of your suspension of disbelief every ten pages or so, you're more forgiving than I.

Rating: 3 out of 10

Posted: 2003-08-20 15:18 — Why no comments?


The thing is, the first book is not indicative of the whole in this case a lot. (Even as some points are excaberated. Honor's bulletproofness a point that isn't unremarked on, even so.) She is supposed to be 'all that', to be truthful, but there's a good bit more ones the other layers start adding. This doesn't mean your suspension of disbeleif isn't going to stretch, but I've had a lot more enjoyment once the 'obvious' state you mentioned finally moved into new territory (and that wasn't long.) The book is much more a laying of foundation, and one thing Weber did do pretty well was make nothing extraneous, ultimately.

I don't know how well or not that might give you for the rest of the series, but On Basilisk (which I'd give a 6, but I also have a much more forgiving suspension) is very much the rough start.

Posted by Mechaman at 2003-08-20 18:19

It's been a while since I read it, but I remember it as being rather enjoyable. (Although, yes, Honor is quite the Mary Sue character. And the physics are rather a bit tangled so that Weber can write spaceship battles like naval battles.) This impression of it may quite well have something to do with the fact that, in my usual reading mode, I tend to get fairly immersed in even less-than-mediocre works, and thus have a fairly indestructable suspension of disbelief.

Incidentally, I do have several of the sequels, if you want to borrow them to read at Mechaman's suggestion without actually buying them.

Posted by Brooks Moses at 2003-08-22 23:32

Oh, yeah, the physics. I thought I was going to enjoy them at first, and then it became blatantly obvious why he was structuring the physics the way he did, and my suspension of disbelief took another hit. I was going to rant about that but ran out of room.

There were a depressing number of cheap tricks for drama that just repeatedly scuttled my suspension of disbelief, like Honor not noticing things that were painfully obvious to the reader, or worse yet being the only person to figure out the obvious.

I try not to judge books too harshly based on the first book of a series, so when I have less of a backlog I may give some of the later books a chance, but it will likely be several years before I get back to them.

Posted by eagle at 2003-08-23 22:04

We'll first off, let me explain that when i was introduced to this series i started off at HH3 or (Short vict. war) and continued from there until In Enemy hands and then i returned to the begining.

My first impression on first bying HH1 ( on Baslisk sta. ) was how thin the book was , i think only barely 300 pages . Then, on starting reading it , i felt i was entering the life of Honor harrington in the middle of the story.

I got the impression that the book was only half complete compared to others in the series that seem as do D. Weber put in more time to evolve his characters.

But even with this minor dissapointing book , i've come to love this series , witch i think is better then anything out there.

Posted by DeeDee at 2004-02-13 17:47

Last spun 2013-07-01 from thread modified 2013-01-04