On Basilisk Station

by David Weber

Cover image

Series: Honor Harrington #1
Publisher: Baen
Copyright: April 1993
Printing: August 2002
ISBN: 0-743-43571-0
Format: Mass market
Pages: 464

Buy at Powell's Books

This is the first of David Weber's Honor Harrington books, best described as Horatio Hornblower in space. They're incredibly popular space combat fluff. Given all the good things that I'd heard about them, even expecting fluff, I hadn't expected this book 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.

(I realize that David Weber is trying to write Horatio Hornblower rather than an idealized version of himself, so the Mary Sue label may not apply quite directly. So many of the other characteristics apply, though, that I'm still willing to call it that.)

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.

Followed by The Honor of the Queen.

Rating: 3 out of 10

Reviewed: 2003-08-20

Last modified and spun 2014-12-21