Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Review: On Basilisk Station, by David Weber

This is the first book in the Honor Harrington series and (like the second) has the delightful quality of being free as an e-book (on Amazon, not sure about elsewhere).

Sci-fi’s not my usual fare, but I thought I’d give it a crack.

It’s a sci-fi story following, unsurprisingly, Honor Harrington, a commander in the Manticoran Navy who has just been given command of the light cruiser Fearless. Due to political tussling between two rival factions she ends up being almost exiled to Basilisk Station, a role so tedious it’s seen as a punishment to be stationed there.

Not being a regular sci-fi reader it’s difficult for me to assess how ‘hard’ it is. My own view is that it’s only slightly in that direction. There’s a reasonably small amount of technical jargon about impeller drives and whatnot, but not so much it swamps the story or you feel you need a degree in physics just to keep up.

One of the book’s strengths is that it isn’t simply about Honor. The secondary cast is numerous and many of them are quite well-established, which helps to make it feel like the universe the author’s describing is populated by actual people rather than two-dimensional creatures that only matter in so far as Honor happens to know them.

The perspective often leaves Honor and moves to one of her subordinate officers or adversaries. This helps to carry the story without having her be directly involved in everything, although occasionally (particularly near the end) there are numerous jumps between her perspective and another’s, and it’s not always obvious when it’s occurred.

Now and then there are slabs of information, often several pages long, explaining something like the political situation or how starship engines work. Some of them could be weaved better into the story (showing rather than telling) but for the political stuff there’s probably no other way to get it across (except perhaps breaking it into smaller more numerous pieces).

I quite like the universe that’s been set up. Although only a couple of powers are described in any detail it sounds interestingly poised. The human race appears to be the only player, which avoids both the difficulty of introducing new species but also the opportunities they would bring.

Overall, I liked On Basilisk Station. It’s not perfect, there are some info-dumps, Honor’s a little too flawless, but it’s well-written, the crescendo at the end was very well done, and the political situation was set up very nicely.


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