Friday, 16 October 2009

On Basilisk Station by David Weber

If there’s one thing about Baen Books more than anything else is that despite writing some incredible science fiction they seem to struggle to find a good cover artwork despite seeming to change it on a regular basis for different editions of the same book. A simple look on Amazon found at least three different covers for softback editions for On Basilisk Station.

On Basilisk station is the first novel in David Weber’s Honor Harrington series which can be best summed up by one phrase an early reviewer of the series used “It’s like Horatio Hornblower. Except she’s a women and it’s set in space.

Set in the far future (but not as far as Warhammer 40,000 mind you) Humanity has spread among the stars. Many of the early Colonies have banded together into a huge entity known as the Solarian League, and the later colonies well their pretty much looked down on as Neo Barbarians or ‘Neo Barbs” i.e not as advanced as the Solarian League.

In one far corner of the galaxy lies Haven a republic whose government desperately holds onto power despite a failing economy and unrest. Their solution rather than to fix the cracks is to paper over them by conquering other worlds and stripping them bare to shore up their own economy. The one thing Haven is good at is War.

However they now face their first real challenge. The Star Kingdom of Manticore or the ‘Manties’. A single system power they are incredibly wealthy thanks to a so called ‘wormhole junction’ a series of wormholes that take months if not years off journey times. With a formidable navy they provide a challenge that Haven is not sure they can beat.

Into this tense situation comes our heroine Commander Honor Harrington. A rising star she is shuffled off to Basilisk station the navy’s dumping ground for dead beats and screw ups through no fault of her own after she demonstrates the massive flaws in a new ship board weapons system embarrassing an admiral. Left to cover an entire system with a single ship after being stabbed in the back by an old enemy out to set her up for a fall Harrington must fulfil her duty with insufficient resources, no support and a crew who blame her for all their woes.

Helped by the fact she is neither a screw up nor a dead beat she soon uncovers a plot that will threaten the future of the Star Kingdom itself.

To be honest the basic story is hardly original. Plucky protagonist gets screwed over by incompetent senior offices before finally saving the day and showing what a bunch of idiots they actually are. But despite a shaky start David Weber manages to grow beyond the clichés and ends the novel with a generally thrilling climax.

The other thing I liked about this novel is how after spending a lot of time building up secondary characters he isn’t afraid in the slightest to swing the axe. There are no star trek style red shirts or Ensign Expendables here. They are well built rounded characters who you don’t want to see get killed.

Even the ‘treecat’ Nimitz who has ‘adopted’ Honor is developed into more than a space borne equivalent of a parrot.

It’s not a perfect start to a series but it’s still good enough to make me want to read the next book and see what happens.

Three out of Five from the Gabbling geek.

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