Weber's Honor Harrington series is essentially Hornblower! IN! SPACE! One of the more famous and well-known military science fiction series, Weber's On Basilisk Station opens the series with a combination of poorly-written infodumps, badly-designed physics worked out in such a way to create the world Weber wants, characters which are damningly simplistic for the most part, and combats and politics that, despite their silliness, are actually quite compelling...

The first thing that will strike the reader about On Basilisk Station is the bluntness of its Hornblower-in-space style.  From the opening moments, we see a combination of the pomp-and-circumstance that is associated with the 19th century Royal Navy in the Royal Manticorean Navy, and the space elements as deeply drawn into the novel, with space ships, variable gravity, and similar.  That Weber throws us straight in at the deep end is sensible, since it rapidly sets up the atmosphere, but the prologue of the novel is slightly problematic in that sense - a Havenite meeting which, in some ways, spoilers much of the later plot, especially its more suspenseful elements.  The way that Weber makes other elements of the world-building work aren't as effective; huge swathes of scene-setting and explanation in On Basilisk Station are given in long-winded, unbelievable, and broken pseudo-scientific infodumps, completely unintegrated with the rest of the writing, just slammed in there in a very skilless way.

The plot of On Basilisk Station is significantly better than the above paragraph might suggest, however.  The complexities of Harrington's assignment on Basilisk Station are made worse by a combination of the famously incompetent superior and the equally famously evil European-socialist powers (the apparently dolist Havenites. Oddly, the UK itself is a heavily welfarised state); Weber's portrayals here are unsubtle, but the complex plan that's in progress, with its failsafes and backups, is brilliantly written, with powerful and fast-paced effectively written combat scenes between the ships.  That these draw so much on the high seas is odd, but that aside, they do work very well, and drive the novel along between more dialogue-based scenes dealing with intrigues and problems that Weber really does develop well.

In the end, On Basilisk Station is not perfect, but as far as milSF goes, it is powerful, moving, and effectively written, despite the infodumping.  I'd recommend it, especially given its importance as a landmark work in the field.

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February 2012

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