Thursday, December 19, 2013

On Basilisk Station, by David Weber

I want to preface this review by stating that I really liked this book, but there's one particular detail that overall is really minor but bugs the ever-loving hell out of me. It may seem kind of small to a lot of my readers but it's symptomatic of much larger issues I've encountered in fiction and part of a personal crusade. However, I want you all to take away from this that despite my frustration this is a really awesome book and I think anyone who's a fan of space opera should definitely check it out.

On Basilisk Station is the first book in the Honor Harrington series which follows Honor Harrington and her service as a ship commander in the Royal Manticoran Navy, as well as looking at the larger political and military intrigues between the Kingdom of Manticore and the People's Republic of Haven. I had heard great things about this series but had initially hesitated in starting because it's a long-running series that's currently twenty years old and apparently shows no signs of stopping. I managed to find the first book for free on my kindle (which will save me a bunch of shelf space since I intend to continue with the series) and decided to go ahead and give it a shot. I was very pleased with the book and glad that I decided to start reading this series.

This book introduces us to Honor Harrington, as well as the larger picture such as the Kingdom of Manticore and the People's Republic of Haven and sets the tone for a future conflict between these two powers. Through no fault of her own Harrington gets assigned to Basilisk Station, the dumping ground of the RMN's mistakes and is left with only her single aging light cruiser, the HMS Fearless, to protect and enforce order within the Medusa system. Instead of giving into despair and accepting that she's been abandoned, Harrington decides to actually enforce the orders she's been given by command and starts to seriously shake things up. Along the way she uncovers a far more sinister plot that may put the very danger of Manticore at stake.

Probably the greatest strength of the Honor Harrington series is its main character, which is desperately important if you're trying to create a character-driven series. Honor is an incredibly competent spaceship captain, tough as nails, driven to not only advance her career as an officer but also to execute her duties to the fullest extent possible. She is definitely someone I would want in command of a warship and would trust to be able to not only get the job done, but do it right as well. I definitely look forward to more of Harrington's adventures in the future and hope they are just as enjoyable.

In addition to Harrington being a great character I really enjoyed the glimpses of the larger political machinations going on while Harrington is shaking things up at Basilisk. You get to see not only the intrigues among the Manticoran Admiralty and Parliament, but also the plots of other powers as they try to extend their influence into the Medusa system. Oddly enough I actually enjoy reading about these sorts of political intrigues, which is a lot of why I love Song of Ice and Fire as well, and since they're very well and realistically written I look forward to watching the political situation develop alongside the military situation in future installments.

What really frustrates me about this book though, is a certain aspect of Harrington's backstory that the author decided to include and it doesn't really need to exist within the novel. Sadly, like a number of strong female characters part of Harrington's backstory is sexual violence. Granted, she beats the ever-loving crap out of her attempted rapist and the navy really wanted her to press charges so they could kick his ass out of the service, but it's still frustrating that a well-rounded lead female character has, almost by obligation, sexual violence as part of her past. And it's not like this event is really even necessary because all it really does is make Harrington hate Pavel Young (her attempted rapist) even more. Young is already from an aristocratic family and put on the fast track to promotion because of his lineage despite the fact that he's an incompetent and barely qualified for command of his own ship. Harrington could hate him solely based on him being a spoiled rich kid and if she was a male character that would be the entire basis of their antagonism. Furthermore the sexual assault isn't even used as an excuse to explain why she's a tough and competent starship commander, Harrington is just driven to be the best possible captain she can regardless.

Obviously, yes, sexual violence (and violence in general) against women is a big deal and we should be doing everything we can to fight this almost casual acceptance in some circles that violence against women is a fact of life and we can't do anything about it. I don't think Weber meant any ill-will when he included this particular aspect of Harrington's backstory, but I think it's a strong example of how even the best authors can kind of fall into this trap. There is some merit because it's not the end-all-be-all of who Harrington is and why she is the way she is, but it's still a frustrating and unnecessary addition.

Despite my frustrations I thought Harrington was well-written as a person and I was really interested in all the political events going on around her. I did find it a little hard to follow at times because the perspective shifted suddenly, but I suspect that was because of the formatting on the kindle rather than any fault of the author. If you're a fan of space operas and political intrigue I'd definitely recommend checking this series out.

- Kalpar

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