The Great Honor Harrington Read-Along: “On Basilisk Station” by David Weber

The Great Honor Harrington Read Along is a read along led by me with critical analysis and SPOILER FILLED looks at the Honor Harrington series and related works by David Weber and collaborators. I’ve read the whole main series and the overwhelming majority of the offshoots, but some of these will still be first time reads. However, spoilers will be abundant throughout these posts, including for much later books in the series.

On Basilisk Station by David Weber

We’re back to where it all began. On Basilisk Station is our introduction to Honor Harrington, as well as a number of other major players in the series and our first glimpses at what will turn out to be a much wider conflict. I’ve read this book four or five times now, and I keep finding things I enjoy in it. This time, I was intentionally paying much more attention to the side names that pop up, and was surprised by how many Weber packs into this first book in the series. It’s clear he was at least thinking of the long game from the outset.

What makes this book most impressive to me, though, is how well it balances a razor-sharp focus on an escalating conflict centered around Basilisk with hints of broader conflict and political action happening around it. That’s one of the biggest draws to the series, of course. At times, the back and forth between action “on the ground” (read: largely in space) and people sitting around board rooms talking about making action happen can get uneven. Here, though, we see Weber at a focused, exciting pace that still throws enough reveals out there to whet appetites for broader discussion.

Horrible Hemphill shows up right away- she’s of course the subject of an extremely pivotal character scene for Honor much later in the series when Honor and Hamish Alexander fight over how seriously to take Hemphill’s new takes on weapons’ systems and more. Here, she acts a bit as a stooge, including for the delightful final scene in which Harrington is asked enthusiastically to provide (presumably positive) feedback on the weapon systems from the Fearless. Whether Weber intended to make Hemphill a point of recurring interest or not, it was a smart move to include someone here to shake things up. The added wrinkle of Fearless having armament that doesn’t make sense increases the tension and also makes the final battle more satisfying.

Our first look at Honor feels very fresh still. It’s just a well written, classic sci-fi scene. We quickly get a look into McKeon’s head as well, as we discover he knows he’s bitter but can’t quite break out of it. This little insight into his thought process makes it all the more satisfying to watch him finally break out, largely urged on by Honor’s gentle handling of the situation throughout the book. We also run int Pavel Young for the first time, and here he’s eager to immediately abandon the station. He has little agency in the noel; mostly acting as villain from afar.

Another major plot point is having Honor show up for the first time on Hamish Alexander’s radar. Obviously this will become a much more important relationship later in the series, but it’s fun to see him running around using back alley means to protect Honor’s work actually making Basilisk station into a competent command. Yet another major player introduced here is Denver Summervale, and I can’t believe I missed this the last few times I read it. Here, he’s a throwaway character, making it all the more surprising how important he becomes later. I wonder if Weber was thinking along those lines already or whether it just came to him to reuse this character. Klaus Hauptman rounds out the series of major players introduced. Having McKeon be the one to stare him down is a great twist from Weber, which both makes McKeon more relatable and Honor more interesting for restraining herself–barely.

It seems notable how Nimitz is largely a non-entity throughout this book. He does very little other than act as a kind of smart shoulder ornamentation for Honor. In fact, I was pretty shocked by how very little he does given how totally we fall in love with him later in the series. We have a cat named after Nimitz, ourselves.

Some early history of Manticore is provided, largely as background for why Hauptman is such a tool. However, even this comes into play in some of the offshoot series. I haven’t read the ones about the rise of Manticore, so I’m excited on this read-through to take that aside, finally.

Let’s be real: I don’t know of anyone who writes ship-to-ship sci-fi battles better than Weber. They’re always exciting, always full of tension, and always fun to read even on subsequent reads. I never find myself skimming these, and the battle between Fearless and Sirius is a thrilling read. Each hit is visceral, and I don’t really care about what physics may or may not have been violated here. There’s a feel of impact of the events, tension ratcheting up as each side exchanges salvos. It’s so well done. Jumping back and forth between captains and crew increases the excitement and engagement as we see casualties pouring in while others frantically try to keep the ship running while others are making life or death decisions about the whole ship. It’s pretty amazing to me how well this battle scene holds up after the later ones when we have huge fleets blowing each other up. This, probably the tiniest scale action in the whole series between ships, is still a great read.

The slaughter of the Medusans hit me a bit odd this go-round. I’m not entirely sure how big the colonies and human settlement on Medusa is supposed to be. It seems, though, that a total and complete, wholesale devastation of literally thousands of Medusans may not have been the best solution. These are sentient beings, and they’re drugged into a murderous rage to serve the whims of various colonizing powers. It just hit me wrong, I guess. I wonder what other means could have been tried.

Near the end, we hear a bit about the “Big Lie” theory, which feels incredibly relevant today. Essentially, it’s the idea that a government or officials therein can say something so absurd people will believe it because they’ll just assume people will think they have proof, lest they get caught in an absurd lie. Unfortunately, many today are caught up in a number of big lies, whether it is conspiracy theories about election fraud or something else, this part of the book feels more not less relevant than it did when I read it the first time.

What are your thoughts on the book? What scenes struck you? Leave comments below!

Links

The Great Honor Harrington Read Along– Follow along as I read through and review all the books and offshoots in this series!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

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