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Kicks off a truly magnificent series - read this one first.
on 16 November 2006
"On Basilisk Station" is the first book in a truly wonderful space opera series set some three thousand years in the future and featuring David Weber's best fictional heroine, "Honor Harrington." The books are best read in sequence and I strongly recommend that you start with this one.
Despite the futuristic setting, there are strong parallels with Nelson's navy. The assumed technology in the Honor Harrington stories imposes constraints on space navy officers similar to those which the technology of fighting sail imposed on wet navy officers two hundred years ago. Aand the galactic situation in the novels contains strong similarities to the strategic and political situation in European history at the time of the French revolutionary and Napoleonic wars.
This seems to be quite deliberate: a number of thinly veiled (and amusing) hints in the books indicate that they are to some extent a tribute to C.S. Forester, while the main heroine of the books, Honor Harrington, appears to owe more than a little to C.S. Forester's character "Horatio Hornblower."
In this first book of the series, the newly promoted Commander Honor Harrington takes up her first significant command as captain of the old light cruiser "H.M.S. Fearless" which has just been rebuilt with a very unusual armament.
Honor Harrington comes from a middle-class family with no naval tradition - both her parents are doctors - and has worked her way up the officer ranks of the navy of the Star Kingdom of Manticore on pure ability with no influential family friends to support her. At times it seems that her only friend in the navy is her "Treecat" Nimitz.
Treecats are six-legged creatures similar in size and shape to terran cats, who are fully telepathic among themselves and empaths with humans - e.g. they can read a human's emotions and sometimes form a unique bond with a specific human within which the exchange of emotions is two-way. Some people make the mistake of assuming that Nimitz is just Honor's pet cat: it will become clear during the series just how much more than that he is.
After a short spell with the fleet, HMS Fearless is assigned to Basilisk station. The Senior officer on the station turns out to be an enemy of Honor's going back to their time at Naval academy, and promptly takes his ship back home for repairs leaving her with orders to look after the Basilisk system and the completely inadequate force of one cruiser with which to do so.
As if that were not bad enough, a powerful and unfriendly neighbouring star nation, the "People's Republic of Haven" is casting greedy eyes at Basilisk and looking for an opportunity to grab the system.
This is a really clever story with wonderful and believable characters, brilliantly described space battles, and a well crafted set of explanations of how the tactical situations which the characters find themselves in relate both to the technology their ships use and the political dynamics which set up the conflicts they find themselves in. Because this is the first book of the series Dave Weber has to devote a fair amount of time to explaining the how faster than light travel and space weapons work in the series, but the explanations are reasonably interesting, internally consistent, and not too hard to follow.
Many people read Weber for the space battles, and this book scores very highly here. In some of the later books of the series when describing major fleet battles, Dave Weber somtimes writes a bit too much like the wargame designer he once was, but he is superb when describing single-ship or small unit actions and never better than in "On Basilisk Station."
If you like this book, you will want to read the rest of the series. At the time of writing there are thirteen full length novels and four short story collections in the "Honorverse" as the fictional galaxy in which these stories are set is sometimes known. The main series which tells the story of Honor Harrington herself currently runs to eleven novels; in order these are
On Basilisk Station
The Honor of the Queen
The Short Victorious War
Field of Dishonour
Flag in Exile
Honor among Enemies
In Enemy Hands
Echoes of Honor
Ashes of Victory
War of Honor
At All Costs
The four collections of short stories set in the same universe, not all of which feature Honor Harrington herself, are
Worlds of Honor
Worlds of Honor II: More than Honor
Worlds of Honor III: Changer of Worlds
Worlds of Honor IV: The Service of the Sword
The two spin-off novels are "Crown of Slaves" (with Eric Flint) which is a story of espionage and intrigue featuring a number of characters first introduced in earlier Honor Harrington books or short stories, and "The Shadow of Saganami" which is a kind of "next generation" novel featuring a number of younger officers in the navies of Manticore and her ally Grayson.
For amusement, if you want to try to look for the parallels to nations and individuals from the French revolutionary period and the Hornblower books, one possible translation would be:
People's Republic of Haven = Revolutionary France
Star Kingdom of Manticore = Great Britain
Gryphon = Scotland
Prime Minister Alan Summervale = Pitt the Younger
Hamish Alexander, later Earl White Haven = Admiral Edward Pellew
Honor Harrington = Horatio Hornblower
Alistair McKeon = William Bush
Crown loyalists and Centrists = Tory supporters of Pitt
Conservative Association = isolationist/hardline High Tories
New Kiev Liberals = Whig Oligarchists
Progressives and traditional liberals = Whig radicals
Anderman Empire = Kingdom of Prussia
Silesia = Poland
Solarian republic = United States of America