Friday, November 1, 2013

Review:: On Baslisk Station by David Weber [or how my writer group is ruining my enjoyment of reading]

On Basilisk Station (Honor Harrington, #1)On Basilisk Station by David Weber

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

On Baslisk Station by David Weber (Honor Harrington)

I've read this four times and each time I've left enough time-span between to be certain I've forgotten enough that it will grab my attention anew. This time I have it in e-book form, which is just great because I can make notes as I read. Knowing that the three previous times I've read this I still enjoyed it I wanted to figure out just what it is that makes this book so compelling to me.

It has a prologue and these days on-line writer groups will most times try to talk a writer out of doing a prologue. I can see why. This prologue does nothing for me. There is some interesting banter amongst the political heads but they seem to me more like a business meeting discussing the next year sales strategy. But that could be because I'd know business meetings much better than political or military strategy meeting.

So for me the real story begins in chapter one.(Well, I do have to read the prologue because its the setup for what happens at the Baslisk Station.) And this is where the writer groups on-line will tell you to put your hook. (For many of those groups it seems to mean you need some sort of high action dramatic scene that sucks the reader in.--I'm not sure what kind of reader they're trying to suck in though.)

We start with the introduction of Honor Harrington and Nimitz her treecat companion. We get a rather lengthy description of Nimitz first and for me the impression I had was possibly a wolverine mixed with a house cat that's a carnivore except for the occasions it can lay its paws on some celery.(Nimitz as with several other characters have integral parts and these descriptions are useful for later more than they are for now.) After Nimitz's introduction we move to Harrington who we discover is the senior aboard the shuttle that is arriving at the Station Hephaestus where she'll be taking command of her first cruiser,HMS Fearless. Fearless is at Hephaestus for a refit. While Honor mentally reminisces about her academy years and her tour of duty and promotions we also learn a bit about treecats and their relationship to the humans they attach themselves to and why they're allowed aboard vessels. All this information leads to the first mystery which is why her mentor Admiral Courvosier was so vague about the refit that was being effected on her new command.

Most of this might seem pretty bland in its individual pieces, but it's the whole of it that brings me into the story. We next see Honor through the eyes of Lieutenant Commander McKeon, her new exec, who we also find was hoping to draw command of Fearless. He's not happy.

Not only was she a full commander, not only did the breast of her tunic bear the embroidered gold star denoting a previous hyper-capable command, but she looked young enough to be his daughter. Well, no, not that young, perhaps, but she could have been his niece. Of course, she was third-generation prolong. He'd checked the open portion of her record closely enough to know that, and the anti-aging treatments seemed to be proving even more effective for second- and third-generation recipients. Other parts of her record—like her penchant for unorthodox tactical maneuvers, and the CGM and Monarch's Thanks she'd earned saving lives when HMS Manticore's forward power room exploded—soothed his resentment a bit, but neither they nor knowing why she seemed so youthful could lessen the emotional impact of finding the slot he'd longed for so hopelessly filled by an officer who not only oozed the effortless magnetism he'd always envied in others but also looked as if she'd graduated from the Academy last year. Nor did the bright, unwavering regard the treecat bent upon him make him feel any better.[/quote]

David Weber. On Basilisk Station (Kindle Locations 263-268). Baen Books.

When McKeon reveals that are they're refitting with a new Grav lance and they've gutted a few of their tried and true armament, Honor shows her knowledge and perhaps a bit more.

He watched her closely, and she didn't—quite—wince. Which, he reflected, spoke well for her self-control. Energy torpedoes were quick-firing, destructive, very difficult for point defense to stop. . . and completely ineffectual against a target protected by a military-grade sidewall. That, obviously, was the reason for the grav lance, yet if a grav lance could (usually) burn out its target's sidewall generators, it was slow-firing and had a very short maximum effective range. But if Captain Harrington was aware of that, she allowed no trace of it to color her voice.[/quote]

David Weber. On Basilisk Station (Kindle Locations 323-327). Baen Books.

Everything we've learned about Honor and the description of the universe (the shuttle; the station; the ship) in which she lives has been peppered into the first chapter to lead up to the basic realization that her new command is going to be much more of a challenge than she'd have expected and that there will be personal conflicts of which she's yet to become aware. And that's the hook.

It has taken us over 15 pages and 5000 words into the story until I am fully cemented in to where I want to invest in the rest of the book. So its all those baby steps from the start of chapter one to the end that entice me into going on.

In the next chapters I find out what kind of stuff Honor Harrington is made of because things get better for a bit and then they get worse until someone decides to bury her and her crew on a dead-end assignment at Baslisk station placing Honor under the command of a man she has some bad history with. Then while doing her job she uncovers a plot and some criminal negligence.

Honor carries this novel, but the people around her, how they react to her when she comes on board, how they begin to rally around her as thing get tough and she begins to prove herself, are all integral to how we perceive Honor's growth.

That sums up what I like about the book there are a multitude of other facets that I'll leave to other people since I've never been in a space battle and have no idea how realistic the ones in here are.

That said I'll add my usual warning to people. For those who are pick or pernickety. There were some grammatical errors usually missing words. Had those missing words been in dialogue or in character's thoughts I might let them pass. To some there may be a lot or even too much exposition because there is a lot to cover in creating this world. I think because David Weber was leading to a dramatic battle at the end there was an over emphasis on the machinery that would be used. Possibly the politics and art of war in space might be drawn out a bit. Again it's all a necessary part of building the world or universe in which Honor's stories take place.
There are some areas some readers might find questionable such as the narrative in two instances below, which stand as counterpoint to one another, but don't readily seem to serve as much a purpose in moving the story forward than to tell us a bit of dimensional information about Hamish Alexander.
Alexander plays a much smaller role in this novel than in some.

He turned away from the window, folding his hands behind him, and surveyed the office of the First Space Lord. The room was paneled in light-toned native woods, not the extravagance it would have been on one of the inner-worlds, and there was a fireplace in one corner. It was functional, not merely ornamental, and that, Alexander thought, was an extravagance. The Admiralty Building was over a Manticoran century-and-a-half old and little more than a hundred stories tall, a modest little structure for a counter-gravity civilization, but that fireplace's chimney bored up through thirty-odd stories of air shafts and ventilation ducting. He could only marvel at the stubborn insistence of whoever had designed the building, especially in a climate which required air-conditioning far more often than heating.[/quote]

David Weber. On Basilisk Station (Kindle Locations 2035-2040). Baen Books.

Fat flakes of snow fell like silent, feathery ghosts in the windless sub-arctic night beyond the window. Hamish Alexander stood watching them through the thick, double-paned plastic and felt the welcome heat of the fire against his back. His study was in the oldest part of White Haven, the sprawling Alexander family seat, and the walls of native stone were over two meters thick. Unlike some commodities, rock had been plentiful when White Haven was first built, and enough of it worked just as well as more esoteric off-world insulation would have.

He turned back to the huge fireplace and added another log. He adjusted it with the poker, settling the native hemlock (which, in fact, bore very little resemblance to the Old Earth tree of the same name) into the bed of coals, then straightened and replaced the poker in its stand as he checked the wall clock again. It was twelve past comp, well into the twenty-seven-minute midnight "hour" officially called Compensate that adjusted Manticore's 22.45-hour day to permit use of Standard Reckoning time units, and his eyebrow rose again. Even allowing for the time zone difference, it was unusual for his brother to screen him this late—and even more unusual for him to specify the exact time at which he would call.

David Weber. On Basilisk Station (Kindle Locations 3724-3733). Baen Books.

There are other style issues that don't always agree with on-line writer forums and on-line writer groups. So if a reader subscribes heavily into those, this novel might disappoint them. On the other hand for those who want to examine what a traditional publisher publishes then this would be a good book to start with when looking at Baen publishing.

Dialogue in On Baslisk Station often seems to make everyone sound the same (That's not so much a complaint of mine as it is one of a friend. I concur but it's not an issue with me.) This one tone dialogue tends to artificially flatten out all the characters. Most of the characters in this novel gain their depth more in how other characters see them. (This occurs sometimes with inner thoughts and might look more like telling than showing.) Once again this was not an issue to me and probably why I did not perceive the characters as one dimensional.

Lovers of Sci-Fi SFF and are not picky about some issues should love this book.

This time around I gained a better appreciation of the other characters around Honor and found that they seemed to be more heroic than she in that they followed her into combat supporting her one hundred percent. There were times when David Weber's depiction of command reminded me of fast food management, except when I sent someone grudgingly off to take care of the fry station they generally didn't die. Though I did have one pass out on me.

J.L. Dobias

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