On Basilisk Station: Honor Harrington is the biggest Mary Sue in space

science fiction book reviews David Weber Honor Harrington 1. On Basilisk StationDavid Weber On Basilisk StationOn Basilisk Station by David Weber

Honor Harrington, newly-promoted Captain in the Queen’s Royal Manticoran Navy, has taken command of her first space cruiser, Fearless. Sadly, she and her crew have been deployed to Basilisk Station, a low-status drudge assignment that mostly involves checking cargoes for contraband. Morale aboard Fearless is low, but things are about to change. Unbeknownst to Manticore, The Republic of Haven, which hopes to better its economy by conquering resource-wealthy planets, plans to invade Manticore by way of the wormhole junction terminus at Basilisk Station. Can Honor and her crew uncover the plot and save Manticore?

David Weber’s On Basilisk Station is classic space opera loaded with lots of exposition about military tactics, weaponry, hyperspace, calculation of acceleration rates, etc., etc. This isn’t my favorite genre of science fiction, but I was hoping that a female protagonist might make it more fun.

Not really. At least, not in this case. Honor Harrington is admirable — she’s smart, proud, loyal, and completely reliable. She doesn’t back down in the face of opposition. She figures out all the stealthy plans of her enemies and she gets the job done. All the bad guys hate her and all the good guys love her (that’s how you can tell if they’re good guys or bad guys). In fact, Honor is so perfect that she’s downright dull. She’s the biggest Mary Sue in space. She hardly even flinches when she has to make the choice between her duty and the lives of her crew.

Honor’s courage and determination work out in the end only because she happens to correctly guess what the bad guys are up to. There’s no mystery for the reader, who knows Haven’s plans, but I was never convinced that Honor made the right judgments based on the facts she had. Her decisions were based on strings of guesses she made under the assumption that she understood the bad guys’ logic. For that reason, I couldn’t respect her cold-hearted commands, or her responses to their consequences.

Perhaps part of my problem was Allyson Johnson’s narration in the audio version (Brilliance Audio). Though she did a good job with most of the characters, her reading of the many expository portions of the text was dull (perhaps it was difficult to make this part interesting!). But my main complaint is that she used a high-pitched lilting voice for Honor. Weber’s text mentions that Honor is a soprano, but the cheery voice was probably unsuitable for the stressful scenes in which Honor has to make her harsh and deadly commands. Her seeming lack of grief, or even of any struggle at all, makes it hard to relate to Honor. It makes it hard to like her. But I think the narrator may have done a disservice to the text, and I’m willing to give Honor another chance (mainly because I already own the next few volumes in the series).

On Basilisk Station would have been a better book if Weber had spent less time explaining space-battle tactics and more time letting us get to know Honor Harrington. She feels cold and severe, but I don’t think this is really Weber’s intention. He just hasn’t let us in yet. I am hoping this improves in future installments and that Honor Harrington will start to feel more real.

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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  1. I really enjoyed the Honor Harrington series! I thought she was too kick-ass to be a Mary Sue, but I do read a lot of cozy mysteries so really, I felt right at home with the space opera setting/mystery/intrigue. Like a lot of series, they can get repetitive, but the first three or so were great reads.

  2. Hi Maria,
    The Honor Harrington series is really popular, so I know I’m a minority. As I mentioned, I also think that the audio version which I listened to didn’t help.

  3. Oh, audio. Yanno, sometimes audio can be so blooming slow. It take a fast-paced book to keep me interested in audio. I’ve listened to books that I’m sure I wouldn’t mind in print form, but audio requires a good, clear voice and … an completely awesome story. It’s harder for me to be drawn in.

    I haven’t read an Honor in years. But in college, they were just the thing. :>)

  4. Sometimes audio is too slow, but I can adjust the speaking rate without distorting the voice with Windows Media Player and the Audible app I use. In this case, the narrator’s voice was a little too detached and monotonous.

  5. @Maria, that happens to me too. I have some kind of listener’s block–unless the story and the reader’s voice grab me, my mind will start to wander.

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