Saturday, February 24, 2007

Awesome SF-Navy Series: Honor Harrington
Honor Harrington is the heroine of several novels. On Basilisk Station is the first. In this book, Honor is a junior grade officer who ends up with a bad assignment because she made higher-grade officers look bad in a war games maneuver. She’s young, clever, ambitious, loyal, and not afraid of anything. I was intrigued that a woman was the main character of the novels. The genre is military science fiction, a hybrid whose parent genres usually fall into the domain of “boy” books. But the author, and Honor, pull off the duty amazingly well. When Honor thinks on the page, I never forgot that she was a woman in a man’s world, and that made her course of action all the more daunting in some respects.

After upstaging her fellow officers in the war game, Honor is reassigned to the armpit of the known universe. At least, one of the armpits. Stuck out at Basilisk Station where the Royal Mantacorian Navy doesn't really bother to enforce all the rules and turns a blind eye to some of the black market dealings there that are extremely profitable to corporations who have the ears of the royal courts, Honor feels doomed to a career of mediocrity. Fate intervenes, though, and the main flagship and the captain return for new fittings. Everybody knows, however, that the ranking officer just wants to log some downtime and leave his newest officer abandoned with the impossible and hopeless task of policing the area. Honor is left behind and placed in charge with a ragtag crew that hasn't yet learned to work together.

But no one expects Honor to attempt the impossible. She seizes opportunity by the throat and begins mounting her own campaign to be the best royal naval officer she can. And her first order of business is to emphasize the Navy’s presence in the area and shut down smugglers’ routes. She meets immediate resistance on part of the smugglers as well as local business and corporate trade ships from Haven, another star system that’s bent on reaping as many profits legally and illegally as they can.

David Weber is an accomplished military science fiction author. He's written the Honor Harrington books as well as other series and novels with John Ringo. The Honor Harrington universe has even spawned a sister series that concentrates on other characters from those worlds.

The book reminded me a lot of a Horatio Hornblower novel, and the movies put out by A&E. The same kind of political and military problems got in Honor's way, as well as similar crew problems. But Weber intentionally designed the series to echo that. The Star Court of Mantacore is basically Great Britain while the People’s Republic of Haven takes France’s place. Even the feel of the navy, the pomp and procedures, is a lot the same. But the Napoleonic War still captures the attentions of readers, and these books make the conflict enjoyable all over again.

But Weber excels in worldbuilding as well as military strategy and science fiction hardware. His military, his worlds, and his struggles felt real all through the book. Despite the fact that he based so much of his future on our past, I was hooked by the familiarity as well as the detail of his space battles and political and military jockeying. I'm looking forward to reading the other Honor Harrington books.

Another area where Weber excels so naturally is in the characters. Honor Harrington “feels” like a real person. So does her XO, McKeon. The troubles she has with her crew, figuring out what to do with them as well as how to win them over, are real and natural. Although McKeon doesn’t warm up to Honor at first and the reader will dislike him for a time, when he reveals his motivations for being so distant make him believable and likeable. Other abrasive personality conflicts, like the one with the ship’s doctor, aren’t resolved in a win-win manner. The crew, and the reader, discovers that Honor doesn’t mind playing the bad guy or getting a little blood on her hands.

Later, in the final acts of the book when Honor is dealing with every sordid and underhanded thing that her enemies and political rivals can throw at her, I was delighted to watch her calmly and precisely pull the teeth of those serpents and kick them in the butt on the way out the door. Honor isn’t just an action heroine. She’s also a thinking reader’s ideal warrior. Even when the conflict didn’t involve lasers, assault rifles, or long-range missiles, but instead focused on political powers of privilege and vulnerable political positioning, I was drawn in through those encounters and simply couldn’t stop reading.

If you haven't read any of these books, then -- like me -- you're about to find a treasure trove of good reading material. But start here with On Basilisk Station. This is where the action begins and Honor takes up the greatest challenge of her career.


Ron Simpson said...

I am glad you read this one. I have been an avid Honor fan since the early 90s. I have every book. i have even bought some twice as they wore out. Honor is the epitome of the educated warrior. I love how David weaves the complex political plots into the action. It gets better from here......

SQT said...

I recently picked up the first book too and was pleasantly surprised. I'm more of a fantasy fan, but good sci-fi is fun to read. I think Webber is a find.