Bill’s Book Blog, 2/20/2021

I’m trying to read 104 books* this year. Here are some thoughts about the one I read over the last week!

I did a lot of reading last week, but only actually finished one book: On Basilisk Station, by David Weber (1993), the first book in his long-running (14 books plus a zillion spinoffs) “Honorverse” series, about the adventures of Honor Harrington, who is basically a female Horatio Hornblower In Space.

Here at the beginning, Commander Harrington finally has her own command, but it’s a beaten up old cruiser that’s missing half its guns. Before she really has time to get to know her crew, she is packed off to Basilisk Station, the worst posting in the galaxy. Can she get her crew to trust her, complete her impossible mission, and foil whatever Evil Plan the Space Communists are up to?

Well, yes, of course she can do all of this. There’s a brand of sci-fi that functions partly as Competence Porn—everyone else in the galaxy is an evil bureaucrat or incompetent or lazy, but our hero is Here to Get Things Done, and he or she has the right amount of intelligence and sticktoitiveness to overcome any challenge. (I feel like this probably starts with Heinlein.) Harrington herself is not a particularly interesting character in this book, and Weber stops writing chapters primarily from her perspective about halfway through. She’s competent, she wants her crew (particularly her executive officer) to respect her, and she takes time every few chapters to mentally comment on how she doesn’t really think she’s very pretty, and that’s about all we get. She also has a space-cat, I guess. But if you’re looking for intricate character work you’re in the wrong place, and honestly that’s probably fine: the point of the book is to play around with the genre mash and to fiddle with fun spaceships.

See, this book is hard sci-fi, which means that sometimes you get pages and pages describing the exact mechanics of the made-up FTL drive in the middle of an otherwise propulsive action sequence, but the rules made sense to me, and I didn’t find the mechanics too difficult to follow. Also the primary long-range propulsion device generates enormous “sails,” which are then used to ride hyperspace gravity waves, which is very fun for a series that is explicitly vamping on Hornblower. (Though since nearly all of the book takes place in orbit around one planet, we don’t really get to do much sailing).

Overall I enjoyed the book, though I don’t feel a burning compulsion to read the next 13 of them. The book’s politics are something of a mess, and the way the book treats the natives of the nearby planet is, uh, let’s go with “problematic” for now, but if you’re willing to sign up for Hornblower In Space you’re probably already willing to tolerate some of that sort of thing.

Current Progress: 17/104, or 16.3%.

Current average pagecount: 280.94.

*I count anything originally published in a standalone volume as one book, and although there’s no specific page-length requirements for what constitutes a “book,” I want to aim for an average of 300 pages at the end of the year.

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