An aging light cruiser with her weapons systems gutted for a new super-weapon that didn’t work as advertised. An assignment to the worst duty station in the Royal Manticoran Navy–Basilisk Station. A crew who blames her for the assignment to Basilisk. An executive officer who thinks he deserves her job. A senior officer at Basilisk who takes his own ship back to home port for repairs, leaving her to cover an entire star system with just one ship. The alien species she’s protecting are smoking a drug that, in sufficient dosages, turns them into homicidal maniacs. The drug, however, is part of their religion, so the Manticorans can’t just ban it. Oh, and it looks like someone is providing these aliens with higher-grade drugs than they could produce themselves with their bronze-age tech.
And Captain Picard thought he faced tough situations.
That’s the setup for the first of the Honor Harrington series, On Basilisk Station, by David Weber. In it, and in the whole series, Weber’s experience in writing parts of the wargame StarFire shows his experience in creating believable and internally consistent “star nations” comprised of one or more planets.
In the Honor Harrington universe, or Honorverse as fans call it, the two primary star nations are the Star Kingdom of Manticore, which Honor serves, and the Republic (later People’s Republic) of Haven–which is, like the real-world North Korea, a republic in name only. The clashes between Manticore and Haven in many ways mirror the real-world historical clashes between England and France in the Age of Sail, and the starship technology used also makes one think of sailing ships.
Commander (at least for the first book) Honor Stephanie Harrington is also quite a believable character, having both strengths, such as a brilliant tactical mind, and weaknesses, including a real problem with complex math. She’s also got traits that could be either blessing or curse, most notably a rock-solid devotion to duty. The other characters around her also tend to be believable, even those that eventually died–and make no mistake, this is military science fiction, so characters do die in these books, and often they’re established characters, not just “Ensign Expendable” type characters. Weber also has his characters mature and change as the series progresses, even remembering their previous experiences with Honor in command and sometimes telling new characters stories about her and what they’ve seen her do.
In later books, Weber uses Honor and her crews to explore topics such as the effects of a revolution on a nation’s politics, what happens when politics interfere in military matters such as courts-martial, and how advances in technology–those that work, anyway–change the way wars are fought.
In short, if you’re looking for a rousing space opera, and don’t mind a writer who’s willing to show the sometimes distasteful side of combat, often at the same time he’s showing the characters involved in acts of true heroism, check out On Basilisk Station and the rest of the Honorverse — all available in every conceivable ebook format from Baen’s Webscriptions.