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I was introduced to David Weber's books by a friend of mine and spent some time ploughing through his collection of the Sci-Fi space opera that is the universe of Honor Harrington ( A kind of Hornblower/Nelson in space.) They are a tremendous read and I will be reviewing them as I get round to them, having subsequently bought all the books. I really enjoyed the style of writing, as the stories moved at a cracking pace and the characters were sufficiently lifelike for you to feel some emotion when they are killed off.
So, when I was browsing in my local Waterstones, I was intrigued by this new Weber title. The blurb on the back begins, "EARTH IS DEAD. Humanity is hiding." and continues in a similar vein. Right away I was hooked. Taking it home, I eagerly began to read the work. Ahead is a fairly brief synopsis of the plot. Whilst it reveals certain things about the first chapters, I have endeavoured to merely give a taster of the main plot. As the book itself is 788 pages in the paperback, this is a rather longer taste of the plot than I would normally consider!
The book begins in 2378 and starts off seemingly as an ordinary Sci-Fi space opera, on the bridge of a spaceship with oncoming enemies. As the story continues to unfold, it skips ahead some 50 years to the last stand of Earth's last fleet. The genocidal Gbaba have destroyed world after world until nothing is left. As the heroic but futile resistance takes place, a secret colony mission slips away under cover of its sacrifice.
Skip ahead once more to the new colony world of Safehold. Here, the majority of the colonists are living in an agrarian society with no modern technology. It was believed that it was emissions of modern living that had attracted the attention of the Gbaba to other attempted colonies, so it was set up to keep technology to a mediaeval level. This was enforced by a command crew, who had brainwashed the colonists into believing in a religion where the command crew were Archangels.
This was the scene setting for the first 40 pages of the book and gives some idea of the detail Weber can bring to his work. The story then skips ahead again to over 700 years later. This is when the main plot really begins to flourish. We are introduced to our protagonist. Unusually, it is an artificial construct with the personality and memories of one of humanity's most gifted officers, who had stayed behind to die with the covering fleet so that this situation could be set up. Essentially, the long-dead officers realised that some of the command crew had a rather megalomaniacal bent and had set this up as a way of countering this.
The artificial construct, a PICA (Personality-Integrated Cybernetic Avatar) was of a young woman called Nimue Alban and has a mission to achieve. Ultimately, humanity would encounter the Gbaba again and would need to be ready when it did so. With certain technological items at her call, she is able to carry out a reconnaissance of the planet and finds a starting point for the seeds of new growth to be planted.
Simply put, the world of Safehold has stagnated. The Church has a dominant role in society and has prevented mankind from making progress, due to the "proscriptions" which define allowable technology. One nation begins to threaten this stagnation. The small island nation of Charis has a strong merchant marine and a dominant navy. This has made it rich and striving to grow. It also has the advantage of being a long way away from the mainland that the Church dominates. It quickly becomes clear that the Church are moving to end the threat that this nation poses. Conversely, this makes it the nation that Nimue Alban needs. As this is a male-dominated society she transforms her shell into a male character and calls herself Merlin Athrawes and by her/his actions she is able to become the advisor to the King of Charis. This begins a process that accelerates the clash with the Church leading to all out war between the rest of the planet and the reformist Charis. The island nation stands alone but they have a few tricks up their sleeves. Will they stand against the combined navies of every other world power? I think we know the answer but the getting there kept me gripped.
I hope that is not too much of a give away to start off. Many of you will see the obvious parallels with history and stories from our past and David Weber has admitted that he takes his inspiration from the colourful tapestry of history. However, what he does with the story is what makes It interesting. The plot moves along at a good pace and this kept me hooked to the very end and left me wanting more.
What I have always enjoyed about his books is that he takes his time to give details about even relatively minor characters. Some of these characters do not even last longer than the same page that they are described but it gives more of a sense that these are actual people and not just cardboard cut-outs. What he does for his major characters is so far beyond that. There is a rich weave about them that goes beyond mere physical details. As the plot unfolds, major characters are introduced and gradually more and more is learnt about them, their motivations and sometimes even their annoying traits. The only drawback of this is that sometimes there are just so many characters it is hard to keep track, though, thankfully, there is an index of characters at the back.
The world of Safehold is really one that keeps my attention going throughout. Weber has applied a lot of time to the considerations of geography in his world and how these affect the people of the varying landscapes. What I like is that he doesn't forget the lengths of times it takes to travel across these distances and his references to the logistical difficulties of fighting a war across continents with essentially mediaeval technology are thought-provoking.
Fans of Weber will recognise his style running through the book and will probably enjoy this as much as some of his other work. Newcomers to the author should also equally enjoy this. Even those people not normally enjoying the Sci-Fi/Fantasy genre may find it interesting, as it almost feels like more of a historical fiction, though of a made-up world and with some fantastical elements.
I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys a fast paced plot but likes more to get their teeth into. This is one of those books where I do find that I enjoy going back over some sections to re-read to make sure that I didn't miss anything the first time. You need to enjoy having a wide array of characters and have a reasonably good memory to keep them and the plot straight. Some people may be put off by Weber's style but I would recommend trying the Kindle sample chapters before buying if not certain, as this gives you the first 40 pages of the book to try.
The book is now mainly available in paperback or in the Kindle format. Currently, Amazon are selling the former for £6.47 and the latter for £4.19, though I bought mine from Waterstones originally with an RRP of £7.99. For the afore-mentioned 788 pages, this is very competitively priced.
Off Armageddon Reef - Literally hanging on by a thread.... this is in fact the fate of both the human race and of the kingdom of Charis.
Before I get into the review of this book I would like to point out that this review may contain spoilers. Now I have long been a fan of science fiction and especially of the space opera genre so recently dominated by the likes of David Weber. I must admit that it was with some trepidation that I first decide to give this book a go as admittedly I normally read David Weber's books as they are light reading (meaning they do not require lots of reader involvement). But this book was to prove me wrong and suck me into the well constructed and almost agonizing world of Safehold. Without further ado, here is the review.
The human race has expanded into the great unknown, space, only to encounter a race who not only refuses to communicate but seems hell bent on galactic genocide. Within a short space of time, the enigmatic Gbaba have all but exterminated Humanity and only a masterful sleight of hand colonization effort allows a small group of humans to escape.
Upon arrival at their new home, the colonists are duped into believing God has created them from a blank slate and they are beholden to the ultra conservative church.
Fast forward roughly nine centuries and we find ourselves in the current setting of the book. An android containing the persona of Nimue Alban is tasked with restoring Humankind to their previous technologically advanced state. Nimue awakes to a world completely dominated by a corrupt and self servicing Church which deliberately sees any innovation as sin and is not afraid to act for it's own, selfish gain.
Nimue identifies one of the feudal realms, Charis, as being the most likely to aid in the long term goal of returning Humanity to the stars and insinuates herself into the ruling families good graces. Unfortunately Nimue is forced to alter her appearance to that of a man and take up the name Merlin due to the intensely Patriarchal society she finds herself in. Through a combination of advanced technology and drawing upon her encyclopaedic knowledge, she is able to provide Charis with limited technological advantages to aid them in staving of certain destruction by the Church of Humanity Unchained.
This is a very well written book, with attention to detail and obviously lots of research put into the workings of different processes. The author provides a lot of detail of the various workings of sailing ships and weapons as well as the various methods of production. I do feel that some people might not enjoy all the attention to detail as well as the relatively slow pace of the action, however as this is an open ended series (at this point) build up is quite important and the author has taken the liberty of long explanations.
I would definitely read this book again and would also recommend it to both fans of Sci-fi as well as David Weber fans. I do suspect that by the time the author finally gets to the last book, a re-read of the entire series may very well be necessary.
Off Armageddon Reef
The hardcover version is about 608 pages
Published by: Doherty (Tom) Associates,U.S.; hardcover edition (1 Jan 2007)
You can pick up a second hand copy for about 75p (plus P&P) on Amazon.
Kindle price is about £6.02 on Amazon
This review is also on Ciao under my name tomsox.
Thanks for reading!
Off Armageddon reef.
A superb sci-fi novel and a gripping read.
Humanity has been made almost completely extinct by the ferocious alien race called the Gbaba. They hate humans with a fierce fervour. Hunting them down if one should be found anywhere in the universe.
But some humans have escaped. During a battle a few brave souls sacrificed their live to cover up the small escaping ship which fled the massacre just in time.
These humans are now on an uncharted planet but they are unaware of their past. Before landing their robot P.I.C.A. (a kind of body guard) hypnotised them all to forget about gbaba and has instilled in them the hatred of technology.
The reason for this is that if the gbaba pick up any traces of technology on a planet they swoop in and destroy everything.
However the P.I.C.A. also has another objective, to restore humanities rightful place in the cosmos and it has a clever and cunning plan. It first must wait a thousand years before it can initiate it.
A great read and a true page turner, you will not be able to put it down. The writing is inventive and crisp. I will look for Mr Weber books again. The ending and how you get there is cleverly written and hidden along the way are a few surprises.
A highly recommended book.
Written by David Weber.
Off Armageddon Reef.
It is the twenty-fifth century and the Gbaba have almost succeeded in making humanity extinct. Had they known that even one human being remained alive then they would have hunted them down and finished the task.
Admiral Pei and his crew desperately give up their lives to insure that a few human beings get away in secret from the Gbaba.
It was called operation Ark and created a refuge for humanity without the betraying high-tech spoor which, if detected, would bring the deadly Gbaba scout ships to them.
It was decided that the sleeping colonists would have false memories implanted.
But the colony's administrator, Langhorne, and the colony's psychologist, Bedard, programmed them into believing that operation ark's command staff were Gods!!
There were many among the command staff who where very unhappy at the notion of people actually worshiping them as gods.
A revolution took place and concluded with the deaths of all the command staff.
The colonists then led simple lives on the planet they named Safeholden. Any change, invention, progress or any advancement at all is strictly forbidden and taboo.
Whilst in orbit, a surveillance system, continues to sweep the planet, automatically striking at anything that emits tech spoors.
The colonists believe these rare blasts to be lightning bolts are from their gods, Langhorne and Bedard!
But, Admiral Pei had hidden a P.I.C.A (personality-integrated cybernetic avatar) deep beneath a mountain. It looked, thought, felt, and basically was the human female named Nimue Alban.
The biological Nimue was one of the more brilliant tactical officers the federation navy had ever produced and she had sacrificed her life for operator ark.
A pica is virtually identical to a real human.
This nimue can eat, sleep, bleed and even feel emotions And Pei also left the Nimue several high-tech gadgets.
But nothing that would attract the attention of the orbital surveillance system. This nimue "slept" beneath the mountain until Pei recording "woke" her up...750 years later.
The nimues task was to undo the mess created by Langhorne and Bedard's 'extra' programming to the colonists.
She is to restore the heritage to humanity which had been taken by the Gbaba . And this Nimue takes her task very seriously.
This is a large novel, being very descriptive, as is David Webers style.
It is a true Sci-Fi novel and worth reading.
The details are superb but not overly complicated. the characters have sufficient depth and interaction between them is well written.
Recommended with 5 *****