Al Fin Affictionado

A Combination of Original Fiction and Reviews of Fiction Interesting to Al Fin and Contributors All Works Copyright as of publish date, AlFin2100 blog syndicate

Location: North America

Primary interest is seeing that the best of humanity survives long enough to reach the next level.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Off Armageddon Reef, by David Weber

David Weber is best known for his Honor Harrington novels, and has authored several other novels. Off Armageddon Reef is the first David Weber novel that I have read.

This novel begins in the 24th century, when Earth's interstellar empire is under seige by a fierce spacegoing race called the Gbaba. The Gbaba had been ruthlessly eliminating other spacegoing races for thousands of years before humans began seeding the galaxy. Although humans were learning quickly, they simply did not have time to match the overwhelming genocidal force that the Gbaba could bring to bear. All human star settlements, including the home planet of Earth, were destroyed by the Gbaba.

A wild deception by the few remaining human space military officials allowed a few million colonists to escape many thousands of light years away from Earth. But the Gbaba would find them eventually, and when they did, they would exterminate all humans they could find. So the humans in command decided to "erase" all traces of advanced technology--no radio, no electricity, no advanced communication etc--so as to make it harder for the Gbaba to locate the escaped human outpost.

The way this was done, and the lengths to which these authorities were willing to go to hide the hideout planet from the Gbaba, are what creates a lot of the conflict in the novel.

The rest of the conflict comes from a superhuman android called Merlin that possessed the memories and personality of a 28 year old female Lieutenant in the Terran Federation Space Navy who had died while making the escape of the last human colonists possible, but wakes up 500 years later in an android body. This "reincarnated" woman finds herself on a planet run by men, for men. The android's special abilities allow her to enter the world as a man--a very fast, very strong man, with a large fleet of stealth machine spies that allow Merlin to keep track of the political activities of every government on the new Earth.

The conflict between the system of religious government designed to hide the colony from their genocidal spacegoing enemies, and the android Merline--who wants to be sure that humans are ready to meet the Gbaba when the time comes--drives a large part of the novel.

I happen to be a sucker for the post-apocalyptic novel where a low technology society must develop advanced technology in order to survive against certain catastrophe. So the setup of this novel was right, for me.

And although the writing is fairly crisp and skilled, and the characters generally sympathetic or properly villanous, there was one thing about this novel that was destined to ruin the overall effect for me: it is written as a lead-in for what is likely to be a long series of books.

At almost 600 pages long, most readers including myself, expect more. Unfortunately, there was too much padding, too much unnecessary detail in the wrong places. The book would have been better at 350 or 400 pages, with a ruthless editor.

If you are going to make your reader go through 600 pages for a mere introduction to a new universe, you need to give him more meat to chew on. The setup was great, the introduction of Merlin was good, and the conspiracy of the church against the kingdom of Charis was logical and suitably treacherous.

But a book that begins with the near extermination of all humanity should not end with the mere sea victory of one small kingdom on what may or may not be the last outpost of humanity.

Like I said, I have not read anything that Weber has written previously, so this may be a formula that he feels has worked for him. It does not work for me. I may look at the next book in the series to see if Weber has broadened his scope, but based upon this book my hopes are not raised.

Off Armageddon Reef, by David Weber


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