Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Off Armageddon Reef

It is interesting to see how a writer changes over time. Ten years ago David Weber wrote a book called Heirs of Empire, basically about a planet that had been forced back to the medieval age because of a problem too complicated to explain here. So some people from a space age civilization are shipwrecked on this planet just in time to cause a reformation and fight against a repressive church that bans technology.

Now he is writing a series that has the same basic plot. This time humans have lost the interstellar battle and been destroyed on every planet except this one. To hide from the bad guys the (slightly wacko) leaders of the colonization team develop an anti-technology church very similar to the one based in Rome on Earth. Then they brainwash all the new colonists and set up an Inquisition to make sure no one ever develops a technology higher than the waterwheel.

A thousand years later a robot awakens with the memories of the non-wacko leaders, with instructions to teach the colonists and try to help them develop their world to the point it can fight back. He finds a nation close to the point of rebellion from the church, begins supporting them and gradually giving them updated technology and all sorts of things happen.

The funny thing is this elaborate backstory seems like an excuse to have lots of cool naval battles and to explore the ideas of faith, corruption, idealism and how a changing world can test your beliefs. I don't know why regular novels that talk about these things bore me to tears, while a science-fiction novel that does I like. Maybe its because I feel like a science-fiction novel isn't attacking me, as a reader, just inviting me along for the ride. While many "important" novels feel like a vivisection of someone who already has enough problems.

And besides, I like how Weber writes battles. Other than the scenes in Les Mis., which were so detailed you could draw a map and recreate it in your own backyard, most writers muddle their battles. Weber's battles are clear and easy to follow.

Off Armageddon Reef & By Schism Rent Asunder. David Weber. Tor. 2007 & 2008

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