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Tillabooks: Will's Book Blog

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Off Armageddon Reef by David Weber

Off Armageddon Reef by David Weber. New York: Tor, 2007. ISBN: 978-0-765-31500-7

David Weber is probably best known for his Honor Harrington series of space opera novels, loosely based on the old C.S. Forester Horatio Hornblower sailing ship novels. Now, in Off Armageddon Reef, he reverts back to real sailing ships instead of spaceships.

So how is this science fiction? The plot setup is about as complex as they come. Imagine a future, centuries from now, in which humankind has conquered spaceflight, and has settled hundreds or thousands of planets throughout a small section of the galaxy. Now imagine that they encounter a much older, albeit only marginally more scientifically advanced alien race. The alien empire is apparently composed of an incredibly static culture, which has not changed, let alone advanced even the tiniest iota in literally tens if not hundreds of thousands of years.

Unfortunately, this culture, so incredibly set in its ways, is also incredibly xenophobic, and mindlessly attacks and destroys any and all intelligent life it encounters, without ever even deigning to attempt or even respond to any communication whatsoever. Given just a few more decades or centuries, humankind might have been technologically capable of withstanding this enemy, but at this point in time, they are simply overwhelmed by vastly superior numbers.

So what does humanity do? As a last-gasp effort to protect themselves, they send a colony ship (perhaps more than one, but this is the story of one) so incredibly far across the galaxy that it will be centuries, hopefully millenia before the enemy is able to reach or conceivably locate them. To further protect this outpost of humanity, some of the leaders in charge decide to inculcate the settlement with a religion that forbids all technological innovation, under pain of death and hell. They create a religion based around themselves as deities. They hope that a civilization lacking technology will never be discovered, and will thus be safe.

Not all of the leaders agree with this policy, and a civil war breaks out between the “gods” or technologically advanced humans. When the real story begins, several centuries have past, and the “gods” are all dead. But those who did not agree with humanity remaining at a pre-industrial level forever have left one trick up their sleeves. A robot, humanoid enough to pass as human, with the memory and personality downloaded from one of their loyal officers, has been programmed to eventually awake, and work against the established religion. Their goal is for humanity to once again reach for the stars, only this time to be prepared to win the war against their previous enemy.

See, it takes me an entire blog entry just to explain the complicated background for the story which then ensues, as one kingdom on the planet begins to innovate at a rapid rate, and ends up taking on the combined navies of the rest of this islandic water world.

If you're a fan of David Weber, you'll undoubtedly enjoy this book. If you enjoy naval battles and strategy, you probably will too. Notwithstanding the fact that the “good guys” have both an overwhelming technological and “intelligence” (in the military sense, of knowing where the enemy is, and what they're up to) based superiority over their enemies, and that the outcome is pretty much pre-ordained, and hardly seems fair, the story has been set up so well that you can't help rooting for the good guys over the evil, corrupt, hidebound minions of the church.

Recommended for fans of military and especially naval war stories. Inevitably just the first in a new series, as Tor's web site proclaims.

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