Review of HAZE by L. E. Modesitt, Jr. (see his website)
Tor, June 2009
Several thousand years in the future, the Federation, an organization dominated by China, controls earth, the solar system, and much of space. Federation society demands total control, and agents such as Keir Roget are tasked with tracking down unlawful energy use, and preventing rebel groups such as the Mormans in Utah from terrorist activities. When Roget starts asking too many questions, he's transfered to space service and sent to infiltrate a "Thomist" (for doubting Thomas) world hidden behind a strange shield of orbeting debris.
Once on the world of Dubiety, Roget learns that the Thomist world has powerful technologies including the ability to control time itself. Against them, the Federation would be a stumbling giant. But Roget is no longer sure supporting the Federation is a good idea.
In alternating chapters, author L. E. Modesitt, Jr. (see more BooksForABuck.com reviews of novels by Modesitt) recounts Roget's investigation of a 'Saint' community where rebellion still simmers despite centuries of Chinese/Federation control, and Roget's travels through Dubiety, where he learns of an economics-based approach to creating a near-utopia (although there are people who cannot fit into Dubiety and who live on farms where they make themselves miserable). Dubiety, he decides, controls its environmental and energy systems far better than does the Federation.
HAZE suffers from a protagonist who is not a central player in the story. The confrontation between Federation and Thomists would have occured with or without Roget's participation. Ultimately, nothing he does makes any difference to anyone other than himself, and it's hard to care too much about what happens to Roget, despite Modesitt's use of a dog portrait to humanize him. I also had a hard time understanding the distinction between the economics-based control exercised by the Thomists and that offered by the Federation. In each case, prices/taxes were assessed to promote efficient energy use. Perhaps Modesitt was trying to make the point that heavy-handed control systems, such as those the Federation used, are really unnecessary if economic costs are fully imputed.
While on duty with the Saints, Roget is given some sort of drug or biological agent that plants within him memories from a long-dead American Senator. It's hard to see how the Senator's world-views are compatible with Modesitt's, or reality. Certainly the notion that religious people are somehow denied basic rights because of their religion in the U.S. is both counterfactual and completely at odds with the utopian society he creates in Dubiety, where unsupported claims are subject to lawsuits.
Modesitt is a capable writer and he certainly does a better job with this story than most authors would. I'm sympathetic to the kind of world he creates in Dubiety and his environmental concerns. I guess I'd either like to see a story where the protagonist actually does something, or one where, even if he doesn't do anything, he is transformed in a fundamental way. As Roget was never especially a Federation loyalist, I didn't even see the kind of fundamental internal change I'm looking for in a story.
Too generous? Too stingy. Or did I miss the whole point? Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. I'll publish the best letters I get so let me know if I can use your name.
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