Haze by L. E. Modesitt, Jr. (Tor, 2009)
Modesitt is a prodigious writer of science fiction and fantasy. In fact, this is not the first time one of his works has made its way into one of these reviews. Most of what this reviewer has encountered is certainly enjoyable, though Modesitt does tend to follow certain recipes that become predictable. Haze avoids most of the pitfalls and delivers a worthy afternoon’s diversion.
Modesitt has chosen to set this plot only a couple thousand years or so into the future. More intriguing is that with the wonders of biochemical analysis, his main character, Keir Roget, ties this setting to memories that are but a century or so in our future.
The story, however, revolves around Roget’s mission to a mysterious planet known only to the security services of the Earth Federation as Haze. The planet is so named for the myriad of nanobots that orbit the planet as some massive cloud or shield, making any activity of the surface impossible to see, except for having an agent attempt to harrow the shields and report back.
For reasons Roget can’t determine, his superiors are convinced that the planet is settled by an ancient splinter group who were long since thought eliminated, the Thomists. Roget is suppose to land on the planet, gather information on the Thomists and report back with a technological and strategic assessment. Roget assumes this is but an excuse for his superiors to legitimize what they already intend–to attack Haze and rid themselves of the Thomist threat once and for all.
As one might suppose, Roget does get past the shields and is fortunately welcomed by the inhabitants; fortunate for Roget because he is quite at their mercy. The Thomists are more advanced than the Federation, but not so much so that it is the technology that is overwhelming. What is overwhelming is the culture itself. Picture someone from North Korea being plopped into the middle of Seoul. Language is about the same, but not quite. However, customs, mores, and ideologies are worlds apart. Now pretend that this traveler has no idea that there is anything beside North Korea, let alone a system called capitalism. This is about were Roget finds himself.
Modesitt tends to interweave story lines and Haze is no exception. Modesitt alternates between Roget’s assignment on Haze and a few missions that come before it. For the most part, this technique serves to breakup the action and keep the novel at a controlled pace. It would have been nicer had there been more tie-ins between these two. There are a few themes that tie in the alternating tales and one of them fairly substantial, a quietly factional grouo on Earth. That faction is descended from present day Mormons (it is worth noting that Modesitt makes his home in Utah). By in large, however, one is left with two novellas rather than one single work.
As one might expect, Haze ends with short, brilliant, and one-sided battle scene. No hints here, but the reader will not be entirely surprised and may be disapointed that there is not more of a twist to the climax.
Even with these flaws, Haze is an enjoyable and thoughtful work. One could call it a good afternoon well wasted.