Book Review – Haze by L.E. Modesitt, Jr.
This is an oddly constructed novel with two different stories running in alternating chapters separated in time by about five years. Keir Roget, an agent of the Federation Security Agency is the main character in both.
The earlier story has Agent Roget investigating a ‘Saint’ (Mormon) terrorist cell. His cover story during this is as an energy monitor, ostensibly responsible for ensuring people are not wasting energy. In the course of his investigation, the terrorists infect him with some memories of a long dead senator from Utah, a former part of the United States, a political entity absorbed by the Federation a thousand years ago. The senator was popular at the time, but he seems otherwise unexceptional. Why the cult chose his memories for their attempt to ‘convert’ Roget is unclear, as are their long-term goals or even their beliefs.
This is also true of the Federation, which seems to have come about after a long period of Chinese economic hegemony. At times, the Federation seems benign and patient, concerned mainly about maintaining order, and at other times, it seems oppressive and even paranoid.
The second story follows Agent Roget as he is inserted onto a mysterious planet protected by high-tech shielding. It is populated by ‘Thomists,’ a group of philosophical skeptics that splintered from Earth about two thousand years ago, although there is some suggestion of non-linear time hanky-panky going on. Roget is supposed to assess the threat these people pose and report back.
He discovers an unashamedly elitist society even more obsessed with energy efficiency than the Federation, and which has some odd societal practices regarding politics, commerce, production, and the like. None of these are well explained or, quite frankly, seem to make much sense, but in daily life the place is pleasant enough. This may be because they are ideologically and culturally less diverse than Earth and so are subject to less social strife. Their advanced technology helps, too.
One discontinuity that did strike me, however, was that in this technologically advanced society, many people seem to hold menial service jobs. I would think that a society that could develop underground trains that travel three times the speed of sound or teleport ships into low orbit could develop artificial intelligence systems to handle baggage or wait tables.
I believe this book is supposed to be a cautionary tale about energy overuse, national arrogance, and possibly a few other things, but it doesn’t quite pull it off. The political and philosophical dichotomies are poorly presented. There is no clear cause and effect established between decisions, actions, and eventual results. Ignoring the possible thematic element for the moment, the story itself is not especially interesting and the characters are lackluster.
Although I’ve enjoyed many of Modesitt’s other novels, I cannot honestly recommend this particular book.