I found myself in San Marcos at the largest outlet mall in Texas a few years ago, and I wandered into a vacant storefront temporarily being used to sell off publisher overrun stock.
Making my way to the science fiction and fantasy table, I came across a copy of Off Armageddon Reef, the first book in David Weber’s epic Safehold series. I bought it and got hooked. Although Mr. Weber didn’t receive any royalties from me for that first purchase, he certainly does for each new one in the series. The ninth book, At the Sign of Triumph, was released in November, 2016.
The back story on Safehold is, humanity faced its greatest threat from an advanced alien race that goes around seeking other planets with sentient life and destroying them. Humans put up a good fight, but they just couldn’t overcome the tech edge these bad guys had. So, we thought up a solution.
The last of the human race jumped onboard a fleet of starships and ran away. The aliens followed. A small group broke off and evaded the aliens without notice. The decoy fleet was subsequently destroyed and the aliens thought that was it for mankind.
But the secret survivors headed out for parts unknown, thousands of light years away from the enemy. They found a hospitable planet and set about getting it ready for colonization.
Once all was ready, the techies unloaded what remained of the human race and took them out of deep sleep while wiping their memories. Then an argument broke out. One faction of the techie administrators wanted to resume research and technology to prepare people for the inevitable conflict when the bad guys eventually found them again on this new planet, however far off that may be in the future. The other side insisted that if the human race never advanced, they would not become an interstellar threat to the bad guys and thus escape notice.
The latter group won and killed the former group off. But, the pro-technology group left some things hidden in place. One was an artificial human who could change her appearance and essentially live forever. She woke up after several hundred years with full memory of her former self, and set about from a secret base hidden in a mountain to clandestinely nudge humans along in technological progress.
This led to some interesting twists. For one, the artificial person could change her appearance at will. Since the perpetual Middle Ages on the planet was a male-dominate society, she changed into a man. Her technology could be construed as magic, but she was able to convince a handful of trusted people in the truth, and they slowly began work on advancing technology far beyond its current levels.
The Luddite administrators from the past designed things to be stacked against innovation. The English measurement system was retained rather than the metric system, for instance. The Roman numeral system was retained instead of the Arabic one. Then they set up a worldwide religion that forbad innovation.
Here is where Weber could have gone all anti-Catholic like a lot of authors might have. The priests are, in general, bad apples. But, he takes pains to differentiate and show that the person is to be judged on their merits, not the religion. There are good people who are priests, too. And the bad people are corrupted by power more so than religion itself.
If I have one quibble, it’s that in some of the books the action sometimes takes place primarily through conversations. That’s okay, normally, so long as the conversations lead to something happening. At times they don’t. For instance, he’ll lead up to a battle between the church’s army and the protestants’ army, and switch back and forth between the commanders discussing amongst themselves strategies and predictions about how the fighting will take place. Then the chapter ends. The next chapter starts, and the battle is over! Conversation switches to what happened after the fact. Thanks David, I kinda wanted to see that battle for myself. Fortunately, he doesn’t do that all the time. And there is plenty of battle action.
Weber delves into historically accurate older technology from the late 1700s onward, some of which is quite fascinating. It’s a cool concept to have sailing ships with cannons fighting it out while a spaceship hovers nearby, for instance.
Try out the first one in the series, Off Armageddon Reef, and see what you think. If you’re looking for a good long science fiction series that is well written and now approaching ten books in length, I think you might enjoy this as much as I have.
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