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Thursday, November 27, 2008

Review: Adiamante

I'm wondering why it took me this long to discover L. E. Modesitt. I find myself enjoying his under-stated writing style, the situations and the setup --- this is science fiction at its best, character driven, with the science fiction used to emphasize the essentials of the human condition.

Adiamante (kindle edition) explores one of the late Arthur C. Clarke's quips --- that someone who wants to run for presidency should by definition be disqualified from the job.

How then, would you organize a society around this? Well, you would draft your president of course, since by definition he wouldn't want to do the job, but how would you make it distasteful enough that he wouldn't want to cling to power for as long as he can? The society in Adiamante answers that question in an interesting fashion, which is that the exercise of power has a cost, which must be paid off through labor when the term is up.

The setting is Old Earth, after many struggles between various factions of humanities (one of which was forcibly shipped off to the stars) and where the remnants of humanity have learned to live with a fragile ecosystem. When one of the fragments of humanities returns to Earth to redress old wrongs, the people of the Earth elect Ector as the Coordinator to lead them through this crisis. (Ector was elected because he recently lost his wife, which meant that in this very dangerous position he had less to lose than many)

Old Earth's society is portrayed as a strange Utopia, one in which material goods are rare and expensive, but high technology in the form of an information net is incredibly advanced. The interaction between the invaders and Ector as Coordinator is constrained, as Old Earth's social Construct does not permit pre-emptive strikes:
We are sending you home to Gates, and we're providing a ship as a symbol of trust. That is because the key to the universe, the key to survival, is trust. Trust is acting in good faith when you have no reason so to act. Trust is refraining from attacking an enemy first, no matter what the cost. Why is that wise? Because once any person or society strikes first, that action sows the seeds of corruption. Logic, even pure cyb logic, is formidable enough that it can justify any action, no matter how base or corrupt, as necessary to survival. Physical survival is not enough, not for either a person or a society. A society's principles must also survive, and if you betray your principles for physical survival, then you have doomed your offspring and your society. Principles can be improved, and we have
slowly changed ours for what we believe to be the better, but they should never be changed or discarded for short-term expediency. No matter what the price, we must do what is right, and part of what is right is trust.
(Kindle Loc. 3115)

From the above passage you might think that this book might have been written in response to the invasion of Iraq, and you would be wrong --- this book was published in 1996, long before the events of September 11th, 2001. That it has even more relevance today than when it was published I think speaks well of the themes and approach that Modesitt took.

The details of the Construct as well as the Cyb invaders are revealed slowly, and we learn the challenges and the price that Ector and his society will have to pay for the purposes of long-term stability. If you're looking for cheap fast thrills, or a science fiction that you know and love, look elsewhere (Richard Morgan's books are great for that). This is science fiction told in a stately pace, with lots to think about. My only criticism is that the Kindle edition was formatted with several glitches, and I never got to like any of the characters as much as I enjoyed the exploration of a very interesting and well-thought out society and social contract. Nevertheless, the book is recommended, and I'm going to have to read more Modesitt in the future.

1 comment:

ChiaLea said...

I'll also leave a plug for Saturn's Children, which I read on your recommendation. The cover art is TERRIBLE and almost managed to keep me from buying it, but it's a really good read.