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By Heresies Distressed by David Webber

01/10/2009. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

Buy By Heresies Distressed in the USA - or Buy By Heresies Distressed in the UK

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pub: TOR/Forge. 493 page hardback. Price: $27.99 (US), $35.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-7653-1503-8).

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This is the third book in a David Webber series that has yet to gain a collective name. The surviving population of Earth has been re-located to the planet Safehold after been nearly annihilated by an alien species. There, their memories are stripped of any technology knowledge and regressed to an earlier period, which looks like something around the 16th century. Best to tell you these things first as there's nothing included with this novel to bring you up-to-date with what has happened in the previous two novels. If you came in cold, I presume you'd have to sink or swim, more so as Webber's other books of the series are listed but nothing to indicate they belong to the series. It's not even rocket science to correct. Presumably, TOR think that author David Webber's fan base is sufficient to support this series.

'By Heresies Stressed' is a year in the life of Safehold. Merlin Athrawes, an avatar android brought back on-line is carrying out his mission to bring mankind back up to the technological age some five hundred years later with the belief that the aliens should have moved on in that time. Safehold is in the throes of religion and he sides with the country of Charis which seems the most enlightened and guides them into building up their empire. Their king, Cayleb, has recently married Queen Sharleyan and her kingdom of Chisholm as a consequence, their combined empire has become more formidable. More so as Athrawes is introducing innovations into their weaponry and navy. The opponent is mostly that of the church, a catholic variant whose leader sees nothing wrong with assassinating members of his own council to blame on Charis in his manipulations.

Unlike the previous two books, there is a lot more dialogue than action in this book. Although this doesn't make the book difficult to read, it does allow the mind to wander and start asking questions. Probably the strongest of these for me is that the remainder of Earth's population appears to be white with nary a shade of other colour out there. Even 16th century Earth wasn't quite like that. Maybe it's me that thinks Webber is relying too much on the template to copy than use factors that would remind people that things aren't quite the same as in past centuries. Things do tend to brighten up when Athrawes is around but that's largely as a reminder that this is supposed to be a Science Fiction series not an alternative reality.

Unless Athrawes has some sort of masterplan to get things moving quickly, I think it's going to take centuries and many books to get the population up to the Space Age let alone get them off-planet and back at the level they were at before the alien attack. You're going to have to be a real dedicated fan to have that kind of stamina.

GF Willmetts

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