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Haze by L.E. Modesitt, Jr

01/10/2009. Contributed by Patrick Mahon

Buy Haze in the USA - or Buy Haze in the UK

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pub: TOR. 303 page hardback. Price: $24.95 (US), $31.95 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-7653-2302-6).

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L.E. Modesitt, Jr. is an author best known for multiple-volume fantasy sagas. However, he has also written a number of Science Fiction novels and 'Haze' is firmly in the latter category.

Major Keir Roget is an intelligence agent in the Chinese-dominated Federation that rules the Earth and its colony planets several thousand years in the future. His current mission is to land on the shrouded, shielded and newly discovered world of Haze to find out whether it poses a threat to the Federation. However, Roget is troubled by his memories of a mission five years earlier when he was asked to go undercover in St. George, a backwoods town in what used to be North America.

The novel proceeds with alternate chapters dealing with his experiences on Haze and in St. George. As each story plays out, disturbing parallels emerge.

On Haze, known to the locals as Dubiety, the secrecy of Roget's mission is quickly compromised when he is met by a woman called Lyvia. She explains that she has been sent by her Government to help him understand their culture. Lyvia seems to know an awful lot about Roget and his mission. Although she is outwardly helpful, her answers to his questions are frustratingly generic. As Roget is faced by numerous indications that the people of Dubiety are technologically superior to the Federation. He struggles to collect the hard evidence that he will need if he is to convince his over-confident military superiors to tread cautiously.

Roget's mission in St. George appears to go well at first. His cover identity, as a Government snoop checking up on citizens' usage of energy and water, appears to be accepted. However, at a lunch date with a Government co-worker, something strange happens to him. He thinks she may have injected him with something, but has no evidence, other than a temporary blackout. His suspicions that all is not as it seems are confirmed a few nights later. When he goes out after dark to investigate, he comes across what appears to be a separatist conspiracy. When they blow his cover, he shoots the conspirators with knock-out darts, only to watch them die in front of him.

The parallels between Roget's adventures on Haze and in St. George's are brought out gradually and help to illuminate the themes of the book: the implications of different ways of running a society, the potentially illusory nature of freedom of choice and the problems that can arise if you are not prepared to change your views in response to new evidence. Modesitt does not ram a particular viewpoint on these issues down our throats, merely points out the options and where they may lead.

I enjoyed this novel. The pace is relaxed, but the author uses this to bring life and realism to his portrayal of Haze and St. George. The advanced technologies of Haze are well-imagined and create a solid, three-dimensional world. He is very good at mixing the banalities of everyday life with discussions of political and economic systems, so avoiding the trap of serving up indigestible chunks of narrative.

The central character, Keir Roget, comes across as a man who feels trapped by his fate. He repeatedly says to himself, 'What choice do I have?' Although this could make him into a defeatist, Modesitt uses it instead to show Roget as a flawed but compassionate hero, who makes the best of the circumstances in which he finds himself.

My main criticism of the book is the relative two-dimensionality of the supporting cast, compared to the well-drawn Roget. Some of this is necessary to the storyline, given Roget's role as an intelligence agent. However, I would have liked to have learned more about Lyvia, Roget's guide on Haze, and particularly about Marni Sorenson, Roget's co-worker in St. George's. It is Marni who injects him with false memories, whilst on a potential first date. When a few days later he accidentally kills her, I expected her death to lead to some serious soul-searching by Roget, Instead, he merely shakes his head and moves on.

Nonetheless, 'Haze' is an intelligent and thoughtful piece of Science Fiction and Modesitt is to be congratulated on turning out a story that is at once both entertaining and thought-provoking.

Patrick Mahon

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