Review of Haze by L.E. Modesitt, Jr

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Modesitt is a prolific writer of science fiction and fantasy, probably most well known for his famous series The Saga of Recluce. Haze is a stand-alone science fiction novel told in third person viewpoint, featuring Keir Roget.

What lies beneath the millions of orbiting nanotech satellites that shroud the world called Haze? Major Keir Roget’s mission is to make planetfall in secret, find out, and report back to his superiors in the Federation, the Chinese-dominated government that rules Earth and the colonized planets.  For all his effectiveness as a security agent, Roget is troubled by memories of an earlier assignment in his career. When he was assigned to covert duty in the Noram backcountry town of St. George, he not only discovered that the long-standing Saint culture was neither as backward nor as harmless as his superiors believed, but he barely emerged with his life and sanity intact.

hazeNow, scouting Haze, he finds a culture both seemingly familiar and frighteningly alien, with hints of a technology far superior to that of the Federation. Yet he is not quite certain how much of what he sees is real or how to alert his superiors to a danger he cannot prove – if he can escape Haze…

The scenario at the heart of this novel is an intriguing one, dealing with a collision of two completely different cultures with poor old Agent Roget stuck between them. I really like the premise. The world is interestingly portrayed through Roget’s viewpoint as his experiences on Haze run alongside his previous encounter with a society unsympathetic to the Federation’s aims and ideals.
If you are looking for an action-packed, shoot-em-up, however, then this isn’t your book. It attempts to deliver a far more thoughtful-provoking read. But… while Modesitt’s depiction of his cultures is sophisticated and detailed… while his take on the near future is disturbing and fascinating in equal measure… this book did not grip me as it should have, given that this is my very favourite sub-genre.

I think the problem lies with Modesitt’s protagonist, Keir Roget, who isn’t a character I found easy to care about or know. The initial pace of the book is leisurely, as Modesitt slowly builds up the details of his world through Roget’s viewpoint – which isn’t a problem if the reader has sufficient access to Roget’s thoughts and feelings to discover what really makes him tick. However, despite the fact that Haze is fairly short, the first half was something of a trudge, rather than a delightful page-turner as I waded through the slow build-up to the initial sudden burst of action. Roget is still recovering from major trauma – which we don’t learn about until two-thirds through the book. It may well be that Modesitt has him so locked down and distant as a consequence of this, but the result is that we only really see the world through the eyes of this single character means that if we don’t bond with him, then the book is seriously compromised.

Modesitt is a skilful writer with a wealth of experience and his depiction of this interesting, nuanced world means that reading Haze is worth the effort. However, it’s not a great book – and I can’t shake the feeling that if only Modesitt had poured a bit more energy and internal dialogue into Roget’s character – the dynamic tension in this plotline would have set it on course to be one of the outstanding reads of the decade.
7/10

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